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Anaheim schools trustee is a target of left and right

Appointee is disliked for his immigration views and a comment about a molestation victim.

August 03, 2007|Jennifer Delson and Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writers

They rarely agree, but this week, a striking mix of conservatives and liberals, community activists and politicians joined to support the ouster of a recently appointed Anaheim schools trustee who once proposed billing Mexico for educating illegal immigrants and suggested that a teenage girl who was molested by a teacher was partly to blame for keeping it secret.

Opponents of Harald Martin include Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle, who is a former Republican speaker of the Assembly, and liberal activist Nativo Lopez, whose Mexican American Political Assn. has committed $1,000 to a campaign that he agreed attracted "strange bedfellows."

Michael Schroeder, former California Republican Party chairman, agreed.

"It's definitely unusual," he said. "To see the groups that are working together in forming such an unusually strong coalition -- typically someone doesn't face a coalition like this unless they so completely burned down all of their relationships and political bases."

Martin, 52, a retired Anaheim police officer, served on the Anaheim Union High School District board for eight years, losing his reelection bid in 2004. He was appointed July 19 by a 3-1 vote to the board seat left open by the death of Trustee Denise Mansfield-Reinking.

Messages left on Martin's answering machine were not returned Thursday.

Martin first garnered headlines in 1995, when he proposed that the district sue Mexico to recover the cost of educating illegal immigrants in the district.

Four years later, after a teenager who was sexually abused for years by a Cypress High School teacher was awarded $2.5 million in damages, Martin said the size of the award stunned him.

"If both parties kept it secret ... I think there's some culpability on the victim's part," he said at the time.

In 2001, Martin proposed requiring new students in the district to produce a U.S. birth certificate or proof of residency -- or face being turned over to immigration officials.

Board member Katherine Smith, who nominated Martin to fill the vacancy, has known him for 15 years. She said he was the most qualified for the post, based on his past experiences, including creating the district's 2.0 GPA graduation requirement, increasing after-school sports programs and doing community policing work that turned dangerous slums in Anaheim into family-friendly neighborhoods.

"I would rather have Harald Martin running this district than some of the people opposing him. They're all politically motivated. It has nothing to do with kids," she said.

But this week, the effort to oust Martin encouraged liberals such as Amin David, who heads civic group Los Amigos of Orange County, to shake hands with conservatives such as local blogger Art Pedroza, a former county GOP official, as they announced their support for a petition drive that could lead to a special election to fill the seat.

Critics have less than a month to gather about 2,300 signatures from registered voters in the district. The county would have a month to verify the signatures, and if enough are valid, a special election would be held within four months.

The group already has gathered about 800 signatures, David said. If they fail to gather enough signatures, Martin will be up for reelection as an incumbent in November 2008.

County Board of Education member Alexandria Coronado, a Republican, and state Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) are among the leaders who have planned breakfasts for volunteers who will walk door to door Saturday gathering signatures.

"It's a very unusual coalition," Correa said. "People from extreme ideological points of view agree ... Harald Martin should not be on that school board."

Critics say the board ignored the voters' wishes.

After losing his seat in 2004, Martin came in seventh of eight candidates in the November election.

"It's a slap in the face for them to pick who they wanted and ignore what the community was telling them," said Anna L. Piercy, the lone trustee to oppose the appointment.

jennifer.delson@latimes.com

seema.mehta@latimes.com

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