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Bid to Unseat School Board's Larner May Be at an End : Recall: Foes of the county trustee have quit gathering signatures in her Ojai stronghold. The focus now is on ousting Angela Miller.

October 24, 1995|CATHERINE SAILLANT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Organizers of an effort to recall two members of the Ventura County Board of Education all but conceded defeat Monday in their campaign against Ojai resident Wendy Larner.

Opponents no longer are bothering to gather signatures in Larner's Ojai stronghold, concentrating instead on unseating Trustee Angela Miller in her Ventura district, said Michael Shapiro, coordinator of the Larner recall campaign.

Although Shapiro would not say the Larner effort is over--noting volunteers in each campaign have until Nov. 3 to gather 15,000 signatures--he said success is extremely unlikely.

"I don't think realistically that we have ever planned on reaching the goal for Wendy Larner," Shapiro said. "We feel we succeeded in that we have finally brought to the public just who Wendy Larner is, what she stands for and the kind of religious-right organizations that feed her."

Larner, who was elected in November, 1991, said she is gratified that Ventura County voters apparently do not agree with the recall's contention that she is unfit for office.

Larner and Miller were targeted for recall after their March vote to ban Planned Parenthood and AIDS Care speakers from sex-education training workshops for teachers. The forums are sponsored by the county Superintendent of Schools Office, governed by the county school board.

"There were some political disagreements, and that is not supposed to be the reason for a recall," Larner said. "It just confirms my faith in the area's voters."

Shapiro declined to say how many signatures Larner opponents have collected. But by late July, the group had gathered about one-fifth the number needed.

The coordinator of Miller's recall campaign, Laura Peck, also declined to say how many signatures have been gathered in her district, which includes Ventura and the northern tip of Oxnard. But by late August, they had half the required number to qualify for the March primary ballot.

"We're very close," Peck said. "That's why we're in this full-court press to go over the top. We're going to do it."

About 100 volunteers are gathering signatures after work and on weekends, Peck said. Last week, the Miller group hired six college students to fill petitions at $1 a signature, she said.

Peck said she is disappointed by the lagging Larner effort, but said the campaign had obstacles to overcome. Larner's district spreads over Ojai, Santa Paula, Fillmore and Camarillo, making the campaign difficult to coordinate, she said.

She was reluctant to speculate on what the failing Larner campaign may mean for the Miller recall.

"It may mean that people aren't aware of the issue because the county school board is a low-profile thing," she said. "But I don't think the public doesn't care."

County elections chief Bruce Bradley said he has heard little from voters about the recall campaigns since they were launched in June. That is an ominous sign, Bradley said.

In other petition efforts, citizens on both sides of an issue have called to complain, ask about legal procedures or seek other information, Bradley said. He has not received any calls on the Larner and Miller recall drives, he said.

"If it follows historic patterns, that usually means they haven't done anything," Bradley said. "The deadline passes and nothing happens. It just dies a quiet death."

Miller said she is pleased that the Larner effort appears to be failing, confirming "my gut feeling that this wouldn't work." But even if the campaign against her also falters, Miller said she believes the opposition to the conservative school board will not end.

"It would be nice if they stopped," she said. "But somehow I just don't think they will."

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