Sup’t of Public Instr. ballot fight in court today

A Sacramento County Superior Court judge is likely to rule later today, after a 3:30 p.m. hearing, on a lawsuit challenging state Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate Larry Aceves’ ballot designation as a “Retired School Superintendent.”

Larry AcevesAceves, 66, a Fremont Democrat, is competing with Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, for the nonpartisan office in November’s general election.

This lawsuit was filed last Wednesday against Secretary of State Debra Bowen (who approved the designation) not by Torlakson’s campaign, but by Torlakson campaign donor Betty Sue Cleveland of Livermore, a life member of and political organizer for the California School Employees Association – which supports Torlakson’s campaign. (Here’s someone’s Flickr shot of Torlakson and Cleveland together at a CSEA event earlier this month.)

Cleveland is represented by the Los Angeles-based Kaufman Legal Group, whose client list is a who’s who of Southern California labor and Democratic politics; there’s no requirement that Cleveland or her attorneys disclose who’s bankrolling the lawsuit, and neither have done so.

California Election Code Section 13107(a)(3) says a candidate is entitled to a ballot designation of “(n)o more than three words designating either the current principal professions, vocations, or occupations of the candidate, or the principal professions, vocations, or occupations of the candidate during the calendar year immediately preceding the filing of nomination documents.”

The lawsuit claims Aceves has done something else as his principal vocation since working as a school superintendent from 1991 to 2006; he was a partner in Leadership Associates – an employment search and placement firm focusing on school district managers – from 2006 through 2009.

Bowen contends she has no way to independently verify what Aceves has done since retiring as a superintendent. And Aceves contends he worked no more than 210 hours for Leadership Associates during the three years he was a partner there, and was drawing retirement benefits all through that time, so his designation is sound.

The deadline for a ruling draws nigh; tomorrow (Thursday, Aug. 26) is the day Bowen is supposed to send county registrars a certified list of candidates with ballot designations.

Torlakson’s ballot designation, by the way, is “Teacher/California Legislator.” Torlakson, 61, holds a secondary teaching credential and a Master’s degree in education from the University of California, Berkeley, but has held elected office for a loooong time – as an Antioch councilman from 1978 to 1981; a Contra Costa County supervisor from 1980 to 1996; an Assemblyman from 1996 to 1999; a state Senator from 2000 to 2008; and an Assemblyman again since 2009.

The League of Women Voters’ SmartVoter.org site says he hasn’t worked at the Mt. Diablo Unified School District in 30 years. He says he’s on the faculty at Los Medanos College in Pittsburg, but I don’t see his name in the faculty directory. I do, however, see that he’s teaching a one-credit “short course” this fall – six lectures of about three hours each – on California politics and governance.

UPDATE @ 10:48 A.M. THURSDAY: Aceves won.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • John W

    What a load of garbage! One more reason to reject Torlakson.

  • Kimberly A

    Tom should focus on sharing what his vision is for education not spending time and energy trying to question a valid ballot designation.

    Whoever wins should win on the merit of their ideas, vision, and commitment to getting our broken educational system fixed.

  • Ben Johnson

    Freedom of Choice:
    The state system is broken as well as the process. There are to many ways that the system needs fixing, however it really needs to be on a level playing field for all political candidates starting from major parties, to decline to state or independent candidates. Fairness is a word that needs to take precedence in the voters porcess of equality and it is important. One party shouldn’t have an advantage over any other party or non party for qualifying for the ballot. ie state assembly Democrat’s or Republican’s only need 40 signatures to get on the ballot. The decline to state or independent candidates need 3% of the registered voters in their district from the last general election to get on the ballot. So how is that fair 40 signatures versus 6,178 registered voters signatures. The system needs an overhaul badly and needs it now as there are over 2 million decline to state registered voters in CA and 40 thousand in the 11th Assembly district in Contra Costa County. It is time to clear the air and start speaking up to show everyone we are free Americans to vote fairly and freely for our candidates of choice.
    Ben Johnson
    Decline to state Voter

  • Mary Ann Harries

    It sounds like the typical “dirty” politics as usual! What give Tom Torlekson the right to call himself an educator when he hasn’t taught for thirty years? What has he done during his term to promote and assist in “bettering” our public education system? I think he needs to begin listening to the advice of those educators who have first-hand knowledge of what and how to do the job, i.e. Larry Aceves

  • Bob Raines

    no one’s going to challenge the fact that Torlakson isn’t really a teacher, but his hired guns challenge the fact that a former public school superintendent can’t say he’s a retired school superintendent? Horse crap. One more example of the mess in Sacto.