Elections for the Orange County Board of Education have been a sleepy affair in the past.
But this year, the board – which oversees school district finances and can approve or reject charter schools – is hotly contested.
Republicans have long held a majority on the five-member board, and this time around Democrats are seeking to take the majority – with charter school approvals a key issue in the campaigns.
Three seats are up for election this cycle, and Democrats would have to win three for three in order to take a majority – which some close to the party consider an uphill battle, since three Democrats are running against one Republican in one of the districts.
In Area 1, incumbent Democrat board member Rebecca “Beckie” Gomez, who is backed by trade unions and Planned Parenthood, is running against Republican challenger Jim Palmer, who’s been the longtime leader of the Orange County Rescue Mission and is backed by charter school advocates. Steve Rocco, who does not have a known party affiliation, also is running for the seat.
In Area 3, incumbent Republican board member Ken L. Williams Jr., who is backed by pro-charter school PACs funded by Walmart’s family owners and businessman Howard Ahmanson, is running against Democrat Andy Thorburn, a millionaire businessman who’s backed by teacher’s unions and Planned Parenthood.
Area 4 has no incumbent and has drawn a field of three Democrats against Republican La Habra Councilman Tim Shaw. The Democrats are Paulette Chaffee, a former schoolteacher who dropped out of running for Fullerton City Council in 2018 when she was caught on video stealing campaign signs, for which she later pled guilty; Anaheim Councilman Jordan Brandman, who’s backed by trade unions, school employee unions and Planned Parenthood; and Vicki Calhoun, a counselor who hasn’t reported any fundraising for her campaign.
For both political parties, everything is riding on the March primary. Unlike other county-level races, there are no runoffs in November, so the top vote-getter in the primary wins each seat outright.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.