Santa Paula Times

State Superintendent of Public Instruction next stop for O’Connell?

November 01, 2002
Santa Paula News
By Peggy Kelly Santa Paula Times“It’s a big state, I wish someone had told me,” quipped state Senator Jack O’Connell from Bakersfield about his travels as candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction.“I have the card table in the trunk here,” as he makes stops up and down the state, holding traditional sidewalk office hours to garner input from voters. “How many people do I think I’ve spoken to? Tens of thousands,” said Sen. O’Connell, who has represented Santa Paula for 20 years, first in the assembly and then as senator. “I’ve represented Santa Paula for one-fifth of its existence,” as an incorporated city, he noted.The former Oxnard High School teacher - Sen. O’Connell played basketball while a student there - has raked up endorsements as thick as a good-sized phone book. Supporters range from teachers to law enforcement and just about every group in between.Sen. O’Connell said that no matter where the stop, big cities or small towns, people talk about “quality education; people want to feel more connected to their schools. They support accountability and more class size reduction, where I am and have always been.”Sen. O’Connell has always focused in educational issues and authored landmark bills to reduce class sizes and change the threshold to easier pass school bonds, among others.
If it had been a simple popularity contest, Sen. O’Connell, a moderate Democrat, would have won the non-partisan seat outright in the March primary: his 42 percent of the vote easily outdistanced the votes of his major opponents who both drew less than 30 percent of the vote. His challenger for the seat surprised even Republicans: Anaheim Union High School District trustee Katherine Smith, a conservative who had received a burst of publicity when she advocated students standing any time an adult entered a classroom. Smith garnered only 28.3 percent of the vote. Sen. O’Connell won 45 counties out of the 58 in the state in the primary.Sen. O’Connell said he wants to “help schools become the focus of the neighborhood, more of an integral part of the community. I want more before school and after school activities for the kids, senior bingo for seniors on Sunday night, midnight basketball,” proven to be an effective deterrent to criminal activity.“I’m the product of public schools and parent of a public school child, and my experience will clearly enable me to bring leadership and vision to this position,” said Sen. O’Connell.And, if elected, “I will keep doing the sidewalk office hours, I have the card table and am ready to go,” with his effective barometer of constituent interests and concerns. “I absolutely will come back and see my friends in Santa Paula any time I’m invited,” said Sen. O’Connell. “I won’t be stranger. I’ve represented Santa Paula for 20 years and it’s been a long, loving relationship. I’m very, very fond of Santa Paula.”