This is the first of the Independent’s two-part endorsements for the June 7 primary elections. This week, we are endorsing Salud Carbajal for Congress, Gregg Hart for State Assembly, Laura Capps for the county Board of Supervisors’ 2nd District, and Susan Salcido for Superintendent of County Schools. Next Thursday, May 12, we will publish our additional endorsements. As always, the Independent does not endorse in every race but only in those that we have researched and can confidently suggest a candidate. You can read all of our endorsements here.

Thank you for considering our endorsement. 

Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools: Susan Salcido

Dr. Susan Salcido, Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools | Credit: Courtesy

The County Superintendent of Schools is without a doubt the most important elected position in Santa Barbara County that most people have never heard of. This office — now capably occupied by Susan Salcido — provides essential support for the 20 public school districts throughout the county and the 70,000 students who rely on these schools for their education. Now, for the first time in more than 40 years, there’s a genuine contest for this crucial position. And the choice confronting voters could not be starker.

The incumbent, Susan Salcido, is an uncommonly energetic career educator who has worked in education for 26 years — as a former teacher and junior high school principal — and an exceptionally experienced administrator, not to mention a Santa Maria native. 

In the years she’s spent working for the Superintendent of Education’s office under her predecessor, Bill Cirone, she distinguished herself as quick, smart, competent, passionate, and yes, even diplomatic. When Cirone stepped down in 2017 with one year left in his term, he turned the reins over to Salcido. This allowed her to run as the de facto incumbent in 2018. In that race, she ran unopposed. 

The challenger, Christy Lozano, is an 18-year physical education instructor, an ordained minister, and a much-aggrieved cultural conservative who has waged war in front of the Santa Barbara Unified school board against vaccine and mask mandates and just about anything else remotely “woke.”

In her original YouTube video, Lozano described some of the LGBTQ instructional aid materials available to Santa Barbara Unified School District teachers as instruments of “grooming” — a forensic term describing how pedophiles get close to their victims. She later explained to reporter and blogger Jerry Roberts, “To plant the seeds in kids at too early an age, it sets them up for a certain mindset.”

While this is startling, it should come as no surprise. As Lozano revealed in recent interviews, she’s been checking in with Christopher Rufo, the conservative culture warrior extraordinaire who on matters of gender and sexual identity does not merely use the term “grooming” but instead calls his opponents and critics pedophiles.

To state the obvious, such blowtorch rhetoric trivializes the actual violence done to victims of child abuse. For any sentient beings, it should be cause for serious concern. 

If Salcido’s seat might seem an unlikely target for conservative cultural warriors since her office defers to individual districts on all the hot-button curriculum issues, it also makes a degree of sense in Santa Barbara. Because it’s a countywide seat, Lozano can hope to draw voters from the county’s more conservative northern communities. And, since this is expected to be a low-turnout election, she might also hope to get support in the South County, where older, disciplined Republicans might cast more votes than their Democratic counterparts. 

But putting these polarizing, politicized views and irresponsible comments aside, we cannot ignore Lozano’s palpable lack of relevant experience. During her 18 years working as a physical education teacher in the county, she has taught at six different schools, most recently at Dos Pueblos High School. After three months there, she took a leave of absence, having complained loudly and openly about a student discipline case in which she believed administrators had been too lax. She spoke at school board meetings and wrote on the electronic pages of Nextdoor. 

The County Superintendent of Schools is a complex and challenging job that involves overseeing a staff of 550 people and a $105 million budget. The office must certify all teachers in all 20 districts, review all 20 budgets, administer or oversee the special education programs for 812 students, run 10 preschools for children living in poverty, and administer education programs for migrants and for the children of homeless parents. Plus, it is constitutionally charged with translating state codes more complex than anything Hammurabi ever dreamed up.

But now, after the pandemic, it’s gotten even harder. Student mental-health challenges are more pressing than ever. Teachers are burned out. Into this breach, Salcido has scrambled to mobilize mental-health professionals to district campuses, but for students in serious pain, there are not nearly enough resources. 

