It’s been more than a decade since Harald Martin last made a splash in Anaheim politics. A gathering storm of a recall petition and special election pressured him into resigning from an appointment to the Anaheim Union High School District (AUHSD) back in 2007, one granted despite finishing second to last in the prior election leading to accusations of cronyism. By then, the former Anaheim policeman lost two previous bids, leaving only his heyday on the board from 1994-2002 behind. In those years, Martin gained notoriety by wanting to sue Mexico $50 million for the cost of educating undocumented students and even sought a resolution giving la migra access to the district’s databases. Both failed policy positions hounded him years later during the recall effort.
These days, Martin sits at an East Anaheim donut shop sporting the same goatee he wore since that last stir of controversy, only now the 63-year-old’s facial hair is more salt than pepper. “After I retired as a police officer, there were things to do family-wise,” Martin says of his extended absence from public life. “My wife wanted to do some traveling. My kids had kids and now I’ve got grandkids.” But now, the retiree wants back on the AUHSD board and is running a campaign in trustee area 2 on the east side.
“A lot of people are just astonished and are wondering the reason why,” says Annemarie Randle-Trejo, the incumbent trustee running for reelection against Martin. “I guess we’re all curious.”
The district has changed a lot since Martin’s eight-year tenure ended in 2002. Anaheim conservatives now routinely chide it as a highly politicized training ground for emerging Democrats. Michael Matsuda, a liberal, reigns as superintendent. And even though the board is still majority-Republican, its current president, Al Jabbar, is a Muslim Democrat. The changes aren’t solely relegated to administration and trustees. The student body population in Anaheim foreshadows its demographic destiny as a supermajority Latino city.
“The diversity in our district is what inspires, enhances and lifts us up,” adds Randle-Trejo, who got more votes than Martin in 2006. “It’s definitely needed for global society, for the 21st century. It’s not the 1950’s anymore.” But for Martin, the district remains too unchanged in areas that matter to him. “Some of the things that were wrong before are still wrong, and I want to see if I can fix them,” he says. “I still want to do better for my community.”
What that looks like isn’t spelled out on a candidate statement; Martin didn’t file one. He does carry a stack of flyers ready to be distributed when knocking on doors. They list 11 points Martin promises to carry out if elected. School safety tops the list and comes in the form of placing a full-time police officer on every campus who’ll also act as a community liaison. The former board president also wants to bring back a 2.0 GPA requirement for graduation that he championed in the 90’s while calling for Oxford Academy inspired programs modeled on the competitive Cypress campus Martin also takes credit for helping to create decades ago.
“There’s enough people that remember me from the things that I’ve done that I’m going to get their votes,” says Martin. By his own account, neighbors recall his name from past headlines and more recent letters to the editor published in the Register. Martin insists, though, that his campaign is no exercise in nostalgia nor is he a fossil of Anaheim politics. “My ideas are not from the past,” he says. “My ideas are futuristic.”
Disclaimer aside, the former lawman likes to revel in familiar tales. Before retiring from the force in 2004, Martin worked in Anaheim’s Jeffrey-Lynne barrio near Disneyland during the 90’s before it was rehabbed and rechristened as Hermosa Village. “I didn’t arrest A students, it’s those D or F students who see no future for themselves that I was arresting,” he says, regurgitating an old quote. “Hispanics are still getting the short-end of the stick, tremendously.” Martin tells the story of meeting a Loara High School student, as he has before, whose academic struggles were reflected in her homework. After conversing with her, Martin placed blame for them squarely on bilingual education.
Even though Prop. 227 did away with bilingual education in 1998, despite its proven pedagogical value, Martin continues harping on it. He believes the Anaheim City School District (ACSD), which pipes students into AUHSD, offers dual-immersion programs that are bilingual education by another name. “First thing, we’ve got to start teaching kids in English again,” he says. “School districts get more money when the kids are limited English proficient.” Martin hands over a copy of Read Perspectives, a journal where he published an essay in 1998 arguing the district’s bilingual education approach to native Spanish speakers failed English language proficiency benchmarks back then. “I bring up this information and right away I’m racist, xenophobic and all this other bullshit,” he says.
It didn’t help that Martin associated with the California Coalition for Immigration Reform (CCIR) and its late leader Barbara Coe during the 90’s when OC saw an upsurge in anti-immigrant fervor that accompanied Prop. 187. As a cop, he also took credit for Anaheim’s old INS pilot program that put an agent in the city jail. His views haven’t changed all that much since then. “My belief is that if you’re in the country illegally, you’re not entitled to tax dollars or services,” says Martin. “I said it then, I’m going to say it now. But the facts are, kids are in our schools. They need to be educated.” His move to educate undocumented students and make Mexico pay for it drew the ire of OC’s Latino activists in the ol’ days.
Former Weekly editor Gustavo Arellano even gives Martin backhand credit for shaping him as an Anaheim High School student who found his voice speaking out against the sue Mexico plan. “Harald Martin proves that there are second acts in American lives,” Arellano says. “His first attention-grabber was to dump a pile of manure at La Palma Park. Now, he returns as a pile of shit!” Martin expresses no regrets for the aforementioned stunt aimed at stinking out drug dealers, one that he says booted him down the list of sergeant promotions. And there’s no love lost for Arellano. “Oh, he hates my guts,” Martin says. “He’s extremely PC.”
But to hear Martin tell it again, he was a community-based cop doing good in Jeffery-Lynne before Los Amigos de Orange County, a longtime Latino advocacy group in Anaheim, branded him a racist. Either way, in running for school board in 2018, many of Martin’s friends and foes aren’t around anymore. Coe passed away in 2013. Los Amigos founder Amin David followed three years later. Longtime Latino activist Nativo Lopez is (semi) retired from political life. Even still, Martin insists that he’s no lone-wolf candidate, noting an endorsement from ACSD board member Jeff Cole and an expected nod from the Anaheim Police Association. But he has to acknowledge that his bid for relevancy this November is a shoestring operation.
What Martin lacks in political machinery, he hopes to make up with enthusiasm. Martin turns his clipboard around to show the latest School Digger website stats for Anaheim junior high and high schools. “From the west end to the east end, the school rankings continue to go down, down, down,” he says, tracing the trend with a pencil. “The higher number of Hispanics we have, the worse we are. They are being held back because of who they are. They’re not expected to succeed so they’re not being given that expectation.”
Whether Martin can make his case to a very demographically different Anaheim and a district reflective of that remains to be seen. Last year, the current board unanimously passed a sanctuary resolution at the onset of the Trump Administration, a move that couldn’t be more diametrically opposed to the legacy he tried to cement two decades ago. “It’s what our students asked for and we listened to them,” says Randle-Trejo. “These initiatives come from our constituents.”
Of course, Martin sees it differently. “It’s a feel good piece of junk,” he argues. “It’s not reality because, quite frankly, if ICE comes out to arrest that family’s dad because he’s done something wrong, it doesn’t change anything. I’d much rather have some real concrete stuff that helps everybody.”
Gabriel San Roman is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and tallest Mexican in OC.