A Capo Recall Primer.


The upcoming recall of two key members of the current Board of Trustees of the Capistrano Unified School District (Maddox and Winsten) as well as the upcoming electoral defeat of three others, is one of the most inspiring and exciting moments in the history of Orange County democracy. We are seeing conservatives and liberals, Democrats, Republicans and independents, united by shared outrage and realizing they have more in common than not, working together passionately to reclaim one of the most fundamental elements of our civil society – our public education system.

In fact it’s very similar to last year’s mass movement to stop the theft of our Fairgrounds, except that THIS movement is more likely to have a happy ending.

There are confusing twists:  For example the current Board, which still calls itself the “Reform Board,” came into power themselves via a dramatic recall a few years ago, as a reaction to the equally abusive “Fleming Board,” helmed by longtime despot James A. Fleming.  Many people who supported THAT recall, aghast at the behavior of the new Board they helped elect, are now supporting the NEW recall.  Also, there is going to be endless bullshit flying around.  SO, I have created this “primer” to help make all the issues, characters and events more clear, for myself, and for you!

The 3 Reasons this Recall is happening:

1. The Board’s betrayal on local control.

Parents and voters of this huge district want to change to a “Trustee Elections By Area” system, rather than have all seven candidates for the Board run in the district at large.  They’ve wanted that system for years.  It ensures local control and attention to local concerns.   It makes it much cheaper and easier for a candidate to run – a candidate doesn’t stand a chance now without 100 to 200 grand.  And it would save the district itself $200,000 each election season (every two years.)

The current board campaigned on the promise to institute this reform   Then once they came into power they changed their minds, realizing that now they were entrenched it was in their interest to keep it difficult to run.  (Much like politicians who get into office running on a promise to back term limits, and then once in office, suddenly realize that term limits aren’t such a great idea after all.)

Ken “Lopez-Maddox”

And it gets worse.  You see, our state has a simple procedure for a school district to shift to that system:  a board can just ask the State Board of Education for an election waiver, to save the district the $75,000 in costs for an election just to make that transition.  But no, our “Reform” friends had changed their minds on the issue and refused to take that easy simple route to keep their promise, even when requested to honor that commitment by parents’ groups.  So, because of the Board’s stubbornness, 75 grand will now have to be spent on an election to decide that question.

And it gets even worse than that:  In a successful effort to keep the question off the June 8 ballot, the Board hired attorney Phillip Greer – the ubiquitous Counselor For All Things Slimy – to sue various Orange County agencies, paying him and another attorney over $100 grand of district money. It’s hard to actually say how much taxpayer money was wasted, given that they were fighting government agencies to stave off a popular democratic reform that could already be saving the district a hundred grand a year.  Eventually the parents grew sick of the wasted money, gave up and settled for getting the reform on this November’s ballot.

What do YOU think is the most offensive and insulting:  The fact that they lied to get into power and then flip-flopped to stay in power?  The fact that they wasted so much district and taxpayer money fighting the reform, just to consolidate their power?  Or the total BS reason they give for changing their minds about local control – that supposedly it gives the unions more power?

In actuality, “Trustee Elections By Area,” which the district WILL HAVE after November, DILUTES the power of outside influences, INCLUDING unions.  But as we’ll see, the bogeyman “Union” is these guys’ excuse for anything they feel like doing.

2. Their Intentionally Forcing the April 2010 Teachers’ Strike to happen.

As the teachers’ contract came up for renewal in the midst of a funding crisis, our “Reform Board” saw a chance to break a union, humiliate teachers, and show who’s boss.  Given the undeniably grim state of the economy and the California budget, the teachers were willing to take a pay cut, but only on the reasonable condition that it be temporary, and re-negotiated again down the road when finances might be looking better.

Mike Winsten

But that wasn’t good enough for the Board, who insisted on unilaterally imposing a permanent cut, take it or leave it. Fanatically anti-labor, the Board made it a point to not sit down with the teachers and negotiate, but instead immediately declared an impasse when the teachers rejected the humiliating offer, and quickly began spending hundreds of thousands of district money preparing for a strike, hiring security guards and preparing “substitutes.” (Personally I prefer the term “scabs” but I’m trying to not alienate anyone here.)

The inevitable, brief, but traumatic strike had massive support from parents and students, and teachers ended up with exactly what they asked for from the beginning – a TEMPORARY pay cut, to be looked at again in June 2011, with a trigger reversing the cut if any kind of extra funding somehow materializes before then. Hence, the strike was as pointless and unnecessary as the last five years of the Vietnam War.

One nice by-product of this wasteful and stupid episode was that the public became so enraged with the board that the recall movement picked up a huge amount of steam, and here we are.

3.  Miscellaneous Wastefulness, Arrogance and Incompetence.

I had thought I could narrow it down to three big grievances, but it goes on and on, you can get a well-documented sampling over here. But it can all be classified (including the above two instances) under wastefulness, incompetence, arrogance, or most commonly a combination of the three.

