Washington's Superintendent of Public Instruction, Chris Reykdal, did not do well in the August primaries. Though he led the crowded field with 40% of the vote share, the collective conservative votes in the race outnumbered his own, which is bad news for those of you who do not want the second place-finisher, Washington's version of Betsy DeVos, to end up running the state's public school system.
Though the state superintendent is a nonpartisan position, Reykdal was the most progressive candidate in the race, and so you'd expect him to do pretty well west of the mountains. But precinct-level comparisons between Reykdal and other Democratic candidates show the incumbent superintendent underperforming in the Puget Sound region's most diverse, reliably blue districts. By a lot.
Governor Jay Inslee, for instance, ran over 20 points ahead of Reykdal in the 33rd Legislative District, which covers east Burien, SeaTac, and Des Moines. He ran 19 points ahead in the 37th and 11th Legislative Districts, which cover Central and South Seattle, plus Renton and Tukwila. Down in the 29th LD, which covers Tacoma, he ran nearly 18 points ahead of Reykdal. (Maia Espinoza, the conservative who took second place, actually beat Reykdal in that district, 34 to 29.) He ran 17 points ahead of Reykdal up in the 32nd LD, which covers Shoreline, Lynnwood, and Edmonds. Democrats run all these districts.
And while more people vote for the governor than they do for the superintendent, undervotes alone can't account for the differences here. The difference between the number of people who voted for the governor and the number of people who voted for superintendent in the 37th LD, for example, is only about 6.4%. In the 33rd, it's a little over 8%. That means significant numbers of voters in these Democratic regions split tickets.
WTF? It's hard to say.
Stephen Reed, chair of 37th LD Democrats, thinks multiple factors account for the difference. He said both Inslee and Reykdal "easily surpassed the 60% threshold for a sole endorsement from our membership" during their process, and he described their membership as "very blue," but he also said they've got a lot of charter school supporters in their club, which may have siphoned some support away from Reykdal and toward the conservative candidates.
Reed added that the disinformation campaign surrounding Referendum 90, which asks voters to approve or reject a sex ed bill Reykdal supported, broke through to their members. "At our meetings we have worked to address the lies surrounding R-90 by providing links to the actual approved curricula and answering questions," Reed said. "The 37th LD Democrats also endorsed R-90, but I was surprised by some of the questions that came up surrounding the issue."
Julie Popper of the Seattle Education Association chalked up the pretty wide differences between Inslee's performance and Reykdal's performance to the race's "very low-profile," and said "these nonpartisan races can be confusing."
She points to Espinoza's false and misleading statements in the voter's pamphlet as a source of this confusion. Though Espinoza claimed to have a master's degree, she doesn't. And though she claims she runs a nonprofit, her "nonprofit" has never received 501(c)(3) status.
A recent paper in Political Behavior shows voters lend greater weight to "candidate experience" in races without partisan markers, with Democrats privileging political experience and Republicans privileging job experience. As the incumbent with a teacher's certificate and a Master's in Public Administration, Reykdal beats Espinoza on both those scores, but Espinoza's misleading statements muddy those waters a bit.
King County Democrats chair Shasti Conrad said Democrats must respond to this confusion by "talking directly to communities of color," where Reykdal fell behind Inslee, "about the importance of having a progressive in that role."
"Reykdal is our best chance at moving public education into the 21st century, whereas Espinoza takes us back to an era not healthy for anyone other than wealthy white men," Conrad said.