By Sally Ho / Associated Press
SEATTLE — Washington state’s schools chief was reelected after Democrats hit the panic button late in the campaign over the nonpartisan but sharp political race.
Chris Reykdal, the incumbent state superintendent of public instruction, won another four-year term in the November election, winning with 56% of the vote over challenger Maia Espinoza.
Reykdal, 48, of Tumwater, campaigned on his experience as a longtime educator and state legislator to be the steadying force needed to help the state’s nearly 300 public school districts navigate the public health crisis that’s prompted most schools to go online for the foreseeable future. He’s a former high school teacher and school board member who served three-terms as a Democrat in the state House.
The August primary had exposed weaknesses in Reykdal’s reelection prospects as frustration over school closures during the pandemic and a controversial sex education referendum dogged his campaign. In the primary, Reykdal got just 40% of the vote, while Espinoza got 25% and the third-place finisher got 20% — meaning more people voted against the incumbent than for him.
Espinoza, 31, of Lakewood, who runs a Latino leadership group and has served on the state education department’s Race and Ethnicity Student Data task force and the Governor’s Commission on Hispanic Affairs, had defined the race as a referendum against Reykdal’s leadership on both issues.
Polling suggested in late October that Espinoza was within striking distance given the number of undecided voters, sending Democrats on a drive to boost Reykdal’s Democratic credentials in the liberal state.
Top Democrats, including the Gov. Jay Inslee and U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, held a news conference assailing Espinoza as an inexperienced and unqualified GOP “take-over” candidate and aligning her support for school choice with Betsy DeVos, the Trump administration’s U.S. Secretary of Education. Days before Election Day, even the Democratic candidate for president, Joe Biden, issued an endorsement for Reykdal.
Supporters also continued to pour money into the race, with Reykdal significantly out fundraising Espinoza with campaign contributions from labor groups, including the Washington Education Association teachers union, powerhouse employers like Boeing and Microsoft, and multiple Indian tribes.
Espinoza, meanwhile, faced accusations of exaggerated credentials, including claims about running a nonprofit, obtaining a master’s degree and being a teacher. Her voter guide’s statement was also an issue that went all the way to the state Supreme Court, which ruled in her favor, but nonetheless clouded her credibility as Reykdal claimed defamation.
Espinoza ran as a Republican in a losing bid for a seat in the state House of Representatives two years ago.