RALEIGH — Catherine Truitt has become the second Republican in a row to become the state superintendent of schools after defeating Democratic candidate Jennifer Mangrum.
The last Republican state superintendents elected back to back occurred during the late 1860s and early 1870s. Truitt’s predecessor, Mark Johnson, was the first Republican elected to the office since Charles Mebane in 1897 — a gap of 119 years.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you!! I am humbled by the support we received and beyond thankful for all of you,” Truitt said on election night. “I am ready to get to work to ensure ALL NC students have the opportunity to receive a quality education!”
Truitt defeated Mangrum by winning 75 out of North Carolina’s 100 counties. The unofficial results have Truitt bringing in 2,728,678 votes, which is 147,837 more votes than Mangrum; a vote margin of 2.78%.
As with other races in the state, Truitt found herself being out-fundraised and outspent. Dr. Terry Stoops, the vice president of research and director of education studies for the John Locke Foundation, noted that leading up to the election, Mangrum held a 6-1 fundraising lead over Truitt thanks to “hefty contributions from the North Carolina Democratic Party, Lillian’s List, and the NCAE PAC.”
The N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE), an affiliate of teacher’s union the National Education Association, had also backed Truitt’s opponent.
When asked whether this win represented a rejection of the NCAE and its positions, Truitt agreed but said it was also about parents and choice.
“This win was about parent voice and choice,” Truitt told North State Journal. “But I also think there was a lot of negativity that came out of my opponent’s campaign and her surrogates, and I think people did not respond to that.”
Truitt said she received support from teachers all over the state and that it’s important to remember that the NCAE only represents about one in five teachers. The NCAE had quickly endorsed Mangrum and the NCAE’s PAC provided financial backing for her campaign.
“I want to represent all teachers, all principals, all students, all superintendents,” Truitt said. “At the end of the day, that lack of endorsement did not prevent me from winning this election.
Truitt has worn many hats over the years as wife and mom, but also professionally as a teacher, a policy adviser and her most recent role as chancellor of Western Governor’s University.
In an interview with North State Journal earlier this year, Truitt talked about being a breast cancer survivor and show she had self-detected a lump just two months before the 2016 election, while serving as senior education advisor to former Gov. Pat McCrory.
During the course of the campaign, Truitt emphasized that there needs to be consensus building and the ability of all parties to listen to each other. Before assuming her position, she said she wants to sit down and have a conversation with members of the State Board of Education.
“I’d like to sit down and have a conversation about what alignment should look like, how their vision through their strategic plan aligns with my priorities and where we can build consensus from there,” said Truitt.
Truitt has no illusions about the job ahead of her but is trying to keep a forward-looking and positive attitude.
“I would like for people to know that the fact that our state constitution requires us to elect our state superintendent does make it very difficult to remove politics from education,” said Truitt. “But I am going to do my damnedest to try.”