Anna Bryson

Wastefulness. It beggars belief, and the powers of sarcasm, to consider that this “reform board” swept in with a promise of cutting wasteful spending.  We’ve already looked at their waste of hundreds of thousands fighting teachers and fighting local control.  Perhaps their most irresponsible habit is their kneejerk litigiousness – they hire high-priced lawyers (friends) at the drop of a hat.  And soon after coming to power they awarded many of their biggest supporters with the proceeds of a controversial lawsuit, $100 grand of which came directly from the district’s shriveling coffers – a move that many consider a naked conflict of interest.  (More details on that episode here.)  By some accounts this Board has already wasted $3 million of school district money needlessly.

Incompetence. These people, driven by whatever motives, found themselves swept into a School Board with no experience running that sort of thing.  Well, fine.  This specific training is available from the California School Boards Association, but the board members have stubbornly refused to attend. Do they think it’s run by a bunch of liberal Democrats? Hardly – the president-elect is Newport-Mesa board member Martha Fluor, and Orange County’s representative on the group’s board is Saddleback Valley trustee Don Sedgwick, a prominent south county Mormon. But I guess that’s just not the right kind of Republicans for the CUSD Board –  I can just imagine them saying, “Oh, they wouldn’t understand what we’re trying to do to this district,” as they preside over a steady exodus of capable administrators and brilliant teachers.

Arrogance. You gotta love Trustee Anna Bryson (whom you’ll meet in the videos below)  for her classic shoutdown of  an audience of parents: “You are NOT here to question the Trustees!” (No?)   Or Trustee Winsten’s snide remark when someone asked “What about your constituents?” – “What ABOUT them?”  Or “Lopez Maddox”‘s juvenile habit of addressing the audience quietly without turning his mike on.  These are only a couple of memorable moments that encapsulate the Board’s official attitude toward parents, taxpayers, teachers, administrators, even state and county agencies – they’re in charge, they know best, and any disagreement is met with eye-rolls and contemptuous dismissal.  Well, it’s too late to dial that back now, they are toast.

Ultimately, this “Reform Board” has not reformed, or even tried to reform, JACK.




Red herrings most comical.

Like a toddler or psychopath constitutionally unable to accept that their actions have consequences, the Board and its apologists search tirelessly (sincerely or not) for secret reasons that ANYONE would want to oppose them.  And some of the answers they come up with are really absurd and outrageous.

Give you some examples.   Some of the recall supporters (not even most) opposed Proposition 8 and advocate marriage equality.  Similarly, some recall supporters (not even most) are pro-choice.  Hence, the Board would have you believe that the effort to recall their miserable butts is part of an overall homosexual/abortion agenda.

When the utter implausibility of bringing gay abortions into, say, Marco Forster Middle School is pointed out, they clarify: their opponents are just trying to get on the Board in order to give legitimacy to their other unrelated beliefs and positions.  No, for reals.  You can check out their arguments here.

Even funnier – at least one recall organizer happens to work with Indian casinos.  Ha!  Now everything falls into place, it all makes sense.  Don’t ask me how, but you’ll hear that – the recall of this Board is a secret stalking horse for Native American gambling interests, even though there are no tribes in the OC and a casino will never be built here.  But be afraid – if you don’t stick with the “Reform Board” we are one step closer to turning San Clemente High School into Pechanga West.

Then, of course, there’s their Mack-Daddy Red Herring – the Union! Anybody involved in opposing the Board – from right-wing libertarian businessman to liberal college professor – is really just a Union hack / thug / tool, or sleeping with one, or living just down the street from one.  The Recall is a Union-backed-and-funded plot (even though everyone involved denies that and nobody can prove it.)  Even the “Trustee Elections By Area” reform is a Union scheme so diabolically clever that the Board nearly fell for it themselves!

And the dog ate the Board’s homework.  Nothing is ever their own fault.  Pretty hard to have an education movement with absolutely NOBODY having any connection to a Union, but this Recall movement was not instigated by unions, and is not and has never been funded by them.  We are aware of pervasive anti-union sentiment in a conservative area, and even though we stand by teachers’ and school employees’ all-American right to organize and be represented, we keep our distance.  This Board falls of its own weight.


Case in point:


The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters:  Meet the “Education Alliance.”

As far back as 1799, Spanish artist Francisco Goya foresaw the problems in the district.

Wasteful? Yes. Incompetent? Yes. Corrupt? Arguably. Indifferent, uncaring, place-holding career politicians? Certainly. But this board is more than all that, something more sinister and dangerous. They are members and tools of an extremist ideological organization, the Education Alliance.

