Michael Thurmond wooed for state school superintendent contest

The race for the open state superintendent seat is already one of the most intriguing contests in Georgia this year. It could get even more interesting.

By Jim Galloway, Greg Bluestein and Daniel Malloy
AJC

Michael Thurmond, like Ashley Bell and Fritz Johnson, ponders running for a seat he doesn’t know much about.

The race for the open state superintendent seat is already one of the most intriguing contests in Georgia this year. It could get even more interesting.

Michael Thurmond, the former state labor commissioner, was drafted last year to take over as superintendent of the DeKalb County school system, even as it was poised to lose its accreditation.

Thurmond is now being recruited by Democratic leaders to run for the state super job, which will be left vacant by its current occupant, John Barge.

Thurmond told us Tuesday that he’s heard from several Democratic leaders and that he’s “flattered” by the attention but he hasn’t made up his mind yet. He noted that he still has his hands pretty full with his current gig.

That’s not the only calculation complicating his decision. Democratic State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan of Austell has been in the running for months, but she hasn’t exactly endeared herself to fellow Democrats with her unabashed support of charter schools.

Were he to run, Thurmond has an impressive resume. The Athens native had a long career in the state House before serving three terms as the labor commissioner. He left in 2010 on a failed mission to challenge Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson.

He took over DeKalb’s reeling school system in February 2013 as it teetered on the brink of losing accreditation, and six of the nine school board members would soon be ousted (one of them, Nancy Jester, is in the crowded GOP field for the superintendent’s job).

About a year later, a jubilant Thurmond celebrated as DeKalb’s accreditation was upgraded. And Democratic leaders have since been more than eager to heap the credit for the turnaround his way.

Should Michael Thurmond enter the Democratic primary, he would be attempting to usurp Alisha Thomas Morgan’s participation in what could become a historic contest — a head-to-head, statewide match-up of two African-American candidates in a general election contest.

On the Republican side, in a large field of candidates, Cobb County businessman Fitz Johnson, a Citadel graduate and former chief executive of a family-owned defense contracting business, has raised the most cash. Healthy portions of Georgia’s business community may be lining up behind him.

Johnson, who is black, received a boost this morning with the withdrawal of Bartow County school board member Matt Shultz from the GOP primary contest. As he exited, Shultz endorsed Johnson

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