BISMARCK (AP) - Wayne Sanstead, North Dakota's state school superintendent for almost 28 years and the nation's longest-serving state school administrator, said Friday that he will not run for re-election.
Sanstead, 76, told the Associated Press that he'll leave his long-standing post at the end of the year, wrapping up his current four-year term.
Sanstead said he was stepping down because he believed "it's time to give someone else a chance," not because he believed he would lose a re-election campaign.
AP Photo • Wayne Sanstead, North Dakota's superintendent of public instruction, gestures Friday at an autographed portrait of former President Harry Truman that he keeps on his office wall at the North Dakota State Capitol in Bismarck about his decision not to seek re-election.
"I have it happen every day. They come up to me in the grocery store or the gas station and say, 'Boy, we're glad you're there,'" Sanstead said Friday during an interview in his office.
According to the Council of Chief State School Officers, a Washington, D.C., organization of education administrators, the former Minot teacher and debate coach is the longest-serving state school administrator in the country.
Sanstead has had a public career spanning almost 50 years. He is a former state representative and senator who served as lieutenant governor for most of the 1970s, during the administration of Democratic Gov. Arthur Link.
Sanstead was first elected as North Dakota's superintendent of public instruction in 1984, winning 78 percent of the vote against Republican Larry Nudell after the incumbent, Joseph Crawford, declined to seek re-election.
The superintendent's job is officially nonpartisan. Candidates run in the same ballot column and are not identified by party. However, Republican and Democratic state convention delegates offer letters of support to favored candidates.
Sanstead easily won re-election six times, running unopposed in 1988 and getting more than 60 percent of the vote in three other campaigns.
In his last race in 2008, he got 55 percent of the vote after Democratic convention delegates rebuffed Sanstead's request for their support for the first time in his career. Instead, the delegates backed Max Laird, a former president of the North Dakota Education Association, who ended up losing to Sanstead in November.
Sanstead has been the only Democratic statewide elected official in the Capitol since the April 2009 resignation of Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson, who left to become president of the National Farmers Union in Washington, D.C.
The Capitol's longest-serving officeholders are Sanstead and Republican Secretary of State Al Jaeger, who was first elected in 1992.
A native of Arkansas, Sanstead earned a bachelor's degree in speech and political science from St. Olaf College, a Lutheran school in Northfield, Minn. He later earned a master's degree in communications from Northwestern and a doctorate in secondary education from the University of North Dakota.
After graduating from St. Olaf, Sanstead taught for a year in Luverne, Minn., before moving to Minot in 1960, where he was a high school teacher for 18 years.