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Tim Myers: Newhall school board race: I got nothin’

Posted: September 26, 2009 8:01 p.m.
Updated: September 27, 2009 4:55 a.m.
I developed a minor reputation over the years in the SCV for what some thought an impressive ability to prognosticate on the outcome of local elections.

This ability made more mystical because no one can actually predict the outcome of local elections because no one spends the time or money to do actual scientific polling of likely voters.

Well, I must confess that I based most of my oracular success on the safe prediction that incumbents would retain their seats. In the SCV (and most places), this amounts to predicting the sun will rise tomorrow followed by a daily celebration of the correct prediction.

I will take a small amount of credit for the prediction in the 2008 election that newcomer Laurie Ender would not only come at least second in the two-seat election, but also that she would pull off the incredible feat of actually coming before an incumbent (Bob Kellar).

I based this on a quasi-numerical knowledge that Laurie Ender's campaign actually involved people heretofore not casting votes in local elections due to her strong connections to the PTA community and deep support in the tracts of Northbridge, Northbridge Pointe and Northpark, thus expanding the voter base and "changing the game" in a meaningful way.

But now we turn to the Newhall school board election, recently made slightly more interesting by the withdrawal of the lone incumbent in the three-seat race, John Michael McGrath.

Earlier in the season the race provided some interesting openings in the local political landscape, primarily due to the decision by one incumbent (Bob Jensen) to seek a seat on the William S. Hart Union High School District board, and a longtime incumbent (Steve Tannehill) effectively retiring from elective office.

Generally, when two incumbents depart with three seats available, this leads to a free-for-all of candidates wishing to run.

In the case of the Newhall School District board, only Christy Smith, Craig Duswalt, Phil Ellis and Scott Miller came out of the woodwork.

Now with the lack of an incumbent I must confess I got nothin' with respect to effective prognostication, but I can evaluate the bona fides of each candidate.

One can generally fit candidates for school board into three neat buckets: Legitimate, grievance and stepping stone to higher office.

With respect to the last bucket, school board members in the SCV generally soldier on for years and never seek higher office, with the notable exceptions of Congressman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, who first served on the Hart school board, and Paul Strickland, who attempted to obtain appointment to the Santa Clarita City Council when Cameron Smyth vacated his seat to serve in the Assembly.

The more entertaining candidates reside in the grievance bucket, where candidates nurse either personal or agenda grievances - or both.

Such candidates could possess a personal grievance against a teacher or administrator or seek to assert a union-busting or creationism teaching agenda.
When these candidates win, they always feel disappointed because the general oversight nature of school boards, legal requirements and contractual restrictions proscribe their ability to wreak personal vengeance and/or remake the school district in their own images.

That leaves the legitimate candidates, who possess some noble but perhaps slightly benighted wish to serve the community by providing oversight on the important institution of their local public school.

With respect to the four remaining candidates, three definitely belong in the legitimate category. My sources inform me that Christy Smith possesses years of experience volunteering in her own elementary school and substantive knowledge about the district's workings.

Phil Ellis served on the board before. Craig Duswalt played an active role in the community, particularly the arts segment, with his past involvement with the Rep Theatre.

I also met him personally (his youngest son and our grandson attended the same preschool) and can vouch for his sanity.

That leaves Scott Miller, the mystery candidate. Sources inform me that no one can engage this candidate in a live conversation through a telephone call, with e-mails and voice mails concerning campaign logistics, including scheduling candidate forums, going unanswered.

Did Scott Miller file by mistake and is just laying low?

But another twist could occur: Though McGrath withdrew from the race, his name remains on the ballot, and in a true tribute to incumbency he could still finish in the top three.

Knowledgeable sources inform me that he would then need to resign the seat, and the remaining four members would choose his replacement.
Would they choose the person who came fourth? Wait for some real drama if this occurs.

Tim Myers is a Valencia resident and CPA who thinks numbers hold the key to everything. His column represents his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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