The Race for Superintendent of Public Instruction
DiMarco, Eastin tangle for the job of schools' chief
by Kirsten Mangold
Copyright 1994, California Journal
One would think that in the middle of an election season, a non partisan
contest would be the least interesting and least competitive. But the
scramble to capture the job of superintendent of public instruction has been
anything but boring. There's rumor, intrigue, lots of money and big name
organizations involved and even a broken limb for added spice. The two
candidates are Delaine Eastin, a Democratic legislator from Fremont and
chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee; and Maureen DiMarco, Governor Pete Wilson's education adviser, also a Democrat and the one with a cast on her foot, thanks to a July 4th fall at her home.
The two are vying for a spot that's been fraught with problems since the
last elected superintendent, Bill Honig, was forced to resign his post in
1992 after being convicted on conflict of interest charges stemming from the
discovery that his wife's company was funded in part by Honig's Department of
Education. The first person Wilson tried to appoint to succeed Honig state
Senator Marian Bergeson (R Newport Beach) ran into a buzzsaw during
confirmation hearings in the Assembly, and her nomination failed. One of her
most vocal opponents was none other than Eastin. Wilson's second nominee was
investor Sanford Sigoloff. He eventually withdrew from consideration this
past February after his lack of experience in the field raised a howl from
the education community especially the California Teachers' Association.
As a result, Honig's former deputy, Dave Dawson, has served as acting
superintendent until a successor to Honig can be elected. Dawson has kept a
low profile and announced early on that he would not be a candidate for the
job. Eastin and DiMarco emerged one two from the June primary, which featured
12 candidates. Had any one of them earned 50 percent of the vote, he or she
would have won the job outright. But Eastin fell far short, earning just 22
percent, and she was forced into a November runoff with DiMarco, who finished
second in the primary with 14 percent. Both candidates pack impressive
resumes and are passionate supporters of children but otherwise are worlds
apart in background, policy, personality and connections.
"I don't think there is any job more important," Eastin has said. "My
whole history and set of personal values is that education is the most
important cause in government." Eastin says that a "combination of my own
personal values, my experience and my demonstrated ability to work with both
parties" qualifies her for the job.
Those personal values and experience have become the bromides of her
campaign speeches. The daughter of a dressmaker and a machinist, Eastin
constantly refers to her working class background and talks of her struggle
through the business world as a manager at Pacific Bell and a community
college teacher. In early 1991 Speaker Willie Brown Jr. (D San Francisco)
named her to chair Assembly Education, and she used that platform to
become a vocal supporter of schools, particularly those in suburban areas.
Eastin says she decided to run for superintendent two years ago during
the budget fight. "I got so angry that kids kept getting cut. This wasn't
the country, or the California, or the neighborhood I grew up in," she
recalls. An important aspect of Eastin's platform is her fight to shift
funding from what she calls "Cadillac prisons" to "jalopy schools."
DiMarco, on the other hand, became interested in education when her own
two daughters were in school in Southern California. She became involved in
the then fledgling Early Childhood Education program, and worked up through
the ranks from instructional assistant to site councils to program reviewer
with the Department of Education. After winning a seat on the Garden Grove
school board, she stayed for 11 years. She found a soulmate in Bill Honig,
and commuted to Sacramento to serve as a paid consultant to Honig's
department on an education reform bill in the mid 1980s.
"We were still suffering from the effects of Proposition 13, but we got a
lot done," DiMarco recalled. "It was an exciting time, with a new governor
and a new superintendent."
After her one year stint working with education reform, DiMarco returned
to Southern California where she enrolled in law school in 1987, the same
year she was elected vice president of the California School Boards
Association. Two years later, she was elected president and took an extended
leave from school. During her tenure, the Legislature passed SB 9, which
allowed the state to intervene in low performing schools and take over if
necessary. Also during this time, she met then U.S. Senator Pete Wilson in
1988 while lobbying in Washington, D.C.
"I thought that he would be just another bland Republican senator, but I
was thrilled to find that he really understood kids and what was going on
with education issues," DiMarco said. A little more than two years later,
Senator Wilson had become Governor Wilson, and he offered DiMarco the newly
created Cabinet level position of education adviser.
The race for superintendent is officially non partisan, but with these
two candidates, their histories and affiliations, there was not much of a
chance that it would be de facto non partisan. Eastin is backed by the CTA
and other labor groups, traditional allies of the Democrats. DiMarco is a
little harder to pigeonhole. She also is a registered Democrat, but she works
for a Republican governor and has had to walk the line on education
issues in the past. Caught in the position of having to please everyone,
some guess that she may please no one. "The fact that I worked for
Wilson truly cuts both ways, but I'm running for my office, not his,"
DiMarco said. "My goal is to make every child in this state smart enough
and schooled enough to make a choice whether they want to be a Democrat
or a Republican. Both parties would improve that way."
