- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 21, 2017

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Two-term incumbent state Superintendent Tony Evers will face former Beloit superintendent Lowell Holtz in the April 4 election to be the state’s top education official, after the two longtime educators advanced in Tuesday’s primary. Former Dodgeville administrator John Humphries, who tried to cast himself as more conservative than Evers but more bipartisan than Holtz, finished a distant third and was eliminated.

The race to head the state Department of Public Instruction is officially nonpartisan, but Democrats and their allies back Evers while Holtz has the support of two dozen Republican lawmakers and conservative groups. Holtz, who branded himself as “kidservative,” touted the fact that he was the only one of the three candidates who did not sign the petition to recall GOP Gov. Scott Walker from office in 2012.

That recall was spurred by anger of the law Walker championed that all but eliminated collective bargaining for public school teachers and other public workers, and forced them to pay more for their health insurance and pension benefits.

Evers captured roughly 69 percent of the vote, based on unofficial returns. Holtz was far behind with 24 percent while Humphries barely registered with just 7 percent.

Holtz favors expanding Wisconsin’s private school voucher program and wants to repeal the Common Core academic standards, two things that Evers opposes. Holtz said Tuesday night that he welcomed money from outside groups that support school choice to help his campaign. Evers countered that Holtz was “lusting” after money from those national groups and that it could be a deciding factor in the general election.

“The folks that support the vouchers nationally have lots more money than I could ever raise in the state of Wisconsin,” Evers said. “I don’t dismiss that position of his and we’re just going to work twice as hard going forward.”

Evers cast his decisive victory as a win for the state’s public school students.

Holtz survived a nasty fight in the final days of the campaign with Humphries over a breakfast meeting they had in December. Humphries alleged that Holtz offered him a $150,000 state job and broad authority that doesn’t currently exist to reorganize and take over the state’s five largest school districts if he dropped out of the race. Holtz said Humphries was mischaracterizing the meeting and that ideas he presented came from one or more business leaders both candidates refused to name.

Both candidates accused one another of lying.

Holtz said after his second-place finish he didn’t think voters cared about the accusations.

“It is what it is, it is what it was,” he said. “I am totally committed to running for this position and I always have been.”

Evers is running for a third term as state superintendent. Holtz, a former teacher, principal and superintendent, ran against Evers in 2009 but came in last in a five-person primary.

The winner will oversee the Department of Public Instruction, which runs K-12 education policy, curriculum and programs, and administers state and federal aid for all 424 public school districts. The department also works with private schools in the choice program and runs teacher licensing and regulation.

Holtz is calling for better discipline in schools to make classrooms more safe and secure. He also wants to increase local control and empower teachers.

Marvin Glass, 81, a retired technical college teacher from the Milwaukee suburb of Brookfield, said he voted for Holtz.

“I kind of put it on his being strict and not wishy-washy,” Glass said. “We need someone who can be a little more strict instead of politically correct. We’ve had the same guy in there for a long time.”

Amy Quan Barry, a university professor who voted in Evers‘ downtown Madison neighborhood, said she chose Evers because she sees him as one of the last remaining high-ranking officials in the state able to stand up to Republicans.


Associated Press writers Gretchen Ehlke in Brookfield and Cara Lombardo in Madison contributed to this report.


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP and find more of his work at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/scott-bauer

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