Then, of course, there are more chronic problems that plague all school districts with similar socioeconomic demographics; less than half the county’s students meet or exceed state proficiency standards for language skills, and even fewer for math. But county graduation and college placement rates are higher than the statewide average. And Salcido is quick to trumpet her office’s role in promoting the emergence of new high-tech vocational education opportunities. 

The punch line?

Now is not the time for on-the-job training for an administratively inexperienced ideologue. The stakes are too high. 

The County Education Office has a lot of hard work to do and intractable challenges to confront. That makes this race — for an undeniably obscure and decidedly unsexy position — too important to sit out or leave others to decide.  Please vote for Susan Salcido.

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Congress: Salud Carbajal

Credit: Courtesy

This one is a no-brainer; Salud Carbajal deserves to be sent back to Congress for another term representing Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and now Ventura voters. Carbajal, a Democratic reach-across-the-aisle pragmatist, was first elected to Congress in 2016. His skill in working to bring opposing groups together will be critical, especially if Democrats lose their slim majority. We know Carbajal, who is a career politician in the best sense of the term, will work effectively on behalf of his district and constituents, finding ways to expand health care and educational opportunities. We’ve been impressed by his leadership in promoting environmental issues, most recently wind energy off Santa Barbara’s coast. But we’ve also been impressed with his cautionary response to Governor Gavin Newsom’s unilateral proclamation to extend the licenses of two troubled nuclear power plants at Diablo Canyon. For those looking for an ideological flag-waver, Carbajal may not be your guy. But he gets the job done. And on fundamental issues — such as a woman’s right to choose, now under attack — he has been and will continue to be an unwavering supporter. 

State Assembly: Gregg Hart

County Supervisor Gregg Hart | Credit: Courtesy

As 2nd District county supervisor, Gregg Hart has been a forceful but thoughtful advocate for criminal justice reform, for programs for people without homes, and for those suffering from mental health and addiction issues. We were especially impressed with the leadership Hart displayed during the COVID crisis. As board chair, he used his position to spread the word on best practices by hosting weekly panel discussions/press conferences that made our county’s overworked public health administrators available to the public and the media for questions. He was always prepared and never grandstanded. He used his bully pulpit to push better education over more enforcement, a plan that worked well. Hart, a successful career politician and accomplished policy wonk, knows the difference between how government is supposed to work and how it actually functions. We’re confident that when he goes to Sacramento, Hart will provide strong support at the state level for many of the massive challenges confronting elected officials at the local level. 

Second District Supervisor: Laura Capps

Laura Capps | Credit: Courtesy

This endorsement, we admit, is a bit unnecessary since Capps is running unopposed. But it is important to be clear why we think having Laura Capps as 2nd District supervisor is a very good thing for the county. Born and raised in Santa Barbara, in a progressive, politically active family — both parents served as congressional representatives — Capps spent her early adult life working in Washington, D.C. Since returning to her hometown more than a decade ago, Capps has immersed herself in the nitty-gritty of school board politics and educational policy. We’ve been impressed by her mastery of the facts and her willingness to stick her neck out. She’s been tireless in trumpeting alarm over the prevalence of child poverty in Santa Barbara County, working to feed hungry kids and their families throughout the year. She is an independent thinker and a proven courageous politician who asks the tough questions. Most importantly, she is willing to work constructively, civilly, and effectively in forwarding good governance in Santa Barbara. We enthusiastically welcome Laura Capps to the Board of Supervisors.

California’s primary election is Tuesday, June 7. Click here for a list of current ballot drop box locations in Santa Barbara County, or look up your polling place here. To track your ballot status, use the Secretary of State’s My Voter Status tool online. Same Day Registration is available until Election Day on June 7, and voters can “conditionally” register and vote a provisional ballot during this time. Check your voter registration here. For more info on this year’s primary election, visit the County Elections website.

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