Of the nine positions in Washington’s executive department, only one is “nonpartisan”: the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), which is responsible for the administration and oversight of the state’s public schools.
The lack of a party label on the ballot means there’s less information for voters to go on when contemplating who to support in this important downballot race.
This year, voters will be choosing between incumbent Chris Reykdal — who narrowly won the job four years ago in a spirited contest with NPI guest contributor Erin Jones — and Maia Espinoza, a right wing candidate who holds extreme views, opposes comprehensive sexual health education, and has falsely accused Reykdal of wanting to teach sexual positions to fourth graders.
Earlier this month, NPI commissioned a statewide survey of Washingtonians in which we asked likely voters who they were supporting for OSPI. We found 30% in support of Reykdal, 23% in support of Espinoza, and 47% not sure.
No incumbent in our survey polled as low as Reykdal did. Undoubtedly, that’s in part due to the fact that this is a “nonpartisan” race with no party labels next to the candidates’ names. But Reykdal’s lack of visibility is also probably a factor.
Reykdal has participated in some of Governor Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 press conferences, but it seems that he is not as well known to the electorate as other incumbents seeking reelection to downballot offices in the state.
Even Republican State Treasurer Duane Davidson, who is perhaps the most endangered incumbent running this cycle (he was bested by Democratic challenger Mike Pellicciotti in the Top Two) outpolled Reykdal.
Reykdal’s challenger Maia Espinoza has not gained much traction either.
Although Espinoza is enthusiastically backed by the same people who qualified Referendum 90, only 23% of respondents to our survey expressed support for her candidacy, whereas Donald Trump and candidates able to identify as Republicans on the ballot consistently received support of at least thirty percent or more.
Reykdal garnered 40.24% of the vote in the August Top Two election, while Espinoza was in second place with 25.28%. Four other candidates were eliminated, one of whom is a perennially unsuccessful candidate.
Reykdal and Espinoza would undoubtedly both benefit from being able to run as candidates who can state a party preference on the ballot, though Reykdal would likely benefit more due to the state’s Democratic tilt. Though the race is officially “nonpartisan”, in practice it is anything but: Reykdal has strong and firm Democratic support; the Republican Party is backing Espinoza.
Here are the numbers again and the exact question we asked:
QUESTION: The 2020 candidates for Superintendent of Public Instruction are Chris Reykdal and Maia Espinoza. Who are you voting for?
- Chris Reykdal: 30%
- Maia Espinoza: 23%
- Not sure: 47%
Our survey of six hundred and ten likely 2020 Washington State voters was in the field from Wednesday, October 14th through Thursday, October 15th.
It utilizes a blended methodology, with automated phone calls to landlines and text message answers from cell phone only respondents.
The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling for the Northwest Progressive Institute, and has a margin of error of +/- 4.0% at the 95% confidence level.
Reaching voters statewide is difficult and expensive, and the challenge is magnified in a low profile downballot race. Reykdal’s campaign has put together a mailer that emphasizes that he is a Democrat, through and through, with service to the people of Washington State as a Democratic legislator.
It turns out that in addition to lying about Reykdal, Espinoza is also fabricating details about herself in an attempt to look like a more credible candidate.
The Washington State Wire did some digging into Espinoza’s background last month and found that she has not completed the master’s degree from Western Governors University that she lists in her voter’s pamphlet statement.
Espinoza’s supporters, like Republican State Representative Michelle Caldier, have tried to brush this off as a rookie mistake from a first time candidate.
But lying to voters about one’s academic credentials is an extremely serious matter, and Republicans have made it an issue in other races in the past.
Espinoza’s nonprofit, the “Center for Latino Leadership”, has also falsely claimed on its website to be operating as a federally recognized 501(c)(3) charity, when in fact it was not — a fact brought to light by The Associated Press.
From the AP:
Espinoza declined to provide an equivalent tax filing for her organization and said she has never claimed donations are tax deductible in her fundraising efforts. She said the Center for Latino Leadership has been trying to apply for 501©3 status for years but ran into issues with its accounting firm.
“It’s been a process for sure but we’ve been diligent in operating as a C3,” Espinoza said in an email.
Ran into issues with its accounting firm? Sounds like “the dog ate my homework.”
It’s telling that the Center for Latino Leadership had been months delinquent in renewing its corporate registration at the state level at the time the Associated Press checked into the organization’s legal standing. Two days after the AP inquired about the Center’s status, its annual report was belatedly filed.
If the organization can’t even file its annual report in a timely manner, then there’s no reason to believe Espinoza is being truthful when she says her nonprofit has been “diligent in operating as a C3.”
And there’s no reason to believe her advisors are capable of properly advising her given that they don’t seem to understand nonprofit law at all:
Alex Ybarra, a Republican legislator representing eastern Washington in the state House of Representatives, said he’s been on the board of the center since its inception. He initially confirmed the organization was a 501(c)(3), but an hour later when informed of the discrepancy said he doesn’t know about its tax status and deferred to Espinoza.
Ybarra said his role is advisory and he has never reviewed the organization’s paperwork or approved its budget.
“It’s not something I ever looked at. I don’t know what a 501(c)(3) tax status is,” Ybarra said. “I’m more a political sounding board for her.”
Representative Ybarra: please take an afternoon to read the IRS’ guidance on exempt organizations. It’s truly embarrassing that you’re so ignorant that you told a reporter you don’t know what 501(c)(3) tax status is. You are one of Washington’s ninety-eight state representatives. You need to know what federal tax exempt status is. Also, saying you’re on the board of a nonprofit when you’re actually not is making a false representation. Don’t ever do that again.
Washington State Democratic leaders have an event planned for tomorrow at noon aimed at raising Reykdal’s profile and sounding the alarm over the false and dangerous things that Espinoza has been saying. Considering how many respondents to our survey said right before the voting began that they’re not sure who they’re going to vote for, that’s a very smart move on their part.
Voting in the 2020 presidential election is currently in progress and is set to conclude on November 3rd, 2020 at 8 PM Pacific in Washington State.