DPI Deputy Superintendent Tony Evers earned a promotion Tuesday evening, defeating Rose Fernandez for the right to take over as state superintendent in July.
Evers told dozens of supporters at Madison's Inn on the Park hotel that he determined to "leave this world a better place than (I) found it," citing his battle with cancer last year.
"Now the hard work begins," Evers said. He mentioned Milwaukee Public Schools, a frequent point of contention during the campaign with Fernandez, and distributing federal stimulus money as two pressing issues when he takes office.
Evers congratulated Fernandez on her campaign and pledged to continue his conversation with her going forward.
"(She) brought issues in a forceful way that made us all better," Evers said. "She's an energetic person, and she loves kids."
But Evers said the part of the campaign he would not accept was the constant criticism of the Department of Public Instruction. He thanked his colleagues at the agency, where he has worked for the last eight years.
"I know it's just damn hard when you have somebody running against you saying, 'Let's change the DPI,'" Evers said. "To me, that sends a signal that the work of the DPI isn't valued."
Evers was joined at the podium by granddaughter Tessa, a kindergartener in Watertown, who he said has been a key part of his campaign speeches.
"What I want for Tessa is what you want for your children and your grandchildren," Evers said. "And that's to make sure that they have the same opportunity that we did."
Evers got a huge boost from WEAC as the state's largest teacher's union spent at least $550,000 on TV and radio on his behalf between the February primary and the April general election. Evers also benefited from union support in his fundraising efforts and was able to do TV buys for both the primary and general election.
The closing message for both the union and Evers centered on his experience after more than three decades in public education compared to Fernandez's resume. A nurse by trade, she has never worked in education.
At her Election Night party in Waukesha, Fernandez lamented her lack of resources that prevented her from getting up on TV and a lack of outside groups lining up behind her campaign.
"Of course, we had hoped that more folks who tout the need for private sector growth and public sector restraint would invest in our efforts," she said. "But tonight is not a night to analyze what didn't work out."
Fernandez consistently touted herself as an outsider throughout the campaign and said she was an "underfunded underdog from day one" who couldn't compete with Evers' money.
"In an era where there is less and less in-depth coverage of the issues, television advertising is king, and we couldn't afford TV," Fernandez said.
"We could not compete with our opponent, but most importantly we could not fully counter the nearly three-quarters of a million dollars WEAC spent on his behalf, but we sure gave them a run for their money."
Evers told WisPolitics before his victory speech to supporters that his experience in public education made the difference, but that voters were not necessarily discounting the need to reform public education in the state.
"People do believe that the state superintendent has to have a level of experience and expertise," Evers said. "They understand how important education is, and to have a person in charge of the system that will hit the ground running in July."
He said his victory reflected voters' trust in him to affect positive change in the agency, rather than an indication of the public's satisfaction with public schools.