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Trustee Rally: No Bullhorn Required

Though smaller than billed, the show of support for Westminster's board majority is 'really good,' a targeted trustee says.

June 04, 2004|Joel Rubin | Times Staff Writer

After enduring a months-long barrage of anger and insult from parents and teachers, three beleaguered Westminster school trustees finally got some belated support for their stand against a state antidiscrimination law Thursday night.

About 30 people -- rally organizers had predicted more than 100 -- turned out at the Westminster School District offices. Carrying yellow signs that echoed their chants of "Protect our kids, no recall," they milled on the sidewalk before gathering to listen to an array of speakers, many of them from outside the district, including Ezola Foster, who was Pat Buchanan's running mate in the 2000 presidential election.

"These three ladies were so courageous to stand their ground and speak for all the people who agree with them," she said. "I am so proud of them for being brave enough to fight for this."

The rally -- sponsored by the Long Beach chapter of the Eagle Forum, a national conservative group that supports a back-to-basics education platform -- was the first organized sign of support for Judy Ahrens, Blossie Marquez and Helena Rutkowski since they rejected the gender language of the state law -- a move that threatened to cost the district millions of dollars in state funding and incurred the bitter protests of parents and teachers.

The three, who form a majority on the five-member board, eventually adopted language acceptable to the state in April. Opponents, however, have refused to relent. They are gathering signatures to recall Ahrens and Marquez and vow to defeat Rutkowski if she runs for reelection in November.

The recall backers have until the middle of this month to qualify for the fall election; they said they have gathered more than half of the 7,200 needed signatures. If they submit enough signatures after the mid-June cutoff, a special election will be called.

Throughout the saga, the trustees have laid claim to a silent core of supporters, but they never materialized at meetings or organized in opposition to the recall.

Ahrens and Marquez both said they welcomed the show of solidarity.

"I think it's great. You can see the other side now," Marquez said. "We've heard so much from one side. This is really good."

At the heart of the recall effort is the trio's opposition to a state discrimination law meant to protect gays, transsexuals and others who do not conform to traditional gender roles. The trustees said the law offended their Christian beliefs by allowing people to define their gender.

Thursday's rally disintegrated when recall supporters and opponents engaged in a shouting match.

Recall backers heckled the trustees' supporters and criticized those who came from outside the district to try to influence a local issue.

Jeanne Goodin, a state director of the Eagle Forum, expressed frustration that other groups had not come forward sooner in support of the trustees. Thursday's rally, she hoped, would mobilize people against the recall.

"When you don't see any organization or anyone out there supporting these women, you say to yourself, 'This just isn't right,' " Goodin said.

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