Christy Lozano (left) and Susan Salcido | Credit: Courtesy

This edition of Angry Poodle was originally emailed to subscribers on May 21, 2022. To receive Nick Welsh’s award-winning column in your inbox, sign up at

Barring divine intervention, or perhaps some common sense, there will be no dueling discussion between the two candidates—incumbent Susan Salcido, the wunderkind technocrat, and challenger Christy Lozano, the much aggrieved conservative culture warrior — now vying to be elected Santa Barbara County’s Superintendent of Schools. For the record, this is a post so sublimely obscure — yet critical to the daily operation of 20 school districts teaching 70,000 students — that even some of the 550 people who work for this agency aren’t entirely sure what it is that they do.

The fact that there will be no debate or forum — the only real debate will be whether it was to be a “debate” or a “forum” — stems from the fact that the incumbent Salcido appears intent on behaving like a wimp while challenger Lozano has already done a dead-on impersonation of a wanker. Both have availed themselves of the duck-and-cover avoidist stratagems deployed by their respective species and genus to not go toe-to-toe and face-to-face in any public exchange of views. For county voters who sincerely would like to know more, the merely curious, and the otherwise bored, the ensuing loss will be of the keening variety. But as a broader litmus test for the health of democracy in Santa Barbara County — of the little-“d” variety — it is yet another rain cloud with no silver linings and no rain either.

To put this in broader context, one could say pretty much the same thing about this entire election, perhaps the most dreary and uninspiring since time began in Santa Barbara County. If things continue at our current pace, they won’t be digging up dead bodies to get them to vote, but to run them for office instead. No one else, it seems, is willing to go to the trouble.

An alarming case in point: When the county’s Board of Supervisors commences its next term this coming January, three members of the board — Steve Lavagnino, Bob Nelson, and Laura Capps — will have gotten there without having faced an opponent. To put that in perspective, that’s three out of five seats. For you math majors, that’s 60 percent. Not a good omen.

Worse yet, John Savrnoch will become the county’s new district attorney — perhaps the single most powerful electoral position in all of Santa Barbara — without facing an opponent or running the voters’ gauntlet. Savrnoch, for the record, promises to bring a breath of fresh energy to the department; all the initial indicators are positive. He’s worked behind the scenes in the DA’s Office for many years now, knows the ropes, and seems like a reasonable guy. I’ve seen him not take a cheap shot or grandstand on one occasion when the temptation to do so might have felt all but irresistible. I was impressed by the restraint displayed. It bode well for the future. But still … The fact that he is facing no opponent is due entirely to a bait-and-switch executed — boldly or shamelessly, depending on one’s perspective — by Savrnoch’s boss and current DA, Joyce Dudley. Dudley had lulled the political universe into a false sense that she was running again, thus effectively discouraging any comers. Then, at the 11th hour and 59th minute, Dudley quietly and discreetly did not fill out the papers needed to run. Lo and behold, Savrnoch did instead. By then, the train had left the station and was running downhill like Casey Junior’s out-of-control caboose. It was deftly played if you’re into such things, but it kind of bugs.

Only technically can one say that County Supervisor Gregg Hart is facing opposition in what will be his all-but-certain coronation as Santa Barbara’s newest state assemblymember. It should be noted that when Hart — an über-wonk and masterful bureaucratic apparatchik — ran for supervisor, he ran unopposed. At that time, he jumped from the Santa Barbara City Council, where he had also faced no credible opposition. Before Hart’s head can be fit for its new crown, he will have to face Mike Stoker, the Republican Party’s equivalent of legendary boxer Chuck Wepner, the proverbial Bayonne Bleeder. Say what you want about Stoker, he’s gotten in the ring and run against every Democratic candidate under the sun. True, he’s lost every time, but at least he’s run. Stoker is mindful that Hart has never had to do so since, like, forever and is praying that Hart is endowed with a glass jaw despite his aura of invincibility. Stoker’s claim to fame, however, is that he started the now infamous “Lock ‘er up!” chant re: Hillary R. Clinton at the Republican National Convention that gave rise to the Trump Malignancy that plagues us still. In the context of Santa Barbara County — Bluer than Blue — that constitutes a fatal flaw.

