George Boardman: County school trustee choices instill little confidence in the future of education |

George Boardman: County school trustee choices instill little confidence in the future of education

Observations from the center stripe: Media edition

AUDREY DENNEY is running an ad that has a tree shaker raining almonds on her, to shake loose of special interests in Washington. Maybe Doug LaMalfa can counter with an ad of him standing in a dry rice field, to drain the swamp…THERE’S ALWAYS a local angle: The Sacramento Bee pointed out that one of the new Nobel Prize laureates graduated from UC Davis, while the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that another winner, a professor at UCLA, makes frequent use of the Keck Observatory on the island of Hawaii...I HAVE a question for the newsie who went through the tape to time how long that fly sat on Mike Pence’s head: Is this why you pursued a career in journalism?...BOUGHT AND paid for: The Trump administration has dished out an estimated $46 billion this year in aid to farmers in Midwestern and Southern states who backed Trump in 2016. We’ll see how much good it does him Nov. 3…I’M SURPRISED the early ratings show Biden’s town hall meeting outdrew Trump’s. People will usually stop to see a car wreck or a dumpster fire…

A group of insurgents running under the banner “Take Back Our Schools” who allegedly want to use the county Board of Education to dictate policy and curriculum to local schools has alarmed the local education establishment.

That the insurgents think the county Board of Education is a key to changing the system shows they have a lot to learn about how things work in California. The county schools office is just another layer of bureaucracy in the state’s top heavy education system.

You have to wonder why we even bother to elect trustees because they have no influence over the county’s school districts. They can’t even fire the county Superintendent of Schools—only the voters can do that.

But three former county superintendents—Terry McAteer, Holly Hermanson and Skip Houser—fear the newcomers “are trying to take over the Nevada County Board of Education. As supporters of the Nevada County school system, we cannot let that happen,” according to an email making the rounds.

The insurgents include current trustee Ashley Neumann, who makes opening of our schools a top priority, even without a COVID-19 vaccine. Neumann proclaimed that “isolation is inhuman,” and even managed to work the topic of child sex slaves into her talk at a rally for Protect Nevada County Students at Bear River High School.

The other challengers, Grace Hudek and Peggy Delgado Fava, also want to see the schools reopened. The three have something else in common: The backing of Eric Christen, a libertarian who has become a leader of the local anti-pandemic control crowd.

Christen organized the ReOpen Nevada County rally that attracted the participation of Rep. Doug LaMalfa, and helped organize opposition to an emergency ordinance that would have leveled stiff fines against residents who violated COVID-19 restrictions. The Board of Supervisors rejected the idea.

He has praised Republicans and “freedom-loving independents” and is opposed to “freedom-robbing restrictive orders” and the “dehumanizing masks of anonymity the state is forcing on us,” as Christen wrote in The Union.

He also served as a school board trustee in Colorado, until a movement called “End the Chaos” mounted a recall effort where 71% of the voters decided to oust him. Christen was described by the Colorado Springs Independent as a union buster who worked in secret to install school vouchers, and liked to promote his career online as an aspiring model.

Christen has shown antipathy toward public education, backing an outfit that opposes public funding of schools, and has been a disruptive presence at board meetings of the Nevada Joint Union High School District. Do Hudek, Fava and Neumann agree with his views? If they don’t, they show poor judgment in accepting his financial support.

The former superintendents back the candidacies of Julie Baker, Susan Clarabut, Louise Johnson and Timothy May because the slate “will bring experience, integrity and reason to the critical decisions that need to be made on behalf of our students and teachers,” according to the email.

They will also bring the status quo to the mediocre education system we have to live with. May is a life-long educator, and Clarabut and Johnson were local administrators before they retired. Do you think they’re ready to promote significant changes in the current system? Even the teachers’ unions are onboard with this slate.

None of these choices should instill hope in voters for the future of education in Nevada County.

