Marshall Tuck and Tony Thurmond to square off in runoff for California schools chief

Marshall Tuck and Tony Thurmond will face each other in the November general election for state superintendent of public instruction in what could be a closely contested and very expensive race funded by wealthy individuals who back charter schools and labor unions that want to restrict their growth.

In other words, the race may look a lot like the last one, four years ago, when Tuck, a school reformer who has run charter schools and alternative district schools in Los Angeles, narrowly lost to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

On Tuesday, Tuck edged Thurmond 37 percent to 34.3 percent, establishing himself as the front-runner to head up the nation’s largest and most ethnically diverse school system, with 6 million students. Tuck and Thurmond are both Democrats, but the office is nonpartisan — a candidate’s party affiliation is not listed on the ballot — and any candidate who gets 50 percent in the primary is the winner without requiring a runoff election. But two relatively unknown candidates with no prior political experience prevented that. Steven Ireland and Lily Ploski together captured 29 percent of the vote.

Like Torlakson, Thurmond, a second-term assemblyman, has the support of the state Democratic establishment and the state’s two teachers unions. A social worker by training, Thurmond, 49, founded or ran several nonprofit organizations that worked with low-income foster children, truant students and incarcerated children in the Bay Area before turning to politics. He served one term on the city council in Richmond and on the West Contra Costa Unified school board before being elected to the Assembly district serving Richmond, Berkeley and parts of Oakland. He chairs the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee and serves on the Assembly Education Committee.

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