Forty-one years ago I voted in my third election.
I had complete confidence in at least one of the candidates I was voting for — myself.
I was a 19-year-old running for a seat on the Western Placer Unified School District board in Lincoln. Back then, it was just slightly smaller in terms of enrollment than the Ripon Unified School District is today.
I was running against an entrenched incumbent of 16 years and five other people for the seat that was up for grabs. To say there were some concerns at the time among voters was a slight understatement.
I ended up with 700 plus votes — 300 more than the closest finisher who was the incumbent.
So go ahead and ask the obvious questions. Why would a 19-year-old run for a school board and how did he get elected?
For whatever bizarre reason government — not politics — had intrigued me since Cathyrn Gates, our neighbor in Roseville who was a teacher, taught me to read as a 5-year-old the summer before I started kindergarten while using the Sacramento Bee front page section as her primer. She always made a point of discussing what she helped me read.
When I read newspapers as a kid, I read the front section. I didn’t start reading the comics until I was 12 or the sports section until I was 15 when I got my first job as a “stringer” sports editor for the Lincoln News Messenger getting paid 10 cents an inch and a dollar a photo. The job required that I dummy and paste the three-page section and write the headlines as well.
It was a full page community service advertisement the News Messenger ran free for the school bond issue that got my attention. A lot of people were complaining about school taxes and what they thought was a growing disconnect. Remember, this was the 1970s.
Western Placer was a high tax and low wealth school district. The board had gotten a reputation of not questioning the superintendent rationalizing he was the professional.
I took numbers and trends that the superintendent had included in the ad and took them out 30 years. Based on bonding capacity, debt limits, and growth patterns, there was no way the bond measure could deliver half of what was promised, if that. Most people who voted against it said they did so because property taxes were killing them in the days before Proposition 13.
That coupled with being a campaign manager for a high school junior while I was a sophomore who had just turned 18 and was running as a write-in candidate was what prompted me to run. Ken Mikaelsen, who had just been elected student body president, and I were hauled into the principal’s office and informed that by the superintendent that if Mikaelsen did not drop his candidacy that he wouldn’t be allowed to play football his senior year.
To make a long story short, Mikaelsen didn’t back down, he got 41 votes but obviously didn’t win, and he still played football.
I had argued he would have done better had he ran on specific issues such as the school bond and pointed out the fact that the district had the typing classes during school hours stuff envelopes in the 1972 school bond campaign seeking a yes vote. I thought the law was pretty clear on that one. Apparently the district didn’t.
I ended up spending $750 from my newspaper stringing job — the first time ever anyone had paid for printed materials — to run for school board. I didn’t invest in yard signs. Instead I had a printed circular that had graphs built on the failed bond issue and literally went point by point as to how the district misled voters. That filled one-side of the 8.5-by-14 flyer. The other had some general concerns I had about the schools ignoring the drug problem at the high school, my photo, my slogan (“Action speaks louder than words”), and one-third of the fold so I could mail them if need be.
I went door-to-door in Lincoln and Sheridan with the flyers. If I got an answer, I’d talk to the person that came to the door. If not, I left the flyer on the doorstep. I mailed them to the rural addresses. The school district encompasses some 196 square miles.
I ended up serving two terms which is all I said I wanted to do in the first place. Along the way I survived a failed recall attempt over my pushing an effort using donations and volunteer labor to put in place safer ball fields and a track on the Lincoln High campus across the street from where a retired teacher happened to live who started the effort to get me off the board.
The next election I ran unopposed.
I can honestly say the eight years I served where far more insightful into the system and educational than what any college professor could drone on about. It also taught me to have an extremely thick skin, to work with others and not call them names to get your point across, and that people misjudge others often times by what they look like.
I was young and had hair touching my collar so some assumed I was a liberal.
One of those people who assumed that apologized to me later saying I was the most conservative person on the board.
This was back before the terms “conservative” and “liberal” were hijacked by political hacks.
I also learned the system works. It isn’t always pretty or quick but it gets things done.
Keep that in mind today and vote. And keep it in mind come Wednesday when you may think the world is coming to an end.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209.249.3519.