Alexandria Coronado showed up to the July 19 meeting of the Anaheim Union High School District (AUHSD) Board of Trustees happy. She and a group of friends were attending to support Jordan Brandman, who was hoping the trustees would appoint him to fill a vacant board seat. Victory seemed certain: Brandman had narrowly missed winning a position during the 2006 elections.
"I showed up right as they were casting the vote," says Coronado, a former AUHSD trustee who now serves on the Orange County Board of Education. "I was standing in front of [former Anaheim mayor and current county clerk-recorder] Tom Daly. But everybody along the back row was standing limp, as if they were deer in the headlights. I asked Tom what was wrong. He looked at me and shook his head."
At that moment, the AUHSD board announced they were appointing former trustee Harald Martin to the empty spot. Martin had already ensured himself a spot in Orange County political infamy during his previous eight-year tenure on the AUHSD board. From 1994 to 2002, the Anaheim police officer compared himself to Zapatistas leader Subcomandante Marcos, refused to apologize after blaming a 13-year-old for her molestation at the hands of a teacher, said "diversity is a killer" and became infamous for cutting off the mikes of community members who voiced their displeasure with his policies. Martin's most notorious accomplishment came in 1999, when he attracted national attention for drafting a resolution that sought to sue Mexico for $50 million for the district's educating the children of illegal immigrants.
Coronado and her friends were shocked by Martin's appointment, especially since AUHSD voters booted Martin out of office in 2002 and shunned him again in 2006, when Martin placed seventh out of eight candidates in that fall's election. So they quickly took action: A couple of days later, an unusual coalition of liberals and conservatives (including Coronado, et al.) announced their support for an effort to remove Martin from his trustee seat. They have until Aug. 20 to collect 2,500 valid signatures from voters in Cypress, Stanton, La Palma and Anaheim, the cities served by the AUHSD. If they are successful, a special election would be held before the end of this year.
The anti-Martin movement includes many strange bedfellows, among them longtime Latino activist Nativo Lopez and Orange County Register editorial writer Steve Greenhut. But no Martin opponent is more unlikely than Coronado, who served as an AUHSD trustee from 1998 until 2002 alongside Martin.
Initially, Coronado was a Martin ally—a conservative Republican Latina who agreed with his ideas on illegal immigration. "There is an issue with the influx of children we have here in Southern California that oftentimes is caused by illegal immigration. There's no doubt about that," Coronado says. "Our borders need to be enforced. If I have a child that comes from Guatemala or Chile or Mexico, and they haven't received a proper education, and the district must help them catch up, that puts us at a disadvantage. And I think that's an issue to be addressed."
But when Martin started toying with the idea of the AUHSD issuing a resolution regarding illegal immigration, Coronado was aghast at his first proposal. "It was the most racist, off-the-wall thing I've seen in my life," she says. "All children of Mexican descent had to prove their citizenship, even my daughter, and [our family has] been here since the 1500s."
Coronado and two other AUHSD board members voted to rewrite Martin's resolution with the help of an immigration attorney. The revised version merely sought to seek reimbursement from foreign countries for the district's educating the children of illegal immigrants. Coronado voted for that resolution, which passed by a 4-1 vote. (The AUHSD later dropped it after U.S. government officials declined to help seek those funds.) Coronado claims Martin never forgave her for not supporting his initial resolution and proceeded to make their working relationship "impossible."
Things got worse later that year, when the district settled a multimillion-dollar sex-abuse lawsuit brought by a former student at Lexington Junior High in Cypress. "The district was absolutely negligent, and I totally agreed with the court," Coronado says. Not Martin; he told a Los Angeles Times reporter there was "some culpability on the victim's part."
"I couldn't believe it," Coronado says about Martin's remark. "Any man who says something like that does not belong in any position of leadership anywhere on this planet." She asked Martin to publicly retract his comment. Instead, he issued a statement accusing his critics of "unsubstantiated vitriolic rhetoric" and described them as "politically correct terrorist[s] with a mailing list." Soon after, Coronado left the board to seek a spot on the Orange County Board of Education.
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Martin did not respond to an interview request from the Weekly for this story. He's trying to rally conservative support against the recall effort, appearing on KFI-AM 640's The John and Ken Show and asking for help from the anti-illegal-immigrant California Coalition for Immigration Reform; in a letter to the group, he described his opponents as "a bipartisan group of pro-illegal immigration groups."
Coronado laughs at Martin's description.
"I'm ashamed that Harald Martin calls himself a Republican," she says. "Because he does not represent Republican values or how they comport themselves in public office. I find it very sad this man will not back down. I'm appalled he won't see the handwriting on the wall and back off."