It’s been more than two decades since Delaine Eastin was elected superintendent of public instruction, the only woman to ever hold that office. Living outside the spotlight of elected office since 2003, she’s now mounting a grass-roots run for California governor, and is the only female major candidate in the race.
Here are five things you should know about Eastin:
1. She got her start in local government. Eastin, a Democrat, served as an elected councilwoman in the East Bay’s Union City, after earning a master’s degree from UC Santa Barbara. Eastin taught community college classes before taking a job at Pacific Telephone. She left her job as a corporate strategic planner to serve in the Legislature in the late 1980s, where she took an immediate interest in the state’s long-range transportation plan before turning her focus more to education policy. She served as the state schools chief from 1995 to 2003. Eastin is divorced and lives in Davis.
2. Eastin made her name as an education advocate. She formed her opinion about the need for smaller classes from her own experience of being in a small class and excelling while attending schools in San Carlos. Once she became superintendent of public instruction, Eastin battled with Republican Gov. Pete Wilson’s administration over funding to reduce the size of classes. Wilson eventually came around. “It was unprecedented,” Eastin later said of her career-defining effort. “I told the governor, ‘You have to give me carte-blanche authority to do what I need to do to get things done quickly.’” Earlier, she carried a schools facilities bond and went on to establish gardens in more than 3,000 schools.
3. Before schools, she was all about transportation. Early on in her legislative tenure, Eastin carried several measures related to transportation and the environment. One bill sought to examine the state’s long-range highway and transit needs, develop a strategy and assess the potential costs.
Another imposed a new fee on landfill operators based on the amount of solid waste handled to raise $100 million for superfund cleanup work. Others required dealers to affix stickers to new, light trucks to inform potential purchasers of the make, model, manufacturer’s suggested retail price, and to mandate that dealers use easy-to-read type size describing lease terms and costs in their television advertisements. Still another called for Caltrans to negotiate with Amtrak to speed up the establishment of overnight rail service from Los Angeles to Sacramento, via San Francisco.
4. She’s folksy. Eastin has stood out in early debates, mostly because of her energy: “I’m on fire for education,” is one of her go-to lines. While “democracy” comes from the Greek words “demos,” meaning people, and “kratos,” meaning power, Eastin likes to say that the Greeks also invented the word idiot: “It meant one who does not participate in politics,” she adds, stressing the importance of grass-roots participation in all levels of government.
5. Education. Education. Education. It’s her big focus in the governor’s race. Eastin wants to spend more, offering that “budgets are statements of values.” She wants classes to be smaller. But she’s also talked about reforming a Capitol culture that for too long has allowed sexual harassment to fester: “Men of quality are not afraid of woman’s equality,” she says. Separately, she supports universal, government-run health care.