State schools superintendent Tony Evers on Tuesday easily defeated former Whitnall School District superintendent Lowell Holtz, securing a third term leading the state's Department of Public Instruction.
The only statewide race in Tuesday's general election was called within 30 minutes of the polls closing at 8 p.m. in Wisconsin, with Evers ultimately garnering 70 percent of votes and Holtz receiving 30 percent.
Evers, who was still at his Madison home playing Euchre with his family when he was informed of his victory by a Wisconsin State Journal reporter, said he was "humbled" and "pleased."
"I feel great," Evers said. "I think it's a reflection of not only our successes but I think our vision for our future is a little more positive (than Holtz's) so we’re looking forward to (four) more years."
Holtz told reporters in a phone call after the race was called that he hopes more substantial progress in improving academic success among black students will occur under Evers in his third term.
"I'm really hoping that while I might not be in the position that I wanted to be (tonight), I really hope that we raised issues and awareness -- that parents shouldn’t have to put up with failing schools," Holtz said. "I'm praying that Tony really steps up to the plate and turns things around."
Holtz, who unsuccessfully ran against Evers in a 2009 primary, said he attributes his loss to the stark difference in how much money each campaign was able to raise. He said while he didn't personally seek outside interest groups' financial assistance, such help could have made a difference in the outcome of the race.
Though officially nonpartisan, Evers ran a campaign largely supported by Democrats and focused on promoting public schools. Holtz drew support from mostly conservatives and promoted his support of taxpayer-funded school vouchers and opposition to the Common Core academic standards.
Holtz's campaign also focused on the state's gap in academic achievement between black and white students -- which is considered to be the largest in the nation by some measures.
Evers attributed his victory to a campaign focused on successes among the state's public schools rather than shortcomings. But Holtz said on Tuesday he didn't regret the message of his campaign.
"I'm not going to walk around with rose-colored glasses if we're failing generations of African-American kids," Holtz said.
Evers throughout the campaign defended his record as DPI superintendent on the issue, saying poverty has the most influence over a student's likelihood of academic success -- and that while he has led curriculum changes and other efforts to improve academic achievement in Milwaukee, schools can't alone overcome effects of poverty.
While Evers is the only liberal-leaning head of a major state agency, he said he didn't view the win -- by a more than two-to-one margin -- as a victory for any particular political bloc of voters.
"I think it says people are really supportive of their public schools," Evers said, adding that he didn't see the results of the race as a victory for school voucher opponents. "I think it is for some people, but I view it as a pro-kid win."
Ron Martin, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, said in a statement that voters on Tuesday "rejected" Holtz's support of the "expansion of private school charters and vouchers at the expense of public schools."
Both Evers and Holtz said they did not know Tuesday whether they would run again in 2021, when Evers' third term expires.
Tuesday's election came after an tumultuous race that began with an explosion of accusations of lying, doctoring documents and alleged election bribery surrounding Holtz and former candidate John Humphries before the primary election in which Holtz finished a distant second to Evers who garnered about 70 percent of votes in that race, too.
Days before the Feb. 21 primary election, Humphries released a document to reporters showing Holtz had sought a $150,000-per-year job on a three-year contract with DPI, including a personal driver, if Holtz dropped out of the race and Humphries won the general election, and he offered the same to Humphries if he dropped out of the race.
Holtz began his campaign against Evers after the two prevailed in the primary defending himself over the alleged job offer deal, which Evers ultimately used in television advertisements aired in the last weeks of the race.
Holtz also was accused of illegally using his Whitnall School District email address to mount his statewide campaign after emails released to liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now and reporters showed him discussing the campaign with his wife using his taxpayer-financed district email account. He denied the discussions were illegal.