This is also a battle of background, in the sense that the CTA has
historically been at odds with the CSBA, where DiMarco served as president
and with whom she is still on good terms.
Even their personalities are a yin and yang of difference. DiMarco has a
reputation of smiling sweetly as she administers the poison; no doubt a habit
refined during her tenure with a governor who was not always kind to
education. Critics have suggested that she may not always have liked Wilson's
decisions but, as his education spokesperson, had the responsibility of
occasionally being the bearer of bad news to the public. She earned the
spotlight and Eastin's criticism for her support of the controversial
CLAS test late last year.
Eastin, on the other hand, is known as a bear who has very little
softness about her. Her attacks are harsh and undisguised. During the
Bergeson confirmation hearing, for instance, she implied that the nominee
would be unable to separate the concepts of church and state because she was
a Mormon and thus a believer in the creationist theory. But even though the
delivery is harsh, no one could call Eastin a shrinking violet. She says that
she will stand up for her beliefs, and so far, she has kept her word.
Both women are vocal and passionate, but statewide politics requires
more. Eastin's link with labor especially with the CTA cuts both ways.
First, it brings her an enormous resource, both in terms of campaign
contributions and person power. But it also leaves her open to charges that
her administration of education would lean heavily toward the desires of
teachers' unions. DiMarco points to that factor and says that she is
intentionally not seeking endorsements because she does not want to add to
the aura of a thinly disguised party race. Critics say that DiMarco's
decision means only that she is aware of her perilous position between
parties: Republicans know she's a Democrat, but many Democrats think she acts
like a Republican.
Joe Burek, a Bay Area businessman and former school board member,
explains that while he has met both candidates, he will support DiMarco
because he believes she will be more able to work with both sides.
"No one thing about [DiMarco] impresses me; she's very intelligent and
articulate, and she's shown that she can work both sides of the fence," he
said. "I am a Democrat, but I think Eastin is too much of a Democrat. I don't
see her working efficiently and effectively with Republicans, and that
concerns me. You need to have a good relationship with everyone."
But Burek's good friend and fellow school board member Ron Arrants
disagrees. He has known Eastin since days when they worked together at
Pacific Bell, and he remembers her as "driven" and "assertive."
"You know that she's going to get the job done if she says she's going to
do it, and she has a heart of gold when it comes to kids," Arrants said.
"She's very people oriented, but some people don't know that because she has
the kind of humor that you can't get into a person to person conversation
with. Sometimes she's more than men can handle, because she threatens their
machismo. But that's only because she is so intelligent."
Perhaps one of the best predictors of the outcome is the candidates'
record of battling each other in the ring as they did during the June
primary. In the primary, Eastin had a clear advantage because of her
endorsements, and she outspent DiMarco $900,000 to $80,000. It is thought
that the spending ratio will be similar for the general election,
although no amount of financing will win conservative voters for Eastin.
Both DiMarco and Eastin are clear on what their goals are should they
take the office.
"I always say to people, it would be wonderful if we had a quick fix,"
Eastin says. "But first comes the issue of parental involvement. That's the
best predictor of a child's outcome, regardless of the parents' income or
background." She argues that parental involvement should be a requirement,
and she also stands behind creating more clean, well lighted schools. She
says she wants to see more technology in the classroom, because it not only
is useful knowledge for the student, but can help streamline the teacher
workload as well.
Eastin argues that schools should spend more time focusing on children
who are not bound for college. "Does that mean they are not productive? No!"
she said. "If I get on an airplane, chances are that the mechanic, the air
traffic controller and the machinist didn't go to college. They were probably
trained in the military, and the military is about to downsize. We will lose
not only jobs, but training." Pre apprenticeship programs in high schools,
she says, will help cushion the problem.
DiMarco says she wants to ensure the quality of education by changing
teacher tenure to licensing similar to other professions. Textbooks are
another priority, she says, because California's rank in textbook
spending 45th is not acceptable. She also wants to get "very, very" serious on
guns and drugs, calling for a mandatory expulsion on the first offense. "It
won't make any difference what the curriculum is if the violence continues,"
Mudslinging has not been a major factor in the race so far, but the
candidates are not without comment for each other. Eastin has been the more
aggressive, arguing that DiMarco's history has shown her to be ineffective.
"What is her contribution been [to education]?" Eastin said. "She likes to
say I'm a Johnny come lately, but she accomplished almost nothing as Wilson's
adviser. I have just as much experience working with both parties as she
does. How else could I succeed in the Legislature?"
DiMarco offers a similar complaint about her opponent. "Delaine was not a
player in education policy at all until 1991," she said. "She came out of the
corporate world to replace Teresa Hughes [as chairwoman of Education], and
while I'm sure she cares about education, this has not been her career or her
life's work." And depending on what the candidates list as their occupations
on the ballot, their titles could have an effect on the vote outcome. After
all, DiMarco concedes, "Most people don't really know what the superintendent
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