Chris Reykdal won reelection over challenger Maia Espinoza on Tuesday in one of the most politically divided races for Washington state schools chief in recent memory.
Reykdal held an insurmountable lead over Espinoza — 57% to 43% in Tuesday’s vote count — with strong support west of the Cascade Mountains.
He will serve four more years as the superintendent of public instruction, leading the state agency that distributes funding to school districts and provides critical guidance to schools about how to adapt during the pandemic.
Reykdal promised to bring more funding to school districts, especially for technology, and to increase the number of students receiving college credit while still in school and expand access to dual language programs.
Reykdal’s campaign attracted more money than any other candidate for state schools chief since at least 2008, but his supporters were nervous about Election Day outcomes. He had a sluggish start to campaigning compared to his incumbent, and in the primary he had the lowest margin of votes of any incumbent seeking statewide office.
The campaign for this nonpartisan office was rife with partisan jabs and political signaling, and gave rise to a legal dispute that reached the state Supreme Court over an explosive statement Espinoza made in the voter guide that accused Reykdal of “championing a policy that teaches sexual positions to fourth graders.”
“Voters saw through the vitriol,” Reykdal said from his Tumwater, Thurston County, home on Tuesday evening. “I’m going to go into work tomorrow, and we’re gonna keep focusing on how to open schools in a way that’s safe, healthy and sustainable.”
Espinoza, a Republican activist, built her campaign on opposition to a mandatory sex education law that Reykdal backed, which attracted support from conservatives. Referendum 90, which asked voters whether to implement the law, was approved in Tuesday’s election.
She did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Asked about Espinoza’s supporters, Reykdal said, “I respect that folks clung to her message, but this role is just more complex than any single issue.”
Reykdal, a former Democratic state lawmaker, ran on a progressive funding platform and promised a sound transition out of the pandemic.
While Espinoza had the backing of many Republicans in the state Legislature, Democrats and labor groups such as the Washington Education Association, the statewide teachers union, made a last-minute push to boost Reykdal’s visibility, spending $750,000 in the span of a month on flyers and opposition advertisements.