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California Education Chief Tony Thurmond Announces Run for Governor in 2026 Race

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A man wearing a business suit stands in front of microphones with a man wearing a hat and mask in the background.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond speaks to the media at a vaccine clinic at an LA County library in Paramount on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021.  (Brittany Murray/MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press-Telegram via Getty Images)

California’s top education official, Tony Thurmond, on Tuesday announced his bid for governor in 2026, a move that comes amid debates about the rights of students and parents, and what role the state should play as school boards approve class materials.

If elected, Thurmond, the state superintendent of public instruction, would be the first Black person to become California’s governor. He says he wants to address income inequality, ensure schools are better funded and speed up the state’s transition to renewable energy.

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“Our campaign isn’t about any one person. It’s about people who are struggling across our state,” the Democrat said in an advertisement announcing his campaign. “California should be a place where everyone has a chance to succeed.”

He joins an already crowded race for governor, though the election is more than three years away. California Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis and former state Controller Betty Yee, both Democrats, also announced their 2026 bids for governor. Democratic State Treasurer Fiona Ma, who previously said she would run for governor, announced earlier this year that she is running for lieutenant governor.

Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom cannot seek a third term.

Before Thurmond became the state’s superintendent in 2019, he served on the West Contra Costa School Board, on the Richmond City Council and in the state Assembly. In 2021, he came under criticism after helping to hire his friend, a psychologist who lived in Philadelphia, as the state’s first superintendent of equity, Politico reported. The official later resigned.

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Thurmond has gotten involved recently in several debates over school board policies and he was kicked out of a Southern California school board meeting over the summer for opposing a policy to require school staff to notify parents if their child changes their pronouns or gender identity. California Attorney General Rob Bonta sued the Chino Valley district over the policy, saying it discriminated against students. A judge then halted the policy while the litigation plays out.

Thurmond supported a bill Newsom signed into law Monday to ban school boards from rejecting textbooks because they teach about the contributions of people from different racial backgrounds, sexual orientations or gender identities.

The legislation garnered more attention this summer when a Southern California school board rejected a social studies curriculum for elementary students with supplemental material mentioning Harvey Milk, who was a San Francisco politician and gay rights advocate. Newsom threatened the board with a $1.5 million fine. The school board later reversed course.

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