Harsh Online Ad Roils School Board Race

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Harsh Online Ad Roils School Board Race
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By Jerry Roberts

A negative social media ad, produced and posted by a key group backing Ismael Ulloa and Rose Munoz, has introduced a sudden note of bitter acrimony into a school board race that has been singularly civil.

The 90-second online spot, put up by the political arm of the Latino advocacy organization CAUSE, targets the "Save Our Schools slate," rival board contenders Mark Alvarado and Kate Ford, who are backed by an alliance of parents often referred to as SOS.

The spot conflates several race-based education issues and an infamous episode of digital threats of violence aimed at female students, combined with some inaccurate information and misleading allegations, into a mix of insinuation about SOS and innuendo about its endorsed candidates. It has been shared widely on social media by allies of CAUSE Action Fund, including the local Democratic Party, since being posted on Facebook last week.

“We’re trying to make sense of a complex race that has a lot of layers – we just wanted to connect all those dots,” Frank Rodriguez, policy and communications associate for CAUSE (Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy) told Newsmakers, in defending the ad.

“We never addressed Mark and Kate,” he said, but added, “I definitely see how it can be taken" as directed at them. 

You can watch the ad below. A line-by-line deconstruction of it is found at the end of this article

Gauging reaction. Although the ad does not mention Alvarado and Ford by name, it refers near its beginning to the “Save Our Schools slate.” Through words and images, it then associates the slate with a host of right-wing attitudes, beliefs and policy positions – racism, misogyny, white supremacy and opposition to the concerns and rights of minority students and immigrants, among them.   

“Dividing our community may win an election, but it will not bring Santa Barbara and Goleta closer to our goals,” Ford said in response. “We are proud to run a positive campaign and are proud of the support we have received from across the community.”

“I don’t want to go toe-to-toe to perpetuate the divisions,” Alvarado told us. “We’ve run a good, clean race and we don’t want to go down these dark roads.”

Ulloa and Munoz, the intended beneficiaries of the ad, both said they had nothing to do with its production and posting, but bobbed and weaved when asked directly if they would condone or renounce it as a tactic in furtherance of their campaigns.

At one point, the ad references the controversial demotion of former San Marcos High School principal Ed Behrens last winter. The move, set in motion by Superintendent Cary Matsuoka, followed a brief but turbulent period at the school, which began when a group of male students made violent threats against a group of female students in an online chat room. The Independent reported that one of the boys was convicted of making a terrorist threat.

Ulloa told us that he could not state a clear opinion about the ad because it referenced Behrens, who since has sued the school district in a wrongful termination action. 

"I had nothing to do with the video (script, narration, production, etc),” he said in an email. “As part of this video has to do with a personnel decision and is connected to pending litigation, I can neither condemn nor condone this video or its message.”

Munoz also equivocated. 

“It could have been done in a better manner,” she said, adding that she supported CAUSE's efforts in “making sure all the voices are heard.”

“I wasn’t involved in the making of it,” she said in a telephone interview.

Save Our Schools members unsurprisingly were livid about being tarred as racists and misogynists.

“This ad is full of falsehoods and misrepresentations,” said parent Marcy Wimbish, speaking for the group. "Negative campaigning has no place in local politics.”

Alvarado and Ford both signed a “Code of Fair Campaign Practices” promise, an option for candidates when they pull their papers, according to the SOS statement, which added that, “It’s unfortunate that the other candidates didn’t do the same."

Ulloa and Munoz both said that was untrue; each said they did sign the pledge, while Ricardo Cota, Jim Grimble, Bonnie Raisin and Jill Rivera, the other candidates in the race, stated that they did as well, in response to email inquiries.

To be sure, the eight hopefuls over the past two months have discussed and debated a host of issues, including those surfaced in the video, with unfailing civility and mutual respect in the campaign for a purportedly non-partisan office. 

Alvarado and Ford, however, skipped a recent forum put on by the Santa Barbara Youth Council, because CAUSE was a co-sponsor and its action fund already was distributing campaign literature boosting Ulloa and Munoz; both them attended, as did Cota. 

Democrats qua Democrats. Although Ulloa and Munoz both said that CAUSE Action Fund operated independently of their campaigns in posting the ad, the video has been shared on Facebook by other of their prominent backers, including the Democratic Party of Santa Barbara County, and some of its leaders and elected officials, including Daraka Larimore-Hall, a longtime local chair who is now vice-chair of the California Democratic Party, and SBCC Trustee Jonathan Abboud.

