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Experts Say Scandal Did Not Play Big Role in Trustee Race

One incumbent is reelected and another loses, though both opposed a settlement for the college district's controversial chief.

November 07, 2002|Amanda Covarrubias | Times Staff Writer

One Ventura County community college trustee was reelected and one was ousted, a split decision that shows Ventura County voters were less concerned about a financial scandal at the district than about the best candidate overall, experts said Wednesday.

Trustees Art Hernandez and John Tallman voted earlier this year against a $203,000 contract settlement for former Chancellor Philip Westin, who resigned last month amid allegations he abused his expense account. But their opposition to the costly buyout led to decidedly different results at the polls.

Voters in Oxnard, El Rio and Port Hueneme handed a victory to Hernandez, who captured 50% of the vote in Area 5. His closest rival, Sylvia Munoz-Schnopp, received 24%.

Hernandez may have benefited in his nonpartisan race from a vigorous Democratic campaign in Oxnard spearheaded by Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara), said Herb Gooch, a political analyst at Cal Lutheran University.

"Oxnard was worked heavily by the Capps campaign people and that probably helped Hernandez," Gooch said.

Tallman, a retired vice chancellor of the district and Westin's biggest critic on the board, was defeated by Mary Anne Rooney, an adult education teacher from Oxnard who ran a broad-based campaign advocating reform. Rooney received 49% of the vote in Area 1, which covers Ventura and a portion of Oxnard and Port Hueneme, to Tallman's 37%. Gooch said he thought Tallman may have been out-hustled by Rooney's shoe-leather campaign.

A third winner is Thousand Oaks resident Cheryl Heitmann, known for her work as a fund-raiser for local nonprofit groups. Heitmann, who will replace retiring trustee Norman Nagel, received 38% of the vote to 23% for her closest rival, Sandy Patrizio.

"I think voters responded to the fact that I have deep roots in the community and have been an educational activist for 16 years and care deeply about public education," Heitmann said.

The three all ran campaigns that relied heavily on face-to-face encounters with voters at farmers markets, coffee klatches and public events.

"I think they know I'm committed to the area," said Hernandez, a former Oxnard Union High School District board member. "They were comfortable knowing what I represented in the past and that I have the best interests of the community in mind. It allowed them to say, 'We think we will continue to support him.' "

Voters also may have been swayed by Hernandez's endorsements from Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez and two former Oxnard College presidents, Ed Robings and Steve Arvizu.

Tallman could not be reached for comment.

During the campaign, the candidates agreed the public's faith and trust in the five-member board were seriously eroded after it was revealed Westin had charged the district $119,000 over four years on meals, car repairs and computers.

"I think voters wanted some new leadership and people were comfortable with me," Rooney said Wednesday. "I went out and met people at the grass-roots level at meetings, functions and homes. They saw I had passion about the district and that I would try to find some common ground."

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