Superintendent of California. of Public Education, Tony Thurmond is officially running for governor in 2026, becoming the latest Democrat to launch a campaign in a race that could attract a wide range of contenders after Governor Gavin Newsom was forced to resign in due to term limits.
Thurmond made the announcement Tuesday after publicly toying with the idea this summer, saying in July that he was considering a run for governor but was “fully focused” on his current job as the state’s top official. state schools.
In a new ad, Thurmond, a former Bay Area Democratic lawmaker elected superintendent in 2018, highlights his youth living in poverty, describing his support for public assistance programs such as food stamps and his work at McDonald’s while in college.
“I don’t come from money, power or influence,” he says in the ad, amid a montage of former California governors – all white men – as a actor playing a young Thurmond, who is black. “My story is nothing like theirs.”
Thurmond was orphaned at age 6 after the death of his mother, an immigrant from Panama, and the absence of his father, a veteran, according to the announcement. He cites his Afro-Latino heritage and pledges to address economic inequality in California, calling for a higher minimum wage, higher salaries for teachers and more affordable housing.
“California may work for the millionaires and billionaires, but for the rest of California, we need real change,” Thurmond said.
The ad does not target any potential challenger but aims to position Thurmond as a defender of the working class in a state that is also home to extreme wealth, a dynamic that could shape the race if California’s powerful unions support his campaign.
The California Teachers Assn. and other unions spent millions to help Thurmond get elected to the nonpartisan superintendent seat five years ago.
The only other candidate to officially launch a campaign so far is Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, a Democrat from a wealthy real estate developer family.
Thurmond opened a gubernatorial campaign committee in July and has since raised $101,000, according to secretary of state filings, with most of the contributions coming from unions representing electricians, plumbers and boilermakers.
The Oakland Police Association. also contributed $5,000 to Thurmond’s campaign. In 2020, the Oakland school board voted to remove its campus police force amid nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd. Although Thurmond spoke out against police brutality and institutional racism, he then took a more tempered approach, calling not for the removal of police officers from schools but for programs such as implicit bias training.
Thurmond’s candidacy for governor was announced a day after Newsom signed a bill banning textbook bans such as those implemented in red states and attempted by California’s conservative school boards. Like Newsom, Thurmond has addressed increasingly politicized school culture wars, launching a textbook task force in June.
Voters overwhelmingly re-elected Thurmond last year despite criticism of his handling of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic and an alleged turnover problem at the Department of Education amid accusations of handling a Toxic workplace.
California Department of Education spokeswoman Maria Clayton — Thurmond’s third communications director in less than five years — left her post this month and could not be reached for comment.
Thurmond also came under fire in 2021 for hiring a friend living out of state as a top education official, a move that violated California policy and led to at least two resignations.
Kounalakis has raised more than $2.6 million for his campaign for governor, including the maximum allowable donation of $36,400 from several Democratic heavyweights. They include: his father, Angelo K. Tsakopoulos, a real estate developer; Susie Tompkins-Buell, co-founder of clothing brands Esprit and North Face; George Soros, a financier who donated to many progressive causes; and Sheryl Sandberg, a former Facebook executive.
Former State Comptroller Betty Yee also plans to run. She said Tuesday she would make her campaign official next year. For now, she said she’s focused on re-electing President Biden to his current position as vice chair of the California Democratic Party.
Yee, who is Asian American, joins Thurmond in the fight to become California’s first person of color and Kounalakis in the fight to become California’s first female governor.
Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta also said he was “seriously considering” running for governor in elections in three years.
Los Angeles Times