Face the folks

As we approach the final days of the election season, let it be noted that Nevada County has not been graced with the presence of its two representatives in the state Legislature at forums organized by the League of Women Voters.

Not that getting shade thrown at us is anything new. Neither state Senator Brian Dahle nor his wife, Assemblywoman Megan Dahle, managed to campaign here last year, and Congressman Doug LaMalfa has been a regular no-show at LWV events in recent years.

To be fair, Brian Dahle sort of made an attempt to touch base with the locals when he was seeking his state senate seat last year, and phoned the Nevada County Republican Party’s annual dinner to address the gathering. (That dinner was being held in Placer County at the time, but I’ll give him credit for trying.)

I’ve seen very few campaign signs for either one of them, and no advertising to date. If he follows his usual playbook, Brian Dahle will probably be reaching out to us in the closing days of the election with a couple of hit pieces aimed at his opponent, Pamela Swartz.

Neither Dahle can use the excuse that they’ve been busy in Sacramento; the state Legislature adjourned at the end of August, giving each of them plenty of time to face the voters. And it’s not like we’re unimportant—Nevada County is the second biggest county in terms of population in Megan Dahle’s district. Then again, neither one of them is particularly popular in the county.

The last time Brian Dahle ran for assembly in 2018, he was edged out in the county by Democrat Caleen Fisk, 50.69% to 49.1%. When he ran for the senate in a special election last year against several opponents, Brian Dahle finished second in the county to Democrat Silke Pfleuger, 40.1% to 35.25%. Megan Dahle did even worse when she ran to replace her husband in the assembly, getting swamped in Nevada County by Elizabeth Betancourt, 53.7% to 32.1%.

But that hasn’t discouraged LaMalfa this year. When he ran for reelection in 2018, he lost the county to Audrey Denney by 55.2% to 44.7%, and received a hostile reception at the last town hall he did in Grass Valley.

He was tied up in Washington until the House adjourned on Oct. 2, and could have easily found an excuse to avoid Denney before Nov. 3. After all, he didn’t need Nevada County’s votes to win easily in 2018. But to LaMalfa’s credit, he agreed to appear at a forum with her last week.

Maybe LaMalfa can give the Dahles a lesson in developing a political backbone.

Real Winner

Joe Biden continues to hold a substantial edge in the race for president, and his supporters better hope that’s the case when all of the votes are counted if they want to avoid a repeat of the 2016 election.

That’s the message of statistics whiz Nate Silver, editor in chief of the website FiveThirtyEight, after taking a close look at how the Electoral College could vote after the election.

“You’ll sometimes see people say like, ‘Biden must win the popular vote by 3 points or he’s toast,’ ” Silver wrote recently. “Not true; at 3-4 points, the Electoral College is a tossup, not necessarily a Trump win…(on the other hand) the Electoral College is not really ‘safe’ for Biden unless he wins by 5+.”

By Silver’s calculations, a 5-point margin of victory would give Biden an 89% chance of winning the Electoral College, and a 6 to 7-point win puts his chances at 99%. As Hillary Clinton showed in 2016, a 2-point win in the popular vote can result in a 304-227 loss in the college.

The problem with the Electoral College is that it gives oversized weight to small states—these days, that means conservatives. Because every state is guaranteed at least three electoral votes (reflecting at least one House member and two Senators), even a small state like Wyoming can have some influence in a presidential election.

Just nine states make up 51% of the country’s population, but they don’t have the 270 electoral votes needed to win. Small states will have a say in the outcome, and an oversized stay in closely contested elections.

This issue hasn’t mattered much since the college was created in 1787. Until 2000, there were just three instances where the Electoral College crowned a winner who lost the popular vote.

Now it has happened twice since 2000, and there is every indication President Trump will hold out for a similar victory if he isn’t buried in a landslide by Biden. After all, the odds are with him.

Fasten your seat belts.

George Boardman lives in Nevada City. His column is published every other Tuesday by The Union. Write him at

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