January 23, 2004

The Trials of One Chicana’s Write-In Campaign for San Diego School Board

By Perlita R. Dicochea

From now until elections on March 2nd, Guadalupe Corona and her team of volunteers are walking the democratic precincts of District D, which includes City Heights and Mid-City neighborhoods, and asking voters to write-in “Lupe Corona” for San Diego School Board.

Guadalupe Corona, director of the United Front Multicultural Center at the University of San Diego, has made her vested interest in democratic processes a career. Corona is president of the Latina Latino & Indigenous Peoples Unity Coalition and a member of the San Diego Mayor’s Advisory Board. She was recently appointed as a parent representative on the Language Academy’s School Site Council. Corona also manages to keep on top of her dissertation work in the Department of Education at USD.

Guadalupe Corona (right) stops for a photo while walking through neighborhoods gathering signatutres for her write-in campaign. She is accompanied by her street team: (from left, clockwise) Venus Molina, Zulema Lialson, and her son Endo Rosales.

I asked Corona what she would do if elected to School Board. She listed the following goals:

1. Re-establish the Mexican-American Advisory Committee

2. Create an advisory committee of teachers, parents, students, workers and community members to the School Board for feedback and suggestions.

3. Create a personal advisory committee of teachers, parents, students, workers and community members for feedback and suggestions.

4. Ensure that the Superintendent provides the kind of leadership that will earn the trust and respect of teachers, parents, students, workers, and community members.

5. Continue coalition-building efforts throughout San Diego County.

Campaign Challenges and Legal Mix-ups

Corona must gather 200 signatures by February 17th from registered voters in District D in order to qualify as a write-in candidate on the March ballot. She must also pay a filing fee of $200. Primary elections are held on March 2nd. This election will narrow down the election to two candidates for School Board. In November, voters throughout the County will determine the candidate who will be the newest member of the San Diego School Board.

The first December 5th deadline for candidates to get their names on the ballot also required 200 nominating signatures and a $200 filing fee. Three prospective candidates, Pilar Arballo, Luis Acle and Guadalupe Corona, did not meet the requirements to be placed on the ballot because they did not have 200 hundred valid signatures.

Cathy Glaser, of the San Diego County Registrar of Voters, explained that in order to be valid, a signature a) must be confirmed as a registered voter, b) must be a resident of District D in order to vote in the primaries, and c) must have written down the correct home address. “Most of the time the addresses don’t match up with the people who signed the petition,” Glaser said.

The campaign for School Board is marked by a major judicial inconsistency. Luis Acle went to court to argue that, despite not having 200 valid signatures, he is qualified to be on the ballot. His case named the Registrar of Voters and the San Diego School Board as defendants. The Registrar of Voters County Attorney Tim Berry was to attend the hearing. However, Berry recounts, on the day the judge was to merely schedule a hearing, the judge also made a decision that Acle met “substantial compliance” in order to be on the ballot. The School Board attor-ney that was present did not refute the argument.

A week later, Pilar Arballo went to a different judge with the same case as Acle. Berry assessed, “By this time, the School Board did their homework and brought forward a published decision made by the Court of Appeals that states that substantial compliance does not apply to election codes.” It seems the judge and lawyer at Acle’s spontaneous hearing were not aware of this case.

Put simply, short of 200 signatures a candidate does not qualify and must either drop-out of the race or pursue a write-in campaign. Arballo may appeal and candidate Benjamin Hueso, who met signature requirements and will be on the ballot, is considering filing in opposition to Acle’s privileged position on the ballot.

“The inconsistencies are unfortunate,” Berry said about the two judges different rulings. He explained that the Registrar of Voters is a function of the School Board’s campaign stipulations and thus tries to remain neutral on political issues. However, Berry said that had he been at the initial meeting to schedule Acle’s hearing, he would have asked why the case discrediting substantial compliance in the context of elections was not addressed.

Corona’s campaign team reviewed Arballo’s case and decided a legal course would be futile. Candidates had until January 9th to file a legal case and receive a judicial ruling.

Corona raises other concerns about the fairness of the campaign process to run for School Board. In addition to the judicial discrepancies, Corona said in frustration, “A candidate only needs 100 signatures to run for city council and 45 to run for mayor. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Other challenges include voter disenchantment. Corona has spoken with several potential voters who have become disillusioned with California politics, namely the recall election, and refuse to sign any more petitions. There was also some confusion among potential voters about the District D boundaries, which were redrawn last summer.

Still Corona insists, “It’s not about the signatures. It’s about the process. And this process needs to be equitable. A truly democratic process is about all people having the opportunity to participate. If someone wants to run for office, the process should ensure that any person is able to get involved.”

Even so, Corona admitted there is a difference between volunteering for campaigns, which she has much experience with, and campaigning for oneself. “As a first-time candidate, you need to be aware of the protocol. I worked on a lot of other campaigns, but it’s different when you’re running for office.”

Bridging the Gap

Lupe Corona’s broad values and coalition-building efforts are the reasons one of her dedicated volunteers, Oscar Naranjo, a mental health counselor, supports Corona through the trials of her write-in campaign. “Lupe has worked with diverse constituents. She has led countless efforts to bridge the gap between communities that do not have a history of collaborating,” Naranjo said.

Lupe Corona and her son Endo.

Last weekend, Naranjo along with five other volunteers met at Corona’s home located on a residential street between the trilingual Sacred Heart Church and The Elderly Chinese Association. In the corridor outside Corona’s front door, volunteers congregated at 10am on Saturday and Sunday to make phone calls and walk door-to-door collecting signatures and leaving flyers that detail Corona’s political leadership and read “WRITE-IN ‘Lupe Corona.’”

Naranjo added, “Lupe is a role model, not just for Latinas but for everybody. That’s the kind of person we need on the San Diego School Board.” In this way, Naranjo believes Corona stands apart from any of the other potential candidates.

On the Door-to-Door

As Corona walks from door-to-democratic door of a mid-city neighborhood, she points out the homes of old classmates, colleagues, and fellow activists. In one block, we passed several homes with rainbow flags decorating front porches. Corona spoke to me about her involvement with the LGBT community and her participation in the organ-ization’s float during San Diego’s Gay Pride Parade last year.

It was a sunny Saturday afternoon and few people were home to collect signatures from. Instead, Corona left flyers on all the democratic homes on her list.

Just a mile away, we walked down a block of houses sporting Mexican flags. There we stopped at an SDSU colleague of Corona’s and collected 6 signatures in one sweep – including a mother, an aunt, a cousin, and neighbor.

Corona said jokingly, “That’s why you have to go to the Mexican houses. You get 5 or 6 signatures from one household rather than going to 5 or 6 different houses.”

I asked Corona what’s next if her write-in campaign does not succeed? She hesitated to consider that scenario. Then she solemnly responded, “I’ll finish my dissertation and continue being an advocate for parents whose children are in the language emersion programs at the Language Academy” – these among her other on-going leadership roles, of course.

February 17th is that last day to register to vote for the March election. Visit the San Diego County Registrar of Voters website at www.sd vote.com for more information.

If you have questions or comments about this story, contact Perlita R. Dicochea at perlita@uclink.berk eley.edu.

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