March 5 Primary: Conservatives and Parents’ Rights Advocates Defend Territory in Orange County

Orange County has been at the center of California’s school board culture wars for years now. This March, moderates and Democrats are looking to make inroads by kicking some conservative trustees to the curb.

Can OCDE be flipped?

Three out five seats on the Orange County Board of Education are in play on March 5. The outcome of these races could shift the ideological makeup of the board, which is currently dominated by conservatives.

In Area 1, incumbent Jorge Valdez is up for re-election. Valdez is a supporter of charter schools and the so-called parental rights movement. His opponent, Beatrice Mendoza, is endorsed by the California Teachers Association, the Orange County Labor Federation, and the Democratic Party of Orange County.

Longtime Area 3 trustee Kenneth Williams is facing a re-election challenge from Nancy Watkins. Williams is part of the board’s conservative majority, while Watkins is supported by Labor.

Another parental rights advocate, Area 4 Trustee Tim Shaw, is on the ballot and endorsed by prominent Republican leaders and organizations. Candidate David Johnson is running on a promise to “stop the political wars in our schools” and focus on students’ academic needs over culture war issues. He has been endorsed by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and the California Teachers Association.

Possible payback at OUSD

Two conservative members of the Orange Unified School Board – Rick Ledesma and Madison Miner – are facing a recall on March 5. The effort was touched off by the abrupt firing of former superintendent Gunn Marie Hansen in January 2023. The popular schools chief was given just one day’s notice before she was fired by the board’s new right-wing majority. Since then, the board has pursued a number of controversial items, including mandatory parental notification for trans students and a new policy that serves as a de facto ban on the LGBTQ pride flag.

Darshan Smaaladen, a member of the recall campaign, says Hansen’s firing wasn’t the only motivating factor. Smaaladen also cited divisive culture war issues, saying they’ve been “incited in an attempt to distract voters.”



Thursday, March 28, 2024 - 09:07

School construction bonds faced some headwinds during the March 5 primary, with a passage rate of around 60% compared with the 73% seen in typical past primaries.