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School Board Recall Campaign Ends in Failure : Voters: Angela N. Miller and Wendy Larner, pegged as representatives of the Religious Right, remain on county panel.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A five-month campaign to recall two conservative members of the Ventura County school board ended in failure Thursday, and the targets of the campaign said the lack of interest in the effort shows they continue to have community support.

“The people they were trying to get signatures from are the people who elected me,” said Angela N. Miller. “I ran a clear campaign and I’m doing exactly what I said I would. I’m just real tickled to death, again, that the community has supported me.”

In Ojai, fellow Ventura County Board of Education Trustee Wendy Larner said the announcement confirms that, contrary to public statements, recall backers did not have widespread support. And it shows that voters, for the most part, were not outraged by the board’s March vote to ban AIDS Care and Planned Parenthood speakers from teacher-training workshops.

“It goes to show how a few people can cause a lot of noise,” Larner said.

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Recall chairman Richard Weston-Jones called a news conference outside the superintendent of schools office in Camarillo on Thursday morning to concede that the campaign that started June 1 has failed.

Weston-Jones said 10,559 signatures were collected in the bid to unseat Miller from her Ventura district, about 1,428 short of the minimum required.

The gap was much wider in the drive against Larner, board president. Recall backers in Larner’s far-flung district, which includes Ojai, Camarillo, Santa Paula and Fillmore, collected 7,400 of the 11,098 needed, said coordinator Michael Shapiro.

Today is the deadline for turning in signatures to the county Elections Division to qualify a recall vote for the March ballot, said elections chief Bruce Bradley.

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But organizers of both efforts said they will not ask for a count and instead will shred the mounds of petitions they have gathered.

“We are conceding that we did not get enough signatures,” Weston-Jones said. “But we think what we have done is get the attention of Ventura County to the threat that they are facing from the Religious Right.”

Weston-Jones praised the more than 200 volunteers who donated hundreds of hours to organize the five-month campaign and collect signatures. He said the recall’s failure does not mean that the public is not concerned about the influence of conservative Christian politics on local school boards.

The campaign failed mainly because the organizers were political novices who made critical errors, Weston-Jones said. They kicked it off June 1, just as teachers and other potentially helpful volunteers were leaving for vacation, he said.

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And they did not hire a professional firm to perform the difficult task of securing valid voter signatures. Instead, they relied on a grass-roots cadre of volunteers to fan out over Larner and Miller’s districts to collect signatures.

Bradley agreed that the lack of political expertise hurt the effort.

“The successful petitions are ones that are professionally gathered,” he said. “If you are willing to spend the money, then they are qualified.”

Although the organizers of the campaign against Miller came much closer to meeting their minimum target than Larner’s detractors, Bradley said both campaigns fell short by wide margins when you factor in the extra signatures usually needed to qualify a measure.

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Elections officials estimate that 20% of the signatures on such petitions are ruled invalid for various reasons. Both recalls, therefore, would have needed closer to 15,000 signers each, he said.

Laura Peck, chairwoman of the Larner recall drive, said organizers will disband the organization Recall Education Campaign Against Larner & Miller (RECALL).

But they will reorganize as a broader political committee whose goal is to alert voters to candidates for local boards that may be affiliated with the national Religious Right, she said.

But Michelle Erich, the Port Hueneme chairwoman of a group called Citizens for Accountability in Public Education, said many Ventura County voters are conservative and agree with Larner and Miller’s positions.

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Both trustees advocate a focus on academic basics and sex education that is abstinence-based. They are also concerned about federal intrusion into education, Erich said.

“Voters like what they’re doing and want them to continue to implement their beliefs and values into the school system.”

The county school board oversees the superintendent of schools office, which performs payroll and other administrative functions for the county’s 21 local school districts. The governing board also supervises alternative-education programs for about 3,000 county students, such as schools for incarcerated youths.


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