Democrats picked Otha Thornton (right) over Sid Chapman in Tuesday’s runoff election. Thornton goes on to face incumbent Richard Woods, who won the Republican primary in May.

Georgia Democrats pick Thornton for state school superintendent

Otha Thornton will represent Democrats in the general election for Georgia superintendent of schools. 

The military contractor from Richmond Hill near Savannah handily beat former Georgia Association of Educators President Sid Chapman, with 59 percent of the vote in Tuesday's runoff election. Thornton will now face incumbent Richard Woods, who won the GOP primary two months ago. 

Thornton said from his election night headquarters in Savannah that he wants to “restore hope to Georgia education, and make a difference.” He thanked supporters, including the Georgia Federation of Teachers, the faith community and veterans who he said were “really big” for his campaign. He counted generals and colonels among his donors.

The two Democrats held similar views on key issues: both Thornton and Chapman had said they'd seek more funding for education, for instance, and each opposed arming teachers to secure schools against intruders. Both raised similar amounts of money, which is to say, not enough to make an impression with many Georgians.

This left voters with a difficult choice. 

Some, like school counselor Donna Kelley, heeded trusted counsel: former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan had given Thornton an early endorsement, which the DeKalb County resident said had swayed her vote. Mary Lou Waymer, also of DeKalb, is a former Atlanta Federation of Teachers president, and bucked her state organization’s preference for Thornton: she said she picked Chapman because he was a teacher. 

Thornton's early career was in the U.S. Army, in Iraq; his tie to education is through his time as the first black president of the National PTA. DuBose Porter, chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, predicted this experience “will bring a broad perspective of success to our state’s public-school system when he wins in November.”

Thornton reacted to the biggest political news of the night, Brian Kemp’s victory in the gubernatorial runoff, with optimism, saying it would help his own run for superintendent in the general election. “The fact that Kemp was elected, it’s going to drive up the minority vote,” Thornton said.

Another race driving Democrats to the polls would surely help him; the election for superintendent is a down-ballot affair that typically doesn’t attract much attention on its own.

Some who bothered to go to the polls Tuesday still passed over this race. Lyda Steadman voted for a local judge down the ballot, but didn’t pick either man for superintendent. Like many exiting the Avondale Estates polling place, neither had registered with her: “I didn’t know them," she said, "and I don’t vote if I don’t know." 

Even Bruce Daniel, who dutifully hobbled to his polling place with a broken ankle, drew a blank when asked whom he'd picked for superintendent. 

"I can't even remember now," he told a reporter moments after voting. Then, after he was prompted with the two choices, he remembered: Thornton.

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