James Rufus Koren, Staff Writer
Posted: 10/19/2010 04:35:31 PM PDT

The biggest issue in the race for the Area D seat on the San Bernardino County school board isn’t an issue at all – it’s the incumbent.

Board member Gil Navarro, who is running for his second term, is facing three challengers on Nov.2. While all three have ideas for how to improve education in the county and make the most of the county board’s limited powers, they are all running in large part because they want Navarro out of office.

“I think the voters deserve a representative who represents everybody,” said challenger Ronald Coats, who, like the other challengers, said Navarro focuses too much on Latino students and Latino issues and not enough on everyone else. “The populous shouldn’t be defined by ethnicity and neither should the representative.”

Navarro, a longtime Latino activist, is certainly outspoken in his boosterism for San Bernardino County’s Latino community. Earlier this year, he started a political action committee with the goal of getting more Latinos elected to local office; he’s pushed the county to do more voter-registration efforts in predominantly Latino areas; and he says Area D, which covers the largely Latino San Bernardino City Unified and Rialto Unified school districts, should be represented by a Latino.

“I think that’s important,” he said. “If a majority of the constituents were African-American, I would say the same thing” – that is, that the area should be represented by someone of the dominant ethnicity.

Navarro is unapologetic for his support of Latinos and his advocacy on Latino issues, but he also says he works on behalf of all students in Area D.

His challengers disagree, though none could give an example of a time Navarro, as a county school board member, has put Latino students above others. Instead, they say his activism is a clear sign of Navarro’s loyalties and motives.

“To me, and Gil makes this clear, he puts too much emphasis on illegal immigrants and kids of Hispanic origin,” said candidate James Tate. That’s clear, he said, “by the positions and stances he’s taken in the community.”

Coats said he finds it “frustrating that (Navarro) is all about one ethnic group.”

Candidate Corey Jackson said Navarro excludes non-Latinos.

Jackson, who said he wants “to be the opposite of Gil Navarro,” said he has other problems with Navarro. He called Navarro “extreme” and said he “does not set the proper example for our children.”

Jackson cited an incident this spring, when Navarro attended a Fontana City Council meeting and chided Councilwoman Acquanetta Warren, who is black, for making comments Navarro said were insensitive to immigrants.

Warren had been quoted in the Black Voice News newspaper talking about a Louisiana State University report that blamed illegal immigration for raising rates of unemployment and violence in black communities.

“You’re linking illegal immigration with black unemployment and violence,” Navarro said, in a clip of the meeting that was later posted on YouTube. “So you’re telling me an immigrant that came to this country is causing a black man to rape a white woman? A black man that robs a liquor store, you’re blaming the immigrants for that?”

Jackson said, “Anyone saying something about a black main raping white women is not a good role model for our children.”

Navarro defended his comments, saying that Warren, who was then running in the Republican primary for a State Assembly seat, was trying to pit Latinos and blacks against one another.

“I saw that as a weapon to cause divisiveness,” he said. “I wanted to be right to the point and say that her purpose in saying that was to try to get elected.”

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