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High school board: Del Rio ousts Muse

Dave Del Rio

David Del Rio narrowly defeated Mary Muse in the second of two contested seats on the El Dorado Union High School District Board. Incumbent Lori Veerkamp won the other seat. Photo by Jay Lensch.

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From page A1 | November 26, 2012 | 15 Comments

El Dorado County election officials worked late on Thanksgiving eve to finish counting an estimated 2,300 provisional ballots that remained after the Nov. 6 election, including 1,800 cast by residents of the El Dorado Union High School District.

The Official Final Report, posted at approximately 6 p.m. Wednesday night, was good news for challenger Dave Del Rio, who defeated longtime incumbent Mary Muse.

The high school board race was a dead heat on election night, with Del Rio clinging to a paper-thin 16-vote lead over Muse for the second of two contested board seats.

The final tally showed him up by 182 votes, denying Muse a fifth term on the board.

Lori Veerkamp finished on top with 34,985 votes, locking in her third term on the board.

Del Rio finished with 26,603 votes, less than one-quarter percent more than Muse’s 26,421 votes.

Muse is a rare Democrat in a Republican-dominated El Dorado County electorate, but was widely known locally and enjoyed a strong reputation.

Del Rio is a popular girls basketball coach, and was endorsed by the Tea Party Patriots of El Dorado Hills.

But the bottom line was the bottom line: $90,400 in campaign donations, an amount that election watchers called unprecedented in past school board races.

Del Rio’s campaign received $25,000 each from Serrano Associates and two large home builders with active El Dorado Hills projects, Standard Pacific Corp. and Greenbriar Home Communities, plus $5,000 from G3 Enterprises (Gallo).

Del Rio’s cash contributions totaled $83,000. Campaign contribution filings also show non-monetary contributions from Serrano of $7,400 for polling data.

Comparable filings for Muse reveal a self-funded campaign that spent just over $5,000 with no mailings.

The Del Rio campaign used its war chest on robo-calls and multiple last-minute mail pieces. He enjoyed a strong election-day showing, as reflected by provisional ballot results that boosted his lead.

A ballot is flagged as provisional when the voter appears at a polling place to vote and is either not on the roster or records indicate that a mail ballot was sent to the voter’s home. Each provisional ballot must be validated before it can be counted.

Families who live in newly constructed Serrano neighborhoods backed Del Rio out of frustration with school boundaries and inflexible transfer policies. A group led by Catie Phemester has accused the board of stonewalling their efforts to allow their children to attend Oak Ridge High School with their peers.

Ironically, the board recently agreed to soften the transfer policies to address the concerns of the group, but not before they had organized and supported the successful candidacies of Todd White and Kevin Brown in 2010, then Del Rio in 2012.

Campaign finance reports indicate that Serrano backed their efforts with $2,500 donations to both White and Brown in 2010, then came out big for Del Rio, the potential swing vote on a divided board.

Serrano Government Affairs Director Kirk Bone watched the results of the race closely from home on Wednesday night, and didn’t hesitate to explain why Serrano got involved in the current race.

“We’ve been asking them (the EDUHSD board) for a boundary adjustment for a while, but they didn’t see it that way,” he said. “So we decided to back some different people in hopes of a more favorable reading from the board.”

Less than an hour later the results were posted. “We’re thrilled for the families of the El Dorado Union High School District,” he said. “Dave Del Rio will provide the strong and dedicated school board leadership those families deserve.”

Del Rio was in a gymnasium when the results were posted. He spoke over the din of squeaky shoes on hardwood, clattering bleachers and crowd buzz. He refused to interpret his victory as a referendum on the boundary issue, attributing it instead to voters wanting new blood on the board. He justified the big spending as a necessary vehicle to expose him and his message to voters in a race against a widely known incumbent who’d served since 1995.

“The mail pieces we did let people see something in me that they weren’t getting in the current board,” he said.

He likewise rejected the depiction of his new board as divided. “I would much rather see it as a working board,” he said. “I have no way of knowing how Lori Veerkamp and Tim Cary will vote, or Kevin Brown or Todd White for that matter.”

Del Rio scoffed at thus-far quiet allegations that Serrano has bought a school board. “People can say whatever they want … I know what I’m here for, and that’s the kids,” he said.

He views the students as his constituents, not any campaign contributors or fellow board members. “I’ll always look at what’s best for the kids we serve,” he said.

He emphasized that he represents all the students in the district, not just those in El Dorado Hills whose parents got him elected, or those at Union Mine where he coaches.

“The people who know my history, who know what I’ve done in this community, understand that my agenda is the kids, and that’s the only agenda I have,” he said. “I told those who backed me that we may disagree on things, and they have to live with my choices.”

“All I promised anyone is that I’d be the best candidate to represent their children,” he continued. “That’s my first priority … always.”

Despite being just 16 votes behind at the time, Muse began her concession speech during a brief appearance at the Nov. 13 board meeting, accurately predicting, “This will probably be my last meeting here.” She delivered a rambling and bittersweet farewell, thanking her fellow trustees, the administration and the teachers for “17 phenomenal years.”