In posting the ad, Abboud was particularly enthusiastic about attacking the SOS slate, calling them "dangerous and privileged."

"EVERYONE in southern Santa Barbara county needs to watch this video about our school board election," he wrote on his Facebook page. "A dangerous and privileged slate with a dog whistle of a name “Save Our Schools” is trying to win a majority on the board."

Rodriguez, in stating that his group did not intend to vilify Alvarado and Ford, said that, “If they get elected, we want to work with them."

One irony of the campaign controversy is that Alvarado, Ford, Ulloa and Munoz all are liberal Democrats, with few substantive differences among and between them on education policies.

A number of SOS members, including some contributors to Democratic candidates and causes, are similarly inclined. 

Which makes the dissemination of the attack ad seem like an online version of the famed Democratic circular firing squad.

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a-1545077348 Nov 06, 2018 11:33 AM
Harsh Online Ad Roils School Board Race

Interesting. I would not have voted for Ulloa and Munoz even before this. The Dem Central Committee has been putting forth bad picks for a while now. Scafide, Martinez-Cohen, etc. While I admire Kate Ford, as she was a fantastic principal at Peabody when my kid went there, I cannot vote for Alvaredo. The man was fired from CAUSE, which is why he boycotted their forum. He was fired from the City of Santa Barbara parks and rec department. He was terrible at organizing the eastside and westside in that job, and created division while letting the community gardens go to ruin. I'll vote for Ford, and now I have to find the second pick....any suggestions?

a-1545077348 Nov 03, 2018 10:15 AM
Harsh Online Ad Roils School Board Race

Neither Ismael Ulloa or Rose Munoz is denouncing the ad, which means only one thing to me: they are in on it. How low can these two go? Pretty darn low as far as I can tell.

Factotum Nov 03, 2018 08:40 AM
Harsh Online Ad Roils School Board Race

Who do you want sitting on our local school boards? Someone bought off by special educational-industrial complex money; a parent of school age children; civic volunteers who understand the wider community; former education professionals; large organization managers who demonstrate fiscal acumen; revolving door politicians looking for a safe space until their next move. A combination of all of the above, along with a "diversity" check list regardless of germane qualifications?

Factotum Nov 03, 2018 08:33 AM
Harsh Online Ad Roils School Board Race

What you are witnessing is censorship by those who demand their own free speech rights, as long as everyone agrees with them.

REX OF SB Nov 03, 2018 08:19 AM
Harsh Online Ad Roils School Board Race

Any candidates who sink to this level of skeeviness at the 11th hour are not deserving of anyone's vote. I will definitely be voting for Ford & Alvarado.

a-1545077348 Nov 03, 2018 12:56 AM
Harsh Online Ad Roils School Board Race

Wow! Nine comments deleted tonight due to down votes! I had read them earlier, and from memory, a few were about Trump...pro and anti...but most were just legitimate musings about how our students can be best served. Comments, that even semi supported candidates not endorsed by the Democratic party, were down voted off this forum. One was a particularly moving and persuasive account, written by a liberal Democrat, expressing their sadness about how they were being portrayed by CAUSE as a racist simply because they supported a school board candidate that CAUSE does not want. This is not Santa Barbara. We don't force people who disagree with us off the only public forum left to us simply because extreme partisans has figured out how to silence dissenting voices. Come on people! Free Speech is one of our fundamental rights. And what's really the only important issue here is how we can improve our schools, which are clearly failing. BIG TIME! As an Edhat poster said below, and I fact checked them: Only 30% of our students have reached even the basic standard of reading/writing and only 21% are at the most basic level for math. This has gone on for years under the current school board and it is just a disgrace! SOMETHING IS WRONG HERE. We have a very large tax base so there is no excuse for this failure. How can we continue with a school board that turns in these dismal results year after year? And whoever is trying to silence voices that are asking for change clearly do not have the best interest of any of our students at heart. I cannot even imagine how any voter would want to affirm the status quo on this school board. All of our kids deserve better than this!

sbdude Nov 02, 2018 05:22 PM
Harsh Online Ad Roils School Board Race

Even though that ad wasn't "officially" done by Democrats it sure looked like it, judging from the last 15 seconds. I can't stand that political parties are getting more and more involved in what are otherwise non-partisan elections.

pkww Nov 02, 2018 01:20 PM
Harsh Online Ad Roils School Board Race

I split up the "running partners" and voted Ford and Ulloa. It would be nice to see each demographic well represented on the board.

