Amid a burgeoning controversy over college Trustee Steven J. Frogue earlier this year, one of his ardent supporters stood during a meeting recess and loudly voiced a prediction even more chilling than the frosty air outside.
"We're headed for a bloody race war in this country," said the supporter, a friend of people with ties to white supremacists, "and I can't wait."
It was just one more disturbing moment spun out of the stormy career of Frogue, a trustee and past board president of the South Orange County Community College District.
In six years, Frogue has earned the enmity of many professors, students, gays, Jews, Democrats and Republicans who came together in one of the most remarkable political coalitions in Orange County history this year to oust him via a recall campaign.
So when that effort was pronounced a failure by Orange County election officials earlier this month, Frogue's many enemies were dumbfounded. How could a campaign with bipartisan support, paid signature-gatherers, decent funding, endorsement from Christians and Jews and leadership from educators fail?
They were particularly baffled because the failure came after a series of Frogue-inspired spectacles over the last few years: shouting matches between Jews and white supremacists, anti-gay fliers warning of "same-sex marriages," Frogue's peculiar condemnations of the Anti-Defamation League, his repeated denouncement of faculty organizations, his tiebreaking vote in favor of his own seminar featuring Kennedy assassination theorists considered anti-Semitic.
Meanwhile, Frogue declared victory, saying voters had vindicated him and 'repudiated' the recallers.
"It's what happens with lots of recalls," said Lisa Alvarez, a recall proponent and associate professor of English at Irvine Valley College. "They seldom succeed, not because they aren't meritorious, but because it is so difficult to do.
"It's like impeachment--you're not supposed to be able to do it whimsically or arbitrarily."
Frogue has denied many times that he is anti-Semitic. But his animosity toward the Anti-Defamation League, which documents and reports on intolerance and hate movements, and his reluctance to denounce extremists who support him have fueled speculation about his real beliefs and carried the recall campaign further than most in Orange County ever go. Frogue could not be reached for comment.
In Orange County, there have been 36 attempts at county-level recalls since 1991, including the Frogue attempt. Every one failed.
"People are very, very motivated at the beginning, but it gets very hard to keep doing it," said Suzanne Slupsky, elections supervisor for the Orange County registrar's office. "They get to the point of filing the notice of intent, but they never bring in the actual signatures."
Slupsky said the Frogue recall campaign was the first since 1991 to actually file signatures. None of the other 35 even got that far. She did not have figures available for City Council recalls, which are administered by officials in individual cities.
Part of the failure of the Frogue recall was due to the number of signatures required to place a recall question on the ballot. Initiatives are much easier to put on the ballot than recalls because they require far fewer signatures.
Statewide initiatives must have petitions with 5% of the total number of votes cast in the last election for governor for changes in statutes and 8% of that number for constitutional amendments.
For county-level initiatives, state law requires 10% of the number of votes cast for governor in that county.
However, for a recall such as the Frogue campaign, laws set a more challenging standard. In an area with more than 100,000 registered voters, recall proponents must collect 10% of the signatures of those registered.
Because the number of those casting ballots is usually far lower--50% to 60% of those registered--achieving the higher signature requirement is all the more difficult.
With about 380,000 voters registered in the South Orange County Community College District, state law required recallers to collect about 38,000 valid signatures, 10% of the total number registered.
If the recall law was patterned after the initiative provisions of the state Constitution, the recallers would only have had to obtain 5% of the number of votes cast in the last college trustees election. There were about 190,000 votes cast in that election. Five percent of the number of votes cast would be about 9,500, a mark the Frogue recallers could have hit easily.
"In our campaign, altogether, 65,000 voters took the time to stop and sign our petitions," said Brenda Borron, an Irvine Valley College professor of English and recall supporter. "These people will remember Mr. Frogue when he comes up for reelection in 2000."