Without mentioning him by name, she said she had “a real issue” with Del Rio’s campaign, and wondered aloud “why a group of about three companies has spent close to $100,000 on a school board election,” and hoped the outcome would become “something observed by the community.”

She talked about the support of her family, including the extended family she’d be surrounded by when the final results were posted Wednesday night, as the Muse clan, recently honored by the Boston Irish Reporter, gathered at their gravely ill father’s bedside.

“I leave here knowing how much has happened during the time I have served on this board,” she said. “The excellence we have offered our students doesn’t just happen. It’s been a collaborative approach between the board and the administration and our teachers.”

Asked on election night if she thought the race had become partisan, Muse said “Don’t be naïve. Some things are exactly as they seem.”

Muse promised to remain active in the community and predicting she’d redefine her public service role.

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 15 comments

  • observerNovember 23, 2012 - 7:13 am

    Congratulations, Serrano. You got your man. Let's see what $25,000 buys.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • CaMomNovember 26, 2012 - 8:04 am

    Can't think of a better person for the job! Or someone more involved in the community/high school issues/etc than David Del Rio!! Congratulations!!

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Robert Van GilderNovember 26, 2012 - 10:51 am

    Wow. Just wow. Kirk Bone, above, "“We’ve been asking them (the EDUHSD board) for a boundary adjustment for a while, but they didn’t see it that way,” he said. “So we decided to back some different people in hopes of a more favorable reading from the board.” Something about a duck comes to mind.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • taxpayerNovember 26, 2012 - 11:25 am

    Robert, money + influence go together. When there's enough of each the parties don't need to hide the fact. Most of EDC is bought and paid for. No need wondering why people run for office. Public Service, of course. Quack!

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • taxpayerNovember 26, 2012 - 11:26 am

    Robert, money + influence go together. When there's enough of each the parties don't even need to hide the fact. Most of EDC is bought and paid for. No need wondering why people run for office. Public Service, of course. Quack!

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • EDHNovember 26, 2012 - 12:05 pm

    The board muffed up by building Union Mine in a slow growth area while neglecting the booming growth in EDH. Sending EDH kids to Pondo and Union Mine is a lousy solution. You can't blame Serrano for looking out for their own interests. They have lots and houses to sell, as does Blackstone. If instead of building at the Union Mine site the district had built in an area with better access to EDH, this would be a non-issue. (BTW, notice the Buckeye district has built down in Blackstone, not out in the fringes of the district).

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  • JamesNovember 26, 2012 - 1:12 pm

    Way to go Dave! El Dorado County kids just got another strong voice to advocate for them, another Board member with integrity and ethics, who will do what is right for the kids in our communities.

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  • HawghaulerNovember 26, 2012 - 2:35 pm

    I think you all have short memories. Maybe they finally ticked off enough people with enough money, and clout to get much needed new blood on the board. 17 years is way too long. Here is a Mt. Democrat article to refresh people's memories. http://www.mtdemocrat.com/archived-stories/my_turn_save_union_mine_hs/

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  • Ken SteersNovember 26, 2012 - 3:54 pm

    I don't know why a developer would be that concerned about a school board unless that developer actually lives in the district or his clients complain to he/she that they are unsatisfied with the zoning and wanted it changed. Then the developer would have a vested interest in keeping his/her clients in his/her homes. 17 years is too long to serve on a school board. And probably didn't help that she is a democrat. 90k for a school board, 280k for a judge seat. But 5k for a supervisor seat? Crazy

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  • Alicia ColeNovember 26, 2012 - 9:33 pm

    Bought and sold by the developers. Now those developers will get more money for each lot. Don't be naive and don't think he won't do favors for them by adjusting boundaries. The rich get want they want, as usual. Don't get your way? Buy the politicians.

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  • SparkyNovember 27, 2012 - 7:25 am

    Hawghauler is spot on in referencing an article that clearly identifies the politics of the Union HS Districts. Of course some of those players took their big pay increases and quickly retired. Nice people. The battle continues on between Pondo and Oak Ridge with both sides looking down their noses at each other. It seems like the lack of alignment between all of the various school districts is the root cause of the disdain. another reason for school district consolidation. The bought and paid drum beat is just blind rhetoric.

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  • EvelynNovember 27, 2012 - 7:48 am

    Hawghauler: Thanks for posting the archived (apparently unpublished) article. It adds useful background - I was unfamiliar with this history. Do you know when the boundary changes were effected?

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  • EvelynNovember 27, 2012 - 7:54 am

    ANSWERING ABOVE QUESTION: 7 years ago - SEE: http://www.basslakeaction.org/PDF_files/SacBee-051124a.pdf

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  • Robert Van GilderNovember 27, 2012 - 11:35 am

    Sparky: " The bought and paid drum beat is just blind rhetoric." I hope you are right.

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  • Mom of 2November 28, 2012 - 5:54 pm

    If you think that David Del Rio has been bought you obviously do not know the man. Look at his resume before passing judgement, his adult life has been spent volunteering for kids organizations, sports programs and he chose a career that has him working with kids on a daily basis. He is on campus weekly. Developer money did not make him who his is, they just made sure that the voters could see who he was. Judge the man, not who backed him.

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