But here’s where I think my fellow Capo Recall scholars get distracted.  It’s true that in the past this Alliance has focused on certain “social conservative” goals some of which liberals find objectionable, such as teaching creationism, opposing education of Spanish-speaking students, and resisting non-discrimination measures protecting gays and other minorities.  And they did pursue these goals in other districts where they wreaked their mischief in previous years – see Westminster, Orange and Vista.

But I don’t think we should get distracted by those shiny items, which haven’t seemed to be high on the priorities of this particular board.  I would point out that the Education Alliance’s website (which interestingly hasn’t been updated since 2007, or even properly completed) lists on its “Mission Statement” several positive goals which the Board has likewise not even pretended to pursue: “Respect for the rights of parents,” “Local control of our schools,” and *choke* *cough* “Financial responsibility and accountability of taxpayers’ funds.”

It seems to me that both the social-conservative wish list and the mainstream Mission Statement are window dressing for two different audiences; and that the Education Alliance’s real mission is simply to starve, destroy and discredit Public Education in general. And at this task, the “Reform Board” is doing a bang-up job.

I’m sensing that a few years ago this Tustin-centered, Ahmanson-funded “Alliance” joined forces with the limitlessly whorish Pacific Research Institute, and these big money boys helped them get their priorities straight.  The PRI – keep your ears open for them – helped the Board’s Know-Nothing Intellectual Mike Winsten make his propaganda film “Not as Good as You Think: The Myth of the Middle-Class School,” a dishonest assault on the district he now misrules. The film functioned, and still does, as a rallying cry for the de-funding of public education and its replacement with charter and private schools. (We’ll examine the film in my Winsten profile soon.)

The current Board are essentially saboteurs working to destroy the district from the inside out, as you would expect them to given their beliefs.  Fellow citizens, we should really stop being surprised whenever we elect folks who truly and honestly don’t believe in government to run our government, and then they proceed to demonstrate by example how government really doesn’t work, and/or use it as their piggy banks.  Gee.  Where else have we seen that recently?

The Pacific Research Institute, in between producing whatever slanted studies its gigantic corporate funders demand, spends its time searching in vain for a public or government function that shouldn’t be privatized and run for profit. These people literally think the only functions of our government should be policing our private lives, suppressing dissent, imprisoning us, and regularly bombing and occupying faroff lands.

The beautiful thing here, as with the struggle to save our Fairgrounds, is that so many conservatives and Republicans are seeing the limits of this sort of philosophy.  Crises like this help us remember what we all started a nation for, what we all built a government for, and it’s for a lot more than just repression.  When Thomas Jefferson died (the Tom Jefferson so beloved of today’s tea-partiers) all he wanted on his tombstone was credit for founding the University of Virginia, which he had dedicated his life to keeping free of tuition. It’s the Children First 2010 alliance, NOT the PRI, Education Alliance, or Board of Saboteurs, who carry on the tradition of  America’s Father of Public Education.



It’s helpful to view the district’s recent events through the eyes of Iranian history.

This section is dedicated to Board apologists who accuse their critics of wanting to return to the corrupt, authoritarian Fleming Years that preceded them (1991-2006.)  Specifically Jennifer Beall, who’s been trying to convince me of this nonsense by e-mail.

James A. Fleming (dramatization)

Looking at Iranian history of the last 50-60 years helps us remember that sometimes democracy needs more than one Revolution.

It helps us remember that sometimes you can overthrow one group of tyrants and another slightly different group of tyrants rises up to take their place – whether a little better or a little worse is academic.

It helps us remember that an enemy of our enemy is not necessarily our friend.

And that striving to overthrow the new tyrants in no way means we want the old tyrants back.

The fact that we’re fighting to overthrow the Reform Ayatollahs doesn’t mean we want a return to Shah Fleming, his disdain for the law, and his disdain for the parents and taxpayers of the district.

It sure doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten the $52 million he wasted building the extravagant “Taj Majal” district headquarters – hell, we’re still using it now.

The current CUSD board. (dramatization)

It sure doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten who’s responsible for the stupid-ass location of San Juan Hills High School, and the nasty portables in which our kids were interned.

It sure doesn’t mean we want a “rubber stamp” board that’ll go along with everything the Superintendent decrees, as in the Shah Fleming days – but the arrogance of these Ayatollahs is just as bad as that of Fleming.

It sure doesn’t mean we’re yearning for the days of enemies lists and lawsuits against the district for harassment.

It does mean we know we can do ten times better, our children deserve a real Board of Trustees, and we’re not quite there yet.

The Reform Ayatollahs can call us the tools and dupes of outside interests all they like, but that doesn’t make it so. We know who we are.

We are students, parents, teachers, taxpayers, conservatives, liberals, Americans and voters.  And THIS is what Democracy looks like:

The Children First Alliance 2010 (dramatization)


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About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official political troubadour of Anaheim and most other OC towns. Regularly makes solo performances, sometimes with his savage-jazz band The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.