On June 3, 2014, Gary Dei Rossi and Jeff Tilton will square off in what will be the first competitive race for superintendent of the San Joaquin County Office of Education since 1990, when Rick Wentworth first was elected. That year, Wentworth and Charles Humbert advanced in the June primary over two other competitors to a November runoff, which was won by Wentworth.
It turns out that’s as competitive as it’s gotten in the past half-century. Here’s a chronology, based on the Record’s archives:
1963: Superintendent Stanley Hawkins dies in October 1963 and assistant Gaylord Nelson is appointed to the position shortly thereafter. A little perspective: Nelson was appointed 17 days before John F. Kennedy was assassinated and remained in the position into the administration of the first President Bush. The superintendent’s position in 1963 paid $19,000.
June 1966: Nelson wins his first full term, easily beating his opponent in the June primary. Nelson’s opponent was Carlos Esquedo, the principal at Taylor Elementary School.
June 1970: Nelson runs unopposed, is reelected.
June 1974: Nelson runs unopposed, is reelected.
June 1978: Nelson runs unopposed, is reelected.
June 1982: Nelson is challenged by Lodi Unified Assistant Superintendent Thomas Bandelin and Stanislaus State College Professor of Education David Lema. He wins easily in the June primary, eliminating the need for a November runoff.
June 1986: Nelson easily beats Lema and is reelected for the final time. Nelson passed away in early 1990.
So we can say now that only once since at least 1962 has the battle for county superintendent been competitive enough that the campaign extended beyond the June primary and into a November runoff.
The 2014 race also will mark only the third election in the past 13 since 1962 that an incumbent is not running (the others were in 2010 when Wentworth retired and in 1990 after Nelson died).
If you’ve read this far, bad news: I plan no further research on this subject.