But let’s get back to the lack of any forum or debate in the Lozano–Salcido showdown for the top spot at county education. Lozano — darling of the new right and opponent of anything giving off the whiff of woke — ducked a League of Women Voters forum scheduled for last Thursday, May 12. She refused to abide by rules of conduct established by the League back around 1906. Lozano wanted her questions in advance; the League doesn’t do that. She wanted to be able to challenge Salcido’s character; the League doesn’t allow that. She wanted to blame Salcido’s policies for perpetuating poor reading and math test scores throughout the county; the League allows candidates to beat their own chest but not the face of opposing candidates. Finally, the League requires all candidates to sign statements agreeing not to air snippets of the forum for political propaganda purposes. To the extent there’s any re-broadcast, the League insists it has to be the whole enchilada.

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When Lozano refused to sign on the dotted line, the League pulled the plug on the debate. For the record, the League events are engineered to be as dull as a dishwater for those with a hankering for a bloody-nose sandwich. The League throughout time has a well-deserved reputation for being persnickety in the extreme. But there’s a method to their blandness. It’s much more challenging for candidates to articulate their own strengths and what they’re for than what they’re not and what they think is dumb. It’s a valuable exercise. That Lozano balked highlights lack of judgment more than principle. When you’re a challenger running for the first time against an entrenched incumbent, you take every opportunity to speak that comes your way. To object to the terms and conditions highlights the perception already out there that Lozano is intent only on finding things to complain about. Bad call for Lozano.

Into the breach leapt — or tried to — a small but obscure educational do-gooder group, Citizens for Neighborhood Schools. The group has been around at least since the 1980s, back when sober-minded Republicans still existed, gave a damn about public schools, and ran candidates for school boards animated by something other than cultural outrage. In fact, they were almost as boring as the League of Women Voters. They care passionately about such things as having neighborhood schools in downtown Santa Barbara. They have come out in favor of various school bond measures, and from time to time, they have held candidates’ forums. Alice Post, the group’s fearless leader, first offered to host a forum for the candidates on May 12. By then, Salcido demurred, she had made other engagements that precluded her participation. Her campaign handler also expressed concern about the rules of engagement. Salcido might be setting herself up for an ambush, they worried. Lozano and her supporters might ask intemperate questions of a personal nature. Things might get too frisky. Out of hand, even. Worse yet, Salcido might say something that could be taken out of context that could be used in a TV ad for a social media post.


Aside from the League of Women Voters, every other organization that hosts candidates’ forums has an ax to grind and a dog in the hunt. They are members of an engaged and sometimes enraged citizenry. It is called the democratic process. People who might not agree with the candidates get to ask challenging questions. Sometimes pointedly and impertinently. If you can’t handle that, you probably can’t handle the pressures of the job, either.

By Thursday, Salcido had announced she would not participate in any forum organized by Alice Post and her crew. This prompted Christy Lozano to issue a press release in which she referred to herself — multiple times — in the third person. The only thing more suspect in my book is when you refer to yourself in the “We” tense. To be fair, it didn’t help any when one of Alice’s comrades in arms left a lengthy message on Salcido’s answering machine message, exhorting the incumbent candidate “to pull up her panties” and agree to show up for a forum. That gave Salcido the excuse her handlers were looking for. How could anyone trust anyone who spoke in such terms?

As of this writing, there will be no forum, panties up or down. I get Salcido’s logic. Chances are she’ll win by about 40 percent. Why give her opponent any opportunity. Who knows how it might come back to bite her? That’s the smart way to play it. It’s the safe way to play it. It’s also the wrong way to play it. As much as I may disagree with Lozano’s right wing agenda and right wing lingo, she has made Salcido articulate what her outfit does and what she’s trying to do. That may not sound like much, but Salcido occupies a seat that went through 10 election cycles without a single opponent. Even if the forum were to be the ambush she worries about, I think Salcido should show up, explain what she’s about, and take any questions. That’s called democracy, however quaint it might be. My broader hope is that maybe by doing so, Salcido could — in some small measure — turn down the heat and turn down the volume emanating out of school districts everywhere — and especially Santa Barbara’s — on issues of cultural identity.

To answer my own question, yes, it has come to this.

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