Cirque du Socccd
Let us revisit one of the weirdest marriages in the history of Orange County's political freak show. It's 1996, and the leadership of the liberal union representing South County community college faculty members has locked arms with four conservatives running for the board of trustees.
Their reasons are simple: the union, which spends more in these races than all other sources combined, will use its ample treasury to prop up conservatives in one of the most conservative voting areas in California, the South Orange County Community College District (SOCCCD), which encompasses Saddleback and Irvine Valley colleges. In return, said conservatives will protect teacher salaries, already the highest in the state community college system, in the face of the financially strapped district's looming bankruptcy.
The strategy of this unholy alliance was best illustrated in what became known as the "homophobic hate mailers of '96." To ensure the conservatives' victory, the union paid for campaign mailers that played on the fears of conservative voters. The mailers claimed that the conservative slate would fight to protect voters' hard-earned tax dollars from being used to fund health benefits for the same-sex partners of district employees.
Same-sex benefits were neither an issue in the race nor on the district bargaining table, but the tactic worked beautifully. Three of the four conservatives—Dorothy Fortune, John Williams and Steven Frogue—breezed to victory; fellow conservative Don Davis lost to incumbent David Lang.
The '96 election left a bad taste in the mouths of many in the district. Acrimony led to lawsuits, turf wars, recall campaigns, outgoing staff stampedes, closed-door meetings, closed-door-meeting-law violations, threats of lost accreditation and an eventual changing of the guard in the faculty-union leadership.
But now it's election time again, and gay-baiting has returned to the SOCCCD. Faxes that have been dropping like SCUDs at Irvine Valley College (IVC) the past few weeks riff off the same homophobia used in 1996. Claiming to be newsletters produced by IVC's "Gay-Lesbian Task Force," the faxes applaud a reform-minded slate of candidates—incumbent Lang and newcomers Bill Shane, Bob Loeffler and Bill Hochmuth—for supporting same-sex benefits.
Using political reverse psychology—and lots of capital letters—one fax reads: "Please, do not vote for those candidates who would DENY us our domestic-partner same-sex benefits (DON DAVIS, JOHN WILLIAMS, DOROTHY FORTUNE and TOM FUENTES)."
Fuentes, the chairman of the Orange County Republican Party, recently replaced Frogue, who stepped down from the board after a tumultuous reign that included two unsuccessful recall campaigns against him amid allegations that he is racist and anti-Semitic.
As is par for the SOCCCD, the faxes are total bullshit. There is no Gay-Lesbian Task Force. The name of the "registered Democrat" identified as the author of the abovementioned fax is not in the phone book, the district's employee roster or the county registrar's list of registered Democrats. The "author" listed on a second fax does exist but denies having created either fax and is offended by being linked to them.
A third fax sent out last week makes the same claims about same-sex benefits but directs all inquiries to IVC's Gay & Lesbian Student Club—which does exist, although club members deny any involvement in this sordid mess. Fax No. 4 claims that Lang has won the endorsement of the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA).
Despite their over-the-top quality, the faxes prompted another IVC professor—who also exists—to announce the formation of a conservative faculty group to fight "liberal extremists" who have taken over the union and created a rogue and illegal PAC that has secretly recruited candidates to push for same-sex benefits. That professor confirmed to the Weekly that he authored that fax.
Andrew Tonkovich, a liberal adjunct faculty member at IVC and a constant thorn in the side of conservative trustees and administrators, responded to the fax campaign by putting out a satirical release from the "One True Conservative Faculty Association." Noting that his organization "put the 'con' in 'conservative,'" Tonkovich announced his group's endorsement of Fuentes for not one but all four vacant district trustee seats this November. He concludes his delicious lampoon by pointing out that his public "remarks were met by complete indifference."
"Complete indifference" is how we're supposed to regard community college districts. When it comes to government fiefdoms, community college districts rank near the bottom in importance, sandwiched somewhere between vector-control and lighting-assessment districts. Here's a little secret: community college boards don't actually do anything. Most money for community colleges comes from the state and is earmarked for specific purposes. Talking about gays and lesbians is just a way to get some voters to pay attention.
The Weekly apologizes for having wasted this much ink to tell you that.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Orange County, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.