The hotly contested race for state superintendent of public instruction between incumbent Janet Barresi and former state School Board member Joy Hofmeister didn’t materialize at the polls Tuesday.
With all 1,956 precincts reporting, Hofmeister pulled away early in the Republican primary and never looked back, capturing 151,012 votes (57.6 percent) to advance to the Nov. 4 general election while Barresi — who spent more than a million of her own money on her campaign — finished third behind longshot Brian Kelly.
Kelly, 50, of Edmond, who kept a low profile during the campaign, received 56,014 votes (21.4 percent) and Barresi, 62, of Oklahoma City, got 55,015 votes (21 percent).
Hofmeister, 49, of Tulsa, said she she was surprised by the margin of victory.
“This is not anything we expected this evening,” she said during an appearance in Oklahoma City. “We were fully prepared for a runoff in the summer...so this is certainly exciting. “We understand this is only the first step. We have another race to run.”
Barresi and Hofmeister traded barbs during a contentious primary campaign, with both accusing the other of breaking the law. Hofmeister, who resigned from the state School Board to run against Barresi, characterized her as inflexible, uncommunicative and divisive.
“Reform happens when we work together,” she said.
Barresi, flanked by her twin sons at an upscale Oklahoma City restaurant, vowed to continue pursuing “education reforms” as a “private citizen.”
“Tonight is the end of a political campaign. But tonight is by no means the end of my efforts toward education reform in Oklahoma,” she said. “I will be in the fight, I will stay in the fight. No matter from inside the system or outside, I will fight relentlessly for critical reforms that Oklahoma children deserve.”
The Democratic primary was much more competitive race, with Peggs Superintendent John Cox and Freda Deskin, a charter school founder and operator, advancing to a runoff Aug. 26 for the right to meet Hofmeister in the Nov. 4 general election.
Cox, 51, of Peggs, received 68,833 votes (41 percent) and Deskin, 66, of Edmond, got 64,077 votes (38.2 percent).
“I think Oklahoma is ready for an educator and in particular someone that is trained as a school superintendent to be in a state superintendent’s position,” Cox said. “I think the runoff gives us an opportunity to get our message and our name out there more.”
Also receiving votes were Jack C. Herron Jr., 68, of Norman, 23,319 (13.3 percent) and Ivan Holmes, 77, of Oklahoma City, 12,495 (7.4 percent).
“Obviously, it would have been nice to have gotten that 51 percent, but we feel very very confident looking at the counties that we won and we’ve already started working on our strategies going forward,” Deskin said.
Hofmeister credited a grassroots campaign she said included engaged parents and community leaders with carrying her to victory.
“They know that stronger schools mean stronger neighborhoods, stronger communities and ultimately stronger Oklahomans,” she said.
Since beginning her term in 2011, Barresi, 62, has ushered in a number of educational reforms approved by the Legislature, including the A-F grading system, a teacher evaluation program and a third-grade retention law.
Many of her reforms have been controversial among educators, administrators and parents.
“We knew reform would be strongly resisted by some members of the education establishment — that has certainly proven to be true,” Barresi said. “But our children deserve better, and I am proud to have served as their advocate. I’m proud of the record we have established over the last four years.”
She said spending more than a million dollars on her primary campaign was worth it.
“Absolutely,” she said. “I’ve been blessed with resources.”
Barresi also had a message for Hofmeister supporters.
“They're not getting the candidate they think they're getting,” she said. “They will see soon. I suspect, if she does prevail, they will see that very quickly.”
Contributing: Staff writers Kyle Hinchey
and Andrew Knittle