It happens every election: In an effort to clinch enough votes for the big win, candidates bark, bicker and bite. We're talking the pettiest politics possible: ballot designations, with the latest skirmish being the race for the Orange County Board of Education First District seat, which covers Fountain Valley, Santa Ana, parts of Garden Grove as well as Tustin.
Incumbent Long Pham is stepping down, and four candidates are now vying for his position, with one of them claiming the other two are unqualified. Eleazar Elizondo, a Democratic campaign consultant and former Santa Ana elementary school teacher, alleges that his other opponents, infamous local blogger Art Pedroza and Robert Morris-Hammond, are misleading the public vis-à-vis the titles they put on their ballot designations. Pedroza wrote down "community college teacher"; Hammond, who has home schooled children for the last eight years, calls himself a "teacher/Orange County business owner."
Both are unqualified to call themselves teachers, according to Elizondo (who designated himself as "public affairs consultant") because the law doesn't allow a candidate to call himself a teacher if he hasn't practiced teaching in the past year.
Elizondo complained to the Orange County Registrar of Voters, demanding they investigate Pedroza and Hammond's qualifications as teachers. The Registrar, which doesn't have the authority to investigate whether candidates are teachers or not, allowed Pedroza to keep his title, and requested Hammond, who has home schooled children for the past eight years, change his title from "Orange County teacher" to simply "teacher" so voters don't assume he's affiliated with the public school system. The Registrar allowed Hammond to keep his title after that change, because he received certification from the state in order to home school, but that "doesn't make you a teacher any more than giving your kids cough syrup makes you a doctor," said Elizondo.
As for Pedroza, the Registrar wrote in a response to Elizondo that "as an adjunct instructor, [Pedroza] does teach." Pedroza has been a part-time, adjunct safety instructor for the Painting and Decorating Contractors of America apprenticeship program at Cerritos College since 2003.
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"For Eleazar to imply that vocational instruction is somehow lesser is pretty funny," he said. Pedroza asserts that career education falls under the Orange County Department of Education, thereby qualifying him as a teacher. Many of his students are monolingual Latino workers, who for the most part "aren't going to get a regular college degree but they're hard working." He said he took a class in education before he started teaching at the community college.
"I have a pretty good ballot designation and [Elizondo's] isn't that great," said Pedroza. "When you run for board of education, you want to try to get the word teacher in there."
Pedroza and Morris-Hammond successfully did just that. Unsatisfied, Elizondo, took to the courts, without noticing that he missed the March 23 deadline to officially challenge his opponents leaving him with the last option of campaigning until the June 5, 2012 election date, where the candidate with the highest, though not the majority, number of votes wins.
"These guys are misrepresenting themselves and getting away with it," Elizondo said. "Part of the government is going along with it and the truth is they're not doing anything about it."