California election 2022: State Superintendent Tony Thurmond may face teacher Ainye Long

Janet Wilson
Palm Springs Desert Sun
Tony Thurmond, California Superintendent of Public Instruction

California's incumbent superintendent of public instruction, Tony Thurmond, is likely headed to a surprise runoff in November against a San Francisco public school teacher, an engineer or a Sacramento political insider. With all precincts partially reported on Wednesday morning, Thurmond had 1,421,816 votes, or 45.7% of votes tallied.

Although he led commandingly, he did not have a clear majority. The race is one of the few statewide where, if a candidate can lock up more than 50% of the vote in the primary, then no contest is held in November.

In a squeaker for the second runoff spot, San Francisco public school teacher Ainye Long had 11.7% of the vote, compared to 11.6% won by George Yang, an engineer who has one child who attends public school and a second who attends Catholic school. Yang, an immigrant from China, was a 2016 Republican candidate for U.S. Senate and a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in the 2014 election.

Nipping at their heels was Lance Christensen, with 11.3%, who served as vice president of education policy and government affairs at the California Policy Center and worked 15 years in the California State Senate as a consultant, legislative director, and chief of staff. Long might be getting support from charter school backers.

California's superintendent of public instruction oversees a public education system serving more than 6 million K-12 students. Elections officials have 30 days to process and verify all ballots received, meaning totals and outcomes in the tight race could shift. The secretary of state's office said election results will be finalized by July 15.

Thurmond has had a rocky first term, helming not just prolonged classroom shutdowns and other pandemic policies that frustrated parents and teachers, but facing allegations of a toxic workplace, and criticism over the hiring of a friend who worked long distance from the East Coast.

Despite it all, he won the backing of the influential California Teachers Association, which poured more than $1 million into an independent expenditure committee to reelect him. Thurmond’s campaign contributions reached $1.4 million —  at least 25 times more than any other candidate in the race. Thurmond also had the backing of the California Democratic Party and the powerful California Federation of Teachers.

Long, who teaches mathematics and is department chair at Willie Brown Middle School in San Francisco, appeared to have done little to no fundraising, using Instagram posts to make her case that a public school teacher should be on the November ballot. 

She might have won support from charter school backers. In a Ballotepedia questionnaire, she listed among her experiences her time serving as director of parent and community engagement at the California Charter Schools Association. A fifth-generation teacher, she has also served as Oakland Regional Superintendent at Amethod Public Schools.

 Christensen had picked up some major newspaper endorsements, including the San Diego Union-Tribune and the Orange County Register.