Originally created 07/22/98

Schrenko keeps seat in primary



ATLANTA -- State schools Superintendent Linda Schrenko, a surprise election winner in 1994, avoided falling victim to an upset-minded challenger Tuesday in Georgia's Republican primary.

She now is expected to meet former Atlanta School Board President Joe Martin in the November general election.

With 42 percent of the precincts counted statewide, Ms. Schrenko led Cobb County administrator Frances Roberson with 92,209 votes, or 62 percent, to 58,902, or 38 percent.

In the Democratic primary, Mr. Martin led former University of Georgia educator Theresa Bey with 92,078 votes, or 56 percent, to 73,215, or 44 percent.

Ms. Schrenko and Mr. Martin were favored to win the primaries, in part because both held substantial fund-raising advantages over their opponents.

However, neither spent much on the primaries, deciding instead to conserve money for the fall finale.

Ms. Schrenko became Georgia's first Republican and first female state superintendent in 1994 when she upset longtime Democratic Superintendent Werner Rogers.

While Ms. Roberson criticized the lack of progress Ms. Schrenko's state Education Department has made on national tests, the incumbent had a big political advantage.

Ms. Schrenko has criss-crossed the state the past four years, speaking at schools, civic functions and Republican gatherings. She also became well-known because of political battles with school groups and the state Board of Education during her first two years in office.

Some of the publicity wasn't necessarily helpful, such as when she called the Parent Teacher Association a "liberal" organization.

However, in the Republican primary, the fact that she is a well-known incumbent was expected to be decisive.

"I've been at every Republican event for the past four years," she said. "They know me. They know what I stand for.

"These are the people who said they wanted change. I've definitely represented change. It's not necessarily peace, but it's definitely been change. We've gotten improved test scores, decreased the size of government, and we've gotten more accountability. In the Republican primary, that means a lot to those folks. The die-hards are with me."

However, the Democrats hope to exploit her past problems with school groups.

"I find a lot of discontent, a sense that we can do better than we have been doing," Mr. Martin said. "So far, this has been the warmup period. During the primary, we've talked in generalities. As we get into the general election, I think people will be asking specifically what I propose to do.

"I'm proposing a comprehensive plan for high standards. The voters will quickly see the difference in philosophy of our approaches. The voters will make a choice based on leadership style and the ability to work with people."

Although she ran a low-budget campaign, Ms. Bey remained confident late Tuesday that she could overcome Mr. Martin in the Democratic race.

"I am definitely confident and I am also motivated," she said. "I believe what attracted voters to me is I got out and talked to people and I listened to what they said, and they found that important."

Considering the prominent part education policy has played in the governor and lieutenant governor's races, Ms. Bey said the superintendent's primaries should have attracted more attention.

"All of the candidates who talked about their concerns talked about education," Ms. Bey said. "I thought all the candidates running for governor were running for school superintendent."