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Voters Sort Through Potpourri of School Candidates, Issues

Times Staff Writer

Orange County voters gave pass or fail grades to an eclectic mix of education issues and candidates on the ballot, election experts noted Wednesday.

County voters approved two state education bond issues, turned down a state school funding measure, and in most cases rejected teacher-union efforts to oust trustee incumbents.

The Orange County vote almost dealt a death blow to a statewide proposition that, ironically, its backers had believed would pass because of Orange County support. That measure was Proposition 98, which calls for dedicating apercentage of the state budget to grade school-high school-community college education. The proposition had the fervent backing of state Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig and virtually every teacher association in Orange County.

Proposition 98 apparently passed statewide, 50.8% to 49.2%. The measure, however, was resoundingly rejected in Orange County, where only 43.9% of the voters favored it.

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By contrast, in September, the Orange County Annual Survey--a professional poll--found 68% voter support for Proposition 98 in the county.

“It was a big swing (of voter sentiment),” said UC Irvine professor Mark Baldassare on Wednesday. Baldassare, who conducts the Orange County Annual Survey, noted that in September he had warned that the 64% support for Proposition 98 in the county would probably erode if voters started getting negative messages against the measure.

“The change on Proposition 98 shows the power of the Republican Party in the county,” said Baldassare, noting that that Republican Gov. George Deukmejian and most Republican legislators opposed Proposition 98.

“When the opposition from Republican officials became known, Proposition 98 began losing its support,” Baldassare added. ‘

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Baldassare’s poll in September showed Orange County voters favoring Propositions 78 and 79, and support did not change by Tuesday’s election. Proposition 78, which calls for a $600-million bond issue for state colleges and universities, passed Orange County by a 53% vote and statewide by a 57.6% approval tally.

Proposition 79, which provides for an $800-million bond issue for high school-grade school construction, passed Orange County with a 54.7% vote and statewide by a 61.2% margin.

The Orange County vote Tuesday on both Propositions 78 and 79 was about the same approval percentage as in Baldassare’s September poll.

Teacher-union-backed slates on Tuesday fared much worse than usual in Orange County trustee elections. The union-backed effort to unseat incumbents in Tustin Unified School District failed, with trustees Barbara Benson and Joyce Hanson handily winning reelection. Merlin Henry Jr., a union-endorsed candidate, won a seat being vacated by trustee Chris Layton, who did not seek reelection.

In Capistrano Unified School District, only one union-endorsed candidate out of a slate of five won election to the school board. Marlene Draper, who had union backing, defeated incumbent Charles H. Ward.

In Saddleback Community College District, a move by the teachers’ union to oust the incumbents failed: All were reelected.

Union officials have privately said it is much harder to oust incumbents in big turnout elections, such as Tuesday’s, where the presidential race led the ballot.

Harriett S. Walther, an incumbent Saddleback Community College District trustee who won reelection Tuesday, said she had been targeted for defeat by the union after she voted last year to change the trustee elections to even-numbered years to save the district money. .

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In a startling upset in the Santa Ana area, union-backed candidate Brian E. Conley ousted veteran incumbent Hector Godinez in Rancho Santiago Community College District. Godinez had been on the Board of Trustees since 1971 and is prominent in Santa Ana political circles.

Conley, 39, who lives in Santa Ana, is a teacher at Golden West College in Huntington Beach and chairman of the college’s visual arts department.

Voters in North Orange County Community College District bypassed a union-endorsed candidate and instead elected Rebecca Gonzalez, an Anaheim resident who had withdrawn as a candidate because she plans to move out of state.

With two seats to be filled in the North Orange County district, voters reelected incumbent Wallace Hardy and elected Gonzalez to fill a seat being vacated by the retirement of trustee Felix LeMarinel.

The biggest single sweep by any teachers’ union in the county was in the small Savanna Elementary School District in the Anaheim area. Union-backed candidates Chris Brown and Gary Roger Fite won both seats up for election.


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