Court ordered ward-specific elections adding Latinos to school boards

Rob Richardson

Are SAUSD Trustee Rob Richardson’s days numbered?

An injunction following “a lawsuit earlier this year against the Madera Unified School District aimed at greater Latino participation on the school board in the San Joaquin Valley town,” forcing Madera Unified, which is 82% Latino, to change the way it elects its board, according to the L.A. Times.

“The decision has already begun to reshape school boards, city councils and special districts throughout California. Dozens of jurisdictions have Latino majorities with few, if any, Latino elected officials — the very conditions that led to the ruling that the Madera district’s electoral system had fostered “racially polarized voting” in violation of the California Voting Rights Act.”

This injunction is forcing ward-specific elections in school districts with high minority populations, but with few Latino elected officials.

Would such a system result in the ouster of SAUSD Trustees Rob Richardson and Audrey Noji? Hard to say, but the facts speak for themselves.  Over 94% of the students in the SAUSD are Latino, and only 3% are Asian, according to SAUSD data.  So how do you explain the success of Richardson and Noji?

Richardson benefited this year from a large field of Latino candidates, who did him the favor of splitting the Latino vote.  Some of them appeared to have run because they were prodded to do so by Richardson’s ally, Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido.  I would include Gregory Barraza and Roman Reyna in that number.  Unfortunately Reyna ended up winning, because his name was near the top of the ballot.  Most folks expect him to ally with Richardson and Noji.

Some of the Latino candidates this year simply were not ready for prime time – the best example of this was Mike Gonzalez, a business owner who threw a ton of money into the race.  But by his own admission he had no idea what he would do as a Trustee.  He said at one candidates’ debate that he was “reading books about it.”

Cecilia Aguinaga ran for the second time, and lost again.  I am told she is going to run again in two years – and most likely she will split the Latino vote again and allow Noji to win again.

The best of the Latino candidates this year were Valerie Amezcua, Gloria Alvarado and Irene Ibarra.  But after Richardson and his fellow incumbent, Jose Hernandez, locked up two of the open three seats, these ladies were left to vie with a half dozen other Latinos for the last seat.  Reyna barely won, beating out Amezcua by a handful of votes.

So would ward-specific elections help us get rid of Richardson and Noji?  I think they might.  We need to pursue this ASAP.  An organization called the “Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law” has taken the lead on suing school districts that need to change over to ward-specific elections.  Their L.A. CEO, Daniel Grunfeld, may be contacted at this link.

This injunction could also bring change to the Rancho Santiago Community College District’s Board of Education.  Two great Latino candidates were defeated this past November, in Art Lomeli and Lynette Verino.  But they would have won in ward-specific voting.  At-large voting doomed them.

The only downside to all this is the example set by the Santa Ana City Council, where an all-Latino Council, with several immigrants, is reliably anti-immigrant.  Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido may as well be a Republican as he seems to particularly loathe immigrants, even though Pulido was himself born in Mexico.  So ward-specific elections may not be a cure-all, however it would be easier for activists like Amezcua and Alvarado to win in a ward-specific system.  It would certainly be cheaper to reach out to residents in one ward instead of having to spend a small fortune to send mailers to the entire city.

About Admin

"Admin" is just editors Vern Nelson, Greg Diamond, or Ryan Cantor sharing something that they mostly didn't write themselves, but think you should see. Before December 2010, "Admin" may have been former blog owner Art Pedroza.