LOS ANGELES — California's drowsy race for governor turned sharply confrontational Friday, as the Republican challenging Gov. Jerry Brown accused him of ignoring the plight of poor and minority students in struggling public schools.
The pointed attack from former banker and U.S. Treasury official Neel Kashkari centered on a June court decision that struck down tenure and other job protections for California's public school teachers.
The landmark ruling found that laws on hiring and firing in state schools protected the jobs of ineffective teachers, including many in schools crowded with minority and low-income students.
Brown has not discussed the decision or said if the state will appeal it. Kashkari said the silence of the Democratic incumbent shows his indifference toward needy students. Brown has long been close with teachers unions, which are some of his biggest political donors and want the ruling reversed.
Brown has a choice "between fighting for poor, minority kids or fighting on behalf of the fat union bosses who fund his campaigns," Kashkari said, noting that California public schools rank among some of the worst-performing in the nation.
"He has not spoken up for poor kids. He has not spoken up for minority kids," Kashkari said.
The contest for the state's highest office has generated only sporadic public interest. Brown, seeking a record fourth term, has held a wide lead in independent polls, and state Republican leaders are concentrating on congressional and other local contests.
Brown's campaign spokesman, Dan Newman, directed questions to the governor's Sacramento office.
Brown's spokesman Evan Westrup previously said the court ruling is tentative is being reviewed.
Kashkari's remarks outside an American Federation of Teachers convention in Los Angeles came a day after Republican lawmakers urged Brown to resist union pressure to appeal the decision.
Earlier, Brown received a standing ovation from union delegates after a speech in which he defended his education policies, including promoting a tax increase that benefited schools.
When asked if Brown should appeal the court decision, AFT President Randi Weingarten told reporters, "I think you have to actually ask Gov. Brown that question."
She said she understood the state would appeal, but didn't make clear how she knew that.
She added, "The fact that the governor was here today and spoke to our members ... about the things that we need to do together to help kids, I thought was a very important signal in a state like California."