If Tom Torlakson was jolted by the news earlier in the day that he was in a dead heat with challenger Marshall Tuck for the State Superintendent of Public Instruction position that he has held since 2010, he had to be inspired by what he saw in Davis – a dozen or so, mainly young, volunteers feverishly working the phone lines on behalf of him and other Democratic candidates, including Congressman John Garamendi, at the Democratic Headquarters Office off of Third Street in Davis.
The Field Poll shows Governor Jerry Brown maintaining a 21 point lead, but the State Superintendent’s Race was showing a dead heat. Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo, in a press release, stated that the contest between two Democrats “is really up for grabs,” and “it looks like it will be competitive right to election day.”
The poll finds the two tied at 28 percent apiece, with a stunning 44 percent of likely voters still undecided.
“This is the only race on the ballot where the candidates don’t have a letter after their names,” Mr. DiCamillo said. “That forces voters to find out what their differences are without the benefit of party labels.”
Democratic Central Committee Chair Bob Schelen, in introducing Mr. Torlakson, stated, “Even though his registration says that he’s a Democrat, I’m convinced and I think you guys need to convince people, his opponent actually… wants to destroy public education. (He) wants to make education private and for profit.”
He added that they are using campaign reform “as a guise to destroy public education.” He distinguished the Charter School movement from local Charter Schools like Da Vinci, stating, “Da Vinci is a public charter school, it’s not for profit by these creepy powers of outside influence.”
Tom Torlakson said he was heartened by the number of young people in the room, stating, “The forces that want to – I think – destroy public education, take us backwards, want to privatize, they’re expecting you all to not be here, they’re expecting voters to stay home.”
Mr. Torlakson talked about his after-school program, safe times between 3 and 6 pm, “communities that don’t have these kinds of after-school enriching programs…you see crime triple between 3 and 6 o’clock until the parents get home.”
He also has an initiative called “no child left offline…which is our goal of getting one-to-one connectivity across the school day and at home to close the digital divide, so that all students have the opportunity for these rich learning programs.”
Tom Torlakson noted that, during the recession, 30,000 teachers were laid off, and investment in equipment and the classrooms dropped. “So I fought hard and we worked with the Governor to pass Prop. 30 and we’re investing $6 billion more a year because of that. We’re starting to see a big turn-around because of that. “
He said, “Graduation rates have now been raised to the highest rate in the history of California – it’s 80 percent.” But he added, “I’m not satisfied with 80 percent,” and noted that, for Latino and African-American students, it’s lower than that.
The Field Poll finds that Mr. Torlakson, who began his career as a teacher and a legislator in Contra Costa County, holds a strong 37-23 percent lead in the Bay Area, whereas Mr. Tuck, a Los Angeles charter school executive, holds a 33-23 percent lead in Los Angeles County.
Mr. Torlakson has strong support from the California Teachers Association, rank and file Democratic groups, union households, and Democratic voters who identify themselves as liberal.
On the other hand, Mr. Tuck has backing from Republicans and conservatives, but also holds a lead among non-white groups, including a 33-20 percent margin among Latinos.
“The opposition is clear,” Mr. Torlakson told the volunteers. “My opponent is a former Wall Street banker. I’m a teacher, he’s a banker. Different mindset, different goals.”
“He’s been funded by Walmart, one million bucks,” he continued. “(He’s a) Texas Enron trader who wants to end public pensions, Sort of take away what many of our hard working families have earned, paying into their public pension system.”
“We’re seeing that the Walmart folks are for vouchers.” Mr. Torlakson explained this as a way to take public dollars and put them toward private schools. He said this “weakens the schools that are remaining in the neighborhood and community.”
Mr. Torlakson cited a donation of $2.7 million against him, saying that “you’re seeing this trend of big corporate money coming in. My interpretation is clear: they want to take over public education. They want to privatize it. They see schools as profit centers, I see them as learning centers.”
He acknowledged that he is tied in the polls, despite the fact that “those in the education community know I’ve done great work in the last four years, turning things around, stabilizing funding, and heading us in the right direction.”
He concluded, stating, “If Democrats turn out we win.” If Democrats sit this one out, he won’t win. He warned, “There’s a little complacency going on.”
The following is a video of his remarks:
—David M. Greenwald reporting