COLUMBIA — The race to be South Carolina’s next school superintendent is already its most contested election for statewide office, and the filing period is still more than six weeks away.
Republican Superintendent Mick Zais’ announcement that he won’t seek a second term left the field wide open. In the past three weeks, three Republicans have jumped into the race, though one has backed out, and several more say they either plan to run or are considering it. Two Democrats are vying for the job.
As it stands, the field features a legislator, a former state education administrator, a school board member, and a GOP activist.
State Rep. Michael Anthony, D-Union, leads the money race, with $43,500 in cash available as of Dec. 31. The 63-year-old retired teacher and three-time state championship football coach was the first to announce his candidacy last August, collecting $66,200 in donations in the 4½ months since, according to his latest filing.
His campaign expounds the need for a superintendent with classroom experience, as he touts his 32 years in teaching along with a decade in the House.
“These experiences of working both on the policy side in the Legislature, as well as in the classroom and football field, give me a more unique perspective than most candidates who have ever run for this position,” said
Anthony, a father of three.
His Democratic opponent, Montrio Belton of Fort Mill, had $31,400 in cash on hand as of his January filing, after loaning himself $30,000.
Outside of loans, the former director of school transformation for Zais collected $5,000 from September through year’s end. Before joining Zais’ administration in 2011, Belton was a middle school principal, assistant high school principal and teacher. The 40-year-old father of two is working toward a law degree from the University of South Carolina School of Law.
“What I lack in resources and money, I’ll make up in work ethic,” he said of his campaign.
On the Republican side, GOP activist Sheri Few of Lugoff has raised $17,000, including a $6,300 loan to herself, according to her initial filing Jan. 22, days after her announcement.
Few, the state campaign director for Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann’s 2012 presidential bid, says she’s running to block education standards known as Common Core. The 61-year-old is president of Parents Involved in Education, a nonprofit she founded in 2000 that trains teachers in abstinence-only education.
Anderson County school board member Gary Burgess, who announced his second bid for the job on the King Day holiday, has not yet filed a campaign disclosure.
The 56-year-old former principal and Anderson 4 superintendent said he brings the combined perspectives of a parent, educator and “someone who went through the system in poverty as an African-American male,” and he wants to have unfettered talks about the academic divide and why children aren’t reading on grade level.
GOP state Rep. Andy Patrick, a former New York state trooper and Secret Service agent, was the first Republican to enter the race, but he bowed out last week amid contentious divorce proceedings.
He has yet to file a campaign disclosure report with the State Ethics Commission.
Others mulling over a bid for the Republican nomination include state Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort; Molly Spearman, director of the state Association of School Administrators; and Charmeka Childs, Zais’ deputy superintendent. Sally Atwater, the widow of legendary Republican campaign adviser Lee Atwater, told The State on Friday she’s running, but she hasn’t made an official announcement or filed with ethics. Charleston County school board member Elizabeth Moffly has told The Post and Courier she plans to make a third run for the job and will make an official announcement later.
There’s still plenty of time. Filing to run for office with the Republican and Democratic parties doesn’t start until mid-March.
A crowded race to be South Carolina’s top educator is not unusual.
The 2010 contest featured six Republicans and two Democrats vying to replace Democrat Jim Rex, who ran unsuccessfully for governor that year. Zais’ win gave Republicans back the seat for the first time in 12 years. However, while Republicans now hold every statewide office, the job of state schools chief is one office where Democrats have found success in the last decade. Rex won in 2006 following a five-way GOP primary, after Democrat Inez Tenenbaum chose not to seek a third term.
“I believe education is the one topic that transcends political parties,” Belton said.