The William S. Hart Union High School District and Saugus Union School District board candidates who weren’t invited to last week’s forum hosted by CA25 United for Progress are expressing their grievances and reminding the public that their races are nonpartisan.
Six school board candidates — Laura Arrowsmith, David Barlavi, Chris Trunkey, Donna Robert, Kelly Trunkey and Chris Werthe — attended a Sept. 19 forum where they participated in a one-on-one discussion with the organization’s co-chair Hilary Schardein before taking the stage as a group to speak on charter. schools, district funding and other topics.
“The six candidates that appeared were the ones who were invited,” in addition to Joe Messina, who was sent a Facebook invitation, Schardein said. The candidates who attended have met or been involved with the organization in the past, “and based on our conversations, we wanted to give our membership an opportunity to get to know them.”
Messina, the incumbent for area No. 5 in the Hart District, said all candidates should’ve been given a chance to speak at the event and not just those who are considered to be progressive Democrats — a sentiment that was echoed by candidates Sharlene Duzick, Jesus Henao and Bob Jensen.
CA25 United for Progress is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote progressive values in the area, Schardein said. The group focuses on issues and values, rather than candidates.
“Before the forum, I thought about this happening and I was prepared to welcome everyone had anybody reached out or showed up to the event,” she added.
Messina said he has a problem with the organization allowing the public to get the impression that all of the candidates were invited and simply chose not to show up.
“The only invite I got was about a week ahead of time and it was a Facebook message,” which means the request didn’t show up in the normal queue because the group’s chair isn’t a Facebook friend, Messina said. “Really, the dishonest part about that is L.A. Vote has all of our information, so if they wanted us there to discuss the issues then they would’ve made the effort.”
Duzick, a candidate for SUSD area No. 5, said organizers of other local forums have directly contacted her to attend, and she wishes CA25 United for Progress did the same because she respects and wants to hear everybody’s opinion.
“I agree with things on both sides of the aisle,” Duzick said, adding, “It doesn’t matter what party you’re part of because you are going to have to represent everybody.”
Voters should be given the tools to judge for themselves, she said. “This is a nonpartisan race. I think we need to focus on the kids and who is the best candidate, and the only way to get that is if you have a fair opportunity to hear from everybody.”
Duzick’s wish to focus on the children resembles a call from SUSD board member David Powell, who implored candidates to avoid settling in the morass of party politics just last month.
Messina said each party holds special events for the candidates who share their values.
“Let’s be truly honest about this: It is not nonpartisan. People are being lied to when they say it’s a nonpartisan position,” because candidates will always align with and seek help from their party, Messina said. “Democrats are going to walk for Democrats and Republicans are going to walk for Republicans. It’s always been like that.”
If certain groups want to have their own forum for their own people, Messina said, “then I’m all for it. Everybody does it, so I’m not casting judgment.”
Many people have ideologies that favor Republicans or Democrats, “but that doesn’t mean civil debate should go by the wayside,” Messina said. “If you wanna have civil discourse and talk about education issues, then yes I’m in.”