Jones, Reykdal should advance for state schools chief

Making picks in a primary election is a bit like writing the first draft of a master’s thesis. While the finished product won’t be turned in until the fall, and a final grade won’t arrive until the first Tuesday in November, it requires careful scrutiny and tough choices up front.

That said, some races in this year’s crowded August primary don’t have more than two serious candidates, which affords voters – and this newspaper’s editorial board – more time to sort things out.

A handful of open seats – three in particular – add a dash of intrigue to the Aug. 2 primary.

For our endorsement process, we save everyone time by not indulging the cranks, fringe candidates, perennials with funny names (here’s looking at you, Goodspaceguy) and folks who make up their own parties (though the Fifth Republic and Holistic party conventions would probably be a hoot).

We also screen out those raising little or no cash. Like it or not, fundraising is a measure of gravitas and ability to wage a bona fide campaign.

This year, viable contenders for several prominent positions stayed on the sidelines and left a clear path for incumbents. That means we’ll wait until general election season to endorse for governor, secretary of state, members of Congress and other posts.

But a handful of open seats – three in particular – add a dash of intrigue to the Aug. 2 primary. Nine people filed to replace Randy Dorn as state school superintendent, five want to help us forget Troy Kelley’s misadventure as state auditor, and 11 hope to inherit the lieutenant governor’s gavel from Brad Owen.

Several office-seekers are worth a second look. This is first in a series about our favorites to advance to November.

Superintendent of public instruction

Three candidates emerge from the pack because of their experience, competence and passion for improving Washington’s K-12 school system.

Voters can’t go wrong getting behind any of the three in this nonpartisan race, but Chris Reykdal and Erin Jones win our endorsement.

Reykdal offers a potent combination of legislative and state management experience. He’s also been a school board member and high school history teacher.

Five years representing Thurston County in the state House, including leadership stints on education committees, have prepared him to work alongside lawmakers to solve their biggest quandary in at least a decade: the 2012 McCleary decision. Who better to nudge former colleagues to comply with the Supreme Court edict to fully and equitably fund public schools? And Reykdal seems unlikely to borrow Dorn’s adversarial tactics.

Reykdal would bring a welcome focus to workforce training, as well. He recognizes not all K-12 students are university material, nor does Washington’s economy call for them to be. He upholds that mission as deputy executive director of the state Board for Community and Technical Colleges.

Jones also rises to the head of the class. A former Milken state educator of the year award recipient while working in Spokane, she has spent most of her career in low-income schools on both sides of the state. She’s worked as a classroom teacher, athletic coach, instructional trainer and administrator.

What’s more, Jones would bring an insider’s knowledge to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, where she worked as an assistant superintendent under both Dorn and his predecessor, Terry Bergeson.

We appreciate Jones’ commitment to kids regardless of income, geography or language (she speaks four, by the way). She would make a fine role model if elected the first African American woman to hold statewide office.

The third candidate we interviewed, Robin Fleming, isn’t far off the pace. A nurse by training, Fleming also worked as an administrator at OSPI and has unrivaled expertise in student health services. She could be a visionary in developing the nexus between state education and national health care reform.

This column reflects the views of the editorial board of The News Tribune newspaper in Tacoma.