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Politics & Government

State Superintendent Mark Johnson joins the field seeking to be NC lieutenant governor


State Superintendent Mark Johnson announced Tuesday that he’s joining the crowded field of candidates who want to become North Carolina’s lieutenant governor in 2020.

Johnson, the head of the state’s public schools, said in his announcement that “change is needed in Raleigh as more of the same is not working.” He becomes at least the 13th announced candidate who is hoping to replace Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who is unable to seek re-election due to term limits. Forest is running for governor.

Johnson became the first Republican elected as state superintendent in a century in 2016 when he defeated Democratic incumbent June Atkinson. The 36-year-old attorney from Winston-Salem and former teacher in the Teach For America program said he will do “what’s best for the working families of North Carolina, not the Media Elites or Establishment Insiders.”

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“North Carolina deserves a leader who will fight to make all government more accountable, more efficient, and more transparent,” Johnson said in his campaign announcement. “That’s why today I am declaring my candidacy for Lt. Governor of North Carolina.

“I’ve seen first-hand how bad state government can be. I’ve already been in the trenches fighting the deep state in state bureaucracy.”

The candidates who’ve begun campaigns for lieutenant governor include:

State Rep. Yvonne Holley, a Raleigh Democrat in her fourth term.

State Sen. Terry Van Duyn, an Asheville Democrat who has been a member of the legislature since 2014.

Hoke County Commissioner Allen Thomas, a Democrat.

Bill Toole, a Charlotte lawyer and a former chairman of the Gaston County Democratic Party.

State Rep. Chaz Beasley, a Charlotte Democrat serving his second term.

Buddy Bengel, a New Bern Republican. Bengel is a businessman and owner of the Morehead City Marlins baseball team.

Former U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, a Dunn Republican. Ellmers served three terms in Congress before losing a GOP primary in 2016.

Deborah Cochran, a former Mount Airy mayor and a Republican who is currently a high school business teacher.

Former state Rep. Scott Stone, a Mecklenburg County Republican.

Mark Robinson, a Republican from Greensboro.

Greg Gebhardt, a Holly Springs Republican and North Carolina National Guard soldier.

State Sen. Andy Wells, a Hickory Republican,

The governor and lieutenant governor don’t run as a ticket in North Carolina.

The lieutenant governor presides over Senate debate and is a member of the State Board of Education. The position does not come with many formal duties, so the officeholders tend to pick their own areas of interest.

The official filing period starts in December with primaries held in March.


Others want to be state superintendent

For months, Johnson has not answered questions about his election plans. In that time period, six Democrats have announced they’re running for state superintendent.

Two Republicans, Rep. Craig Horn of Union County and Western Governors University chancellor Catherine Truitt, have said they’d consider running for state superintendent if Johnson didn’t seek re-election.

The Republican-led General Assembly transferred more power from the State Board of Education to the superintendent’s office after he was elected. It led to a lawsuit filed by the state board that Johnson won, as well as several public arguments between the board and superintendent.

The past three years have seen Johnson lobby for school choice and personalized learning. He’s redirected state funds to purchase computers for teachers, a process which has drawn complaints from critics about the process used and the money spent.

Johnson referenced those fights in his campaign announcement, saying he’s had to fight against “Establishment Republicans and Democrats on the NC Board of Education” who’ve opposed his efforts to transform the state Department of Public Instruction.

“NC DPI was a broken system focused more on protecting the Establishment’s status quo standards, tools, and strategies,” Johnson said Tuesday. “They were content to stand in place rather than move forward.

“North Carolina should be a 21st century leader, but we can’t do it with the relics of a 20th century bureaucracy. I want to take the fight to the next level. If you want more of the same, vote for someone else. If you want to continue the fight for change, vote Mark Johnson for Lieutenant Governor.”

Over the past several months, Johnson has faced scrutiny over his decision to award an $8.3 million contract to Istation to test the reading skills of K-3 students. He bypassed the recommendations of an evaluation committee to use a different vendor, accusing the group of using a flawed process to explain his actions.

Johnson has fought with the N.C. Association of Educators over his statements about teacher pay, his support for charter schools and his opposition to the last two mass teacher protests that caused schools to be closed while educators marched on lawmakers in Raleigh.

“After years of making bad decisions for our public school students and educators, we are glad that Mr. Johnson has realized that the role of State Superintendent was not a good fit for him personally or professionally,” NCAE said in a statement Tuesday. “We look forward to having conversations with candidates for the office who have the passion and experience to lead North Carolina’s public schools in a more productive direction.”

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