2contango Nov 02, 2018 12:49 PM
Harsh Online Ad Roils School Board Race

Unfortunately the Santa Barbara County Democratic Central Committee really doesn't want to give voters a choice, even when all candidates are Democrats, Party officials hand pick candidates they can control and then make it hard for independent thinkers to run. It's certainly making it more difficult for Democrats to support their party.

Factotum Nov 02, 2018 12:00 PM
Harsh Online Ad Roils School Board Race

What is at stake, what levers of power, are handed over to those who try to elect their favored candidates by any means necessary. What do they expect in return? Your tax dollars are at stake and someone wants their hands on them very badly.

Factotum Nov 02, 2018 11:54 AM
Harsh Online Ad Roils School Board Race

Knowing there are well-funded special interest political action committees out there, using last minute smear tactics, intimidates many decent people from running for office in the first place. This calculated 11th hour timing prevents rebuttal, and skirts required late campaign contribution reporting before election day. Reject anyone who becomes associated in these low-down tactics.

a-1545077348 Nov 02, 2018 11:53 AM
Harsh Online Ad Roils School Board Race

Wow. So sad. A friend of mine back east, who really cares about the kids in his children's school system, just resigned from the school board because of crap like this and politics. They lost a great guy. It's funny, I had some volunteers from the Dem Party come to my house a few weekends ago and I let them know exactly what I think of the Dem Party nowadays (and I've always voted Dem), with this race baiting and name calling and the woman volunteer acted as if she didn't know what I was talking about, and that I was the "first person" she talked to who felt this way. And here, it says the Dem Party shared this awful smarmy video! I won't be voting for any democrats this time around! First time in my life!

PitMix Nov 02, 2018 10:47 AM
Harsh Online Ad Roils School Board Race

If this post made you change your vote, or caused you to vote for Ford and Alvarado, then it is a prime example of what is wrong with our political system. Our votes should be based on who has demonstrated good values and strong performances in their previous political career and not on a negative article about what a 3rd party did during a campaign. To my knowledge, Ulloa qualifies based on his performance on the School Board. I need to do more research on the other candidates to select among them.

letmego Nov 06, 2018 10:29 AM
Harsh Online Ad Roils School Board Race

State superintendent is another race where if you really get into the nitty gritty of the details - their positions, their plans, goals, etc. - there was very little difference between the two.

Factotum Nov 05, 2018 10:48 AM
Harsh Online Ad Roils School Board Race

Why did you reject the other non-partisan or non-Democrat candidates? Why do you keep putting only the teacher unions de facto representatives on our school boards - they have little to show for their decades of resistance to education reform in this state. Who did you vote for state school superintendent?

letmego Nov 05, 2018 09:38 AM
Harsh Online Ad Roils School Board Race

I'm going to be one of those people that maybe frustrates everyone? I visited the websites of all of the candidates. I read the articles in the news sites. I listened to the interviews that Jerry Roberts did on his website. And I found that ... on most of the basic issues - the four Democratic candidates aren't hugely different. They have many commonalities and only a few differences. (So of course, I picked my favorite two, which means I split my vote essentially.) Santa Barbara (and across CA) has its own set of challenges, and the solution is not simple, not easy. It is not going to come in six months, or a year, or even two years. Especially when you factor in the major changes that have hit in the last several years - common core, changing the standardized test, moving to 100% computerized tests in schools with spotty internet connection, and curriculum that doesn't teach keyboarding/ typing.

a-1545077348 Nov 02, 2018 07:20 PM
Harsh Online Ad Roils School Board Race

According to the official CA Assessment of Student Performance website only 30% of SB Unified School district students meet the most basic level of expected achievement in literacy and only 21% meet the most basic standard in math. By this metric it seems that anyone who is currently serving on a school board that has produced these results should not even be running much less win. Our schools clearly need new board members with new ideas.

Factotum Nov 02, 2018 10:21 AM
Harsh Online Ad Roils School Board Race

Democrats and their teacher union allies up to their same old self-serving dirty tricks. When will local voters know they are not doing this "for the children" but for their own pocketbooks. Throw them all out. Re-set button time.

REX OF SB Nov 02, 2018 10:14 AM
Harsh Online Ad Roils School Board Race

This type of smarmy campaigning has no place in a school board election. Thanks to this, I'll definitely be voting for Ford and Alvarado.

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