COLUMBIA, S.C. — State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais announced Friday that he will not seek a second term next year, opening the door on the statewide seat that was last held by Democrats.
“After much prayer and thoughtful consideration with my family, I have decided not to seek re-election as state superintendent of education,” the retired Army brigadier general and Newberry College president said in a statement. “This was a very difficult decision. I was preparing for, and looking forward to, a re-election campaign. I’m confident I would have run a strong campaign and would have been re-elected.”
Zais had pledged to serve no more than two four-year terms but is leaving after one. “My campaign was never a stepping stone to higher office. Rather, it was the culmination of a lifetime of service.”
Zais, 67, mentioned in his statement the “enormous sacrifices to support my careers” that his family had made.
As superintendent, Republican Zais supported plans to hold back struggling third-graders, efforts to bolster charter schools and school choice, and allowing districts more flexibility in staffing schools and adjusting class sizes.
However, he faced the prospect of a tough year politically if he had run for re-election.
Easier this week, fellow Republican Andy Patrick, a state representative from Beaufort County, said he was exploring a run for state superintendent of education.
A pair of Democrats, state Rep. Mike Anthony of Union and Montrio Belton of Fort Mill, already have said they plan to seek the $92,000-a-year post.
“While I disagree with Dr. Zais on many important issues, I wish to thank him for his work and willingness to serve South Carolina,” Anthony said in a statement.
After winning a six-candidate GOP Primary, Zais defeated Democrat Frank Holleman by 8 percentage points in 2010 to succeed Jim Rex – the last Democrat to hold statewide office in South Carolina.
“Mick Zais’ decision not to run for re-election is the first good thing that he has done for our public schools, teachers and children in years,” S.C. Democratic Party executive director Amanda Loveday said in a statement. “Zais’ extreme assault on public schools and support of private-school vouchers made his re-election as South Carolina’s superintendent of education impossible.”
State Republicans said they appreciated Zais’ help in expanding school choice and increasing accountability in classrooms.
“I am confident that a Republican will hold the office in 2015 and beyond,” S.C. GOP chairman Matt Moore said.
Zais promised to keep up his efforts to change the status quo in state education until his term ends in January 2015.
“Supporters of the current system defend it at all costs. Others seek to tear it down without looking at the data,” he said. “The truth lies somewhere between these two extremes.”