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Prison officers’ union jumps into race for schools chief

In a departure from its usual pattern of campaign giving, the union representing California’s prison officers emerged as a player in the race for the state schools chief on Wednesday, disclosing a $500,000 expenditure for television ads to help elect Assemblyman Tony Thurmond as Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The disclosure came shortly after Thurmond’s opponent, Marshall Tuck, posted an ad comparing state spending on prisoners with spending on children in public school.

The California Correctional Peace Officers Association has never spent significantly to elect a state schools chief. The union instead typically focuses on candidates for governor and the Legislature, offices that have direct control over officers’ labor contracts and working conditions.

“Tony Thurmond supports more training and prison safety and that is a big deal for them,” Richard Temple, CCPOA’s long-time consultant, said, explaining the independent expenditure.

Earlier this month, Tuck, who, like Thurmond, is a Democrat, released a campaign ad obliquely criticizing prison spending and, by extension, correctional officers’ pay.

“Did you know that every year, California spends $71,000 per prisoner but only $16,000 per student?” the ad observes. “It’s no wonder our public schools rank 44th in the nation.”

Thurmond joined more than 100 other legislators earlier this year in voting to approve CCPOA’s latest contract. That bumped up officers’ pay by 5 percent at a two-year cost of $338 million, the Legislative Analyst reported.

“It’s ironic,” Tuck said, “that Thurmond talks about moving money from prison to schools but has made votes to increase spending for prisons.”

The union has yet to air television ads on Thurmond’s behalf, but “it will be abundantly clear when it starts,” said Temple, indicating that the contribution from CCPOA could exceed $500,000.

The union, meanwhile, also disclosed a $525,000 independent expenditure to help elect Democrat Gavin Newson as governor.

Thurmond’s campaign manager, Maddie Franklin, attributed the union’s commitment to criticism of Thurmond by David Crane, a former advisor to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. His organization, Govern for California, is among the major backers of Tuck’s campaign.

Crane recently wrote in Medium that Thurmond “has stood in the way of K-12 education reforms and voted to boost spending on prisons at the expense of UC and CSU,” adding that “his walk doesn’t match his talk.”

“Marshall Tuck,” Franklin charged, “says whatever David Crane tells him to say.”

Crane responded: “The question everyone should be asking is why the biggest beneficiary of California’s prison-industrial complex is putting money behind Tony Thurmond.”

From Dan Morain for CalMatters.