It pays not to campaign.
At least that’s what it looks like on the surface of Tuesday’s stunning upset victory by phantom candidate Alexander Bronson who got elected to the Manteca Unified School District board in Area 6 by running the lowest profile campaign ever — none.
But when you look at Ashley Drain’s almost as impressive win in Area 2 — she did campaign a bit — it is a major warning sign for Manteca Unified leadership both elected and non-elected. Bronson and Drain drew 56.91 percent and 55.70 percent of the vote respectively against entrenched incumbents.
You can’t simply chalk up this school board election being toxic for incumbents as many prevailed on Tuesday throughout the nation.
The close proximity of their respective vote tallies coupled with their relatively unknown status for the electorate means only one thing — people aren’t happy with the direction the Manteca Unified district is taking.
The only two big issues districtwide that have drawn any type of controversy are the school bond and the Going Digital initiative with a target rollout date of Jan. 26.
Obviously, a majority of the voters were comfortable with the bond issue and/or the fact there is a need. So unless there is another districtwide rumbling, the $30 million Going Digital with its annual $3 million upkeep may not being playing too will.
Actually voter discontent might be the least of the problems for the brass at Manteca Unified.
The residency of Bronson and Drain were questioned before the election with at least one complaint being referred to the Secretary of State’s office.
Both at one time gave an address in Manteca where the residents had never heard of either one of them. Drain gave three different addresses at last count.
By all indications both may be City of Stockton residents.
Besides the fact there are high profile cases of legislators claiming to reside at one address and actually living outside of the district they ran to represent that have ended up with jail time, there is an issue that people in a section of Manteca as well as Lathrop may not have legal representation.
It’s a question that Superintendent Jason Messer and the board have at least a moral and ethical obligation to clear up if not a legal one. Not to do so could ultimately erode public confidence in the district even further. Of course, bringing up the question could set off a firestorm on the board given Sam Fant’s name was used by both election night winners to serve as validation to verify where they said they resided was correct when they filed as candidates.
And then there is the very real possibility authorities that ultimately decide whether to proceed in such matters may simply say that it is where the elected person resides on the day they are sworn-in. They can’t, however, do what former state senator Rod Wright from Los Angeles did. They can’t have a straw address like Wright did — he resigned after being convicted of election fraud — while they are serving. It has to be a place where they physically live more than half of the year and can pass muster as a legal permanent residence.
If the Manteca Educators Association challenges the legality of the election of Bronson and Drain it would pose issues for them since they aggressively embraced defeated incumbents Don Scholl and Manuel Medeiros. It might irk voters who believe the MEA is trying to pack the board.
Then there is the issue of Fant who, without doubt, is the political animal among trustees.
Fant has served as a lightning rod. People love him. People don’t like him. Very few seem to find middle ground when it comes to Fant. It explains why when he ran two years ago there was a rumbling of “how dare he run because he has no kids in school” that didn’t resonate well with many who thought such a viewpoint was way off base. The schools are funded and serve the entire community and not just those with school-age children. Fant has also been in the crosshair of Stockton authorities due in part to his relationship with controversial Mayor Anthony Silva. They’ve gone as far as to bat his name around in connection with an allegedly illegal online gambling operation yet other people were arrested and not him.
Fant — who appears to be a disciple of Machiavelli— is immune to a degree from moves against him as they can generate a sympathetic backlash. He also worked hard to get the votes on Tuesday.
And for once there appears to actually be a coalition on the school board with Fant having what would be three votes out of seven.
It could quickly change the dynamics if not the tone.
Don’t be surprised if the first move isn’t a push to make Fant board president.
It is clear that Fant isn’t part of those who believe the job of trustee is primarily being able to hand out diplomas and act as if they are part of the management team of the district instead of being seven people who constantly question the administration as well as keep tabs on winds in the community.
And without a doubt Tuesday proved nobody had any inkling a storm was brewing among voters.
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.