Is John Palacio next?
Let me put it this way: You’re not being paranoid if the people you think are out to get you really are out to get you.
And it sounds to me like the activists who brought Nativo V. Lopez crashing down in Tuesday’s Santa Ana school board recall election have one more target in their sights.
And they aren’t mincing words.
“It’s true [Palacio] is the next guy, because he’s the lieutenant,” says Jim Walker, one of the leaders in the move to oust Lopez. “But we question whether he has the intelligence to go it alone. Or will he be a puppet [of Lopez] from afar?”
Here’s my translation of what Walker, who lives in south Santa Ana, told me during a lengthy interview Wednesday: If Lopez’s absence from the board has a sobering effect on Palacio, he may be spared a recall challenge.
And if it doesn’t?
No recall plan is underway for Palacio, who was reelected as a trustee in November, but forming one is an open question.
Lopez, a longtime champion of immigrant rights in Santa Ana, was seen as the engine that propelled the recent school board majority.
With him gone, Palacio may be neutralized.
That, at least, is the thinking of the combined Anglo and Latino forces that drove Lopez from office this week. The list of grievances against him was lengthy, Walker says, and included alleged ethics violations, ideology and heavy-handed personal dealings.
Post-election analysis supports Walker’s contention that the recall wasn’t about ethnicity. Lopez didn’t carry a single precinct, even in heavily Latino areas.
Had the election been about ethnicity, Walker said, there wouldn’t have been enough “Anglo” votes to oust Lopez. Nor, Walker said, would he have wanted to be part of an Anglo-Latino battle.
The sheer size of the anti-Lopez vote (71%) bodes poorly for Palacio, seen as Lopez’s right-hand man and brother in arms.
“I think a lot of us would just like to see him resign,” Walker says. “What people are calling the mandate — read it and take the gentleman’s course of action and resign. If he doesn’t, I hear of people wanting to recall him as well.”
This much is clear: A board majority of Lopez, Palacio and Nadia Davis is no more. Davis lost a reelection bid in November; now, Lopez is gone.
Given that, I ask Walker if Palacio is still considered “dangerous” to the anti-Lopez faction.
“I think he could be if he wanted to,” Walker says. “He has the capability and the ego to be a pain in the butt all by himself. Nowhere of the magnitude of Nativo, but he has enough to make himself a real problem.”
This sounds like “purge” talk, and Walker doesn’t dispute it. The anti-Lopez forces, he says, represent a historic coalescence in the city. The recall shatters any stereotype that the emerging Latino population votes as a bloc or won’t unseat a once-popular defender of immigrant rights.
Walker acknowledges Lopez’s place in modern Santa Ana history.
“He’s a guy who’s been a champion who has done good for the overall community…. You do need leaders who are not only assertive but in a time and place need to be aggressive. This happens with every minority that has come into play, from the Italians to the Irish. Nativo served his day and not altogether detrimentally, but where he is now is in opposition to the good of everyone.”
Tough talk. But Walker has the votes to back it up.
Palacio used to talk that way when he had the votes to do what he wanted. So, though he may not like what Walker is saying, we know this: He hears him loud and clear.
Dana Parsons’ column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821 or by writing to him at The Times’ Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or by e-mail to [email protected]