Embarrassed by controversy rippling monthly from the South Orange County Community College District's Board of Trustees, state Republicans on Wednesday said they will support the recall of Trustee Steven J. Frogue, himself a Republican and two-term trustee at odds with students, professors and Jewish groups.
Though Frogue has repeatedly denied he is anti-Semitic, Michael Schroeder, state Republican chairman, said the party has thrown its support behind a recall drive to oust Frogue, who has been accused of making ethnic slurs as a teacher and supporting groups considered offensive to Jews.
"It was the right thing to do," said Schroeder, speaking to recall supporters on a plaza outside the library of Saddleback College, which houses the district's offices in Mission Viejo. "The record here was so clear."
In a separate indication of mounting problems for the district, state community college officials are being asked to investigate whether the Board of Trustees, with Frogue's support, has violated state regulations that require shared decision-making processes on campuses.
The request for an investigation is being made by the statewide Academic Senate for California Community Colleges to the State Chancellor's office, Bill Scroggins, president of the Academic Senate, said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, professors at Saddleback College, casting ballots in the campus Academic Senate on Wednesday, approved a vote of "no confidence" in the district board, a dramatic step in academic governance. The Irvine Valley College professors took a similar step last year.
But the action by state Republicans was unprecedented. Schroeder acknowledged the party has never "weighed in" on a recall affecting a nonpartisan office.
"In this case, the evidence we were presented with by recall supporters was so compelling, we felt our duty was clear," Schroeder said at a news conference "In this situation, you have a very well-documented history of someone who . . . has made statements that at best are insensitive and at worst are anti-Semitic and racist."
Frogue last year proposed a seminar he would teach concerning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy that would have featured a panel of speakers that included two who have written for publications considered anti-Semitic. The seminar was canceled under heavy public pressure.
Frogue on Wednesday said the state Republicans had been "taken in by lies, smears and demagoguery," and said he was never contacted about the party's decision. Through a college spokeswoman, Frogue reiterated past statements that the Holocaust was one of the "great atrocities" of history and that he has the "utmost respect" for Jewish people.
"I can only hope that the people of south Orange County once [will] see through this pernicious campaign and reject the recall," Frogue said.
The board's president, John S. Williams, also a Republican, reportedly could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The developments leave a murky political picture in South County. The college posts are nonpartisan, although six of the seven trustees are Republican. The seventh, Dorothy Fortune, is a Democrat.
Fortune has joined with Williams, Frogue and Trustee Teddi Lorch to form a slim board majority that wields power and has made many unpopular decisions in the past 18 months, including its selection of a president, several deans and other policies.
Local Democrats also have campaigned against the board majority, describing the effects of their actions as harmful to the college.
Schroeder spoke Wednesday as volunteers and consultants fanned out to begin a new campaign after a first effort failed to garner enough signatures earlier this year.
He said there was no political motive for the endorsement, except to "repudiate" racist views and act to broaden the party's political base.