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In WA education chief race, upstart candidate raises twice as much as incumbent


In WA education chief race, upstart candidate raises twice as much as incumbent

Apr 24, 2024 | 7:00 am ET
By Grace Deng
In WA education chief race, upstart candidate raises twice as much as incumbent
Reid Saaris, left, and Chris Reykdal, right, are campaigning to run the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. (Saaris and Reykdal campaigns)

In the race to lead Washington’s public school system, Reid Saaris, a teacher and founder of an education nonprofit, has raised twice as much as the incumbent, Chris Reykdal. 

“We’re definitely excited and honored by the support,” Saaris said. “It’s a testament to the message that really resonates with everyone I talk with … We’re Washington, and we can do better.”

As of Tuesday, Saaris has reported raising $211,522 in cash to the Public Disclosure Commission, but told the Standard the latest total is $233,000, far outpacing anyone else in the race to lead the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. 

Reykdal has reported raising $102,884 and began the cycle with $12,140 from previous races. He said he’s raised more than that but declined to say how much. 

David Olson, a Peninsula School District board member, has raised about $30,000. The state Republican Party endorsed Olson this past weekend. Chad Magendanz, a former Republican state lawmaker, exited the race after failing to get the endorsement. 

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction race is officially non-partisan, but candidates often affiliate themselves with a party. Saaris identifies as a Democrat and Reykdal is a former Democratic state lawmaker.

Reykdal, who’s running for his third term, told the Standard that fundraising totals don’t tell the full story. He said he’s treating the race as more of a marathon than a sprint and emphasized the importance of having cash on hand in late summer and fall for voter outreach. 

“It’s a long campaign,” he said.

Reykdal also noted that he’s raised twice as much money than he did at this point during his last campaign. 

Saaris has already spent $93,964, and about two-thirds of those funds have gone to “management and consulting services,” according to the Public Disclosure Commission’s data. Reykdal has spent $35,449. 

Saaris said much of his money is from people he knows and he hasn’t purchased any donor lists. His nonprofit is dedicated to eliminating barriers for marginalized students, and he knows a lot of people in the philanthropy space, he said. 

Where is the money coming from?

About 55% of Saaris’ contributors are not based in Washington, but Saaris said that has to do with his past in nonprofit work. About 79% of Reykdal’s contributors are from Washington. 

“Unlike the incumbent, I’m seen as a national leader in the field of education, and have a lot of folks I’ve been engaged with throughout my career all over the country, including folks who worked in the Obama White House,” Saaris said.

Some of Saaris’ biggest donors, who have given the maximum of $2,400, are family members, including his parents and his wife. His mother is a former educator and union leader. “They’re not especially well to do, but very excited about my work and supportive,” Saaris said. 

Saaris said he hadn’t considered whether he’s running a grassroots campaign, but that none of his funds are from political action committees, which to him, “seems much more grassroots” than other candidates. Reykdal’s campaign has raised $22,600 from political action committees. 

Reykdal said he’s proud to have support from a “broad coalition of individuals,” including labor organizations, tribes and Washington businesses. 

“I respect everyone’s path. We all have different paths, and his path is a lot of out-of-state money,” Reykdal said. “I don’t think CEOs and hedge funds and venture capitalists from out-of-state is grassroots.” 

Meanwhile, Olson’s largest campaign contributors include a recreational cannabis retailer and a related business that sells bongs, pipes, and various CBD products. Olson did not respond to several requests from the Standard.