The Liberator of Santa Ana Unified

Photo by Jack GouldA specter is haunting Santa Ana—the specter of Nativo Lopez. All the powers of old Santa Ana have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this apparition: mayor and superintendent, Unz and Tuchman, Latina mothers and Republican mercenaries. Feb. 4 was supposed to be the end, the day when the oppressed peoples of Orange County's largest city threw off the shackles imposed by the Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD) trustee and recalled the tyrant. But the specter of Nativo Lopez continues.

This was the cautious update recall leader Tim Whitacre delivered to the Santa Ana Women's Republican Club on March 27. The GOP ladies attending—all 12—invited Whitacre to regale them with tales from the end of Lopez's corrupt regime. But instead of reassuring his compatriots that their city was now safe from the bilingual bogeyman, Whitacre did what all national security apparatchiks do: he kept the threat alive.

Balding and goateed, Whitacre, who is also a Republican Central Committee member, wasted no time in attacking Nativo, referring to Lopez by his pocho name, Larry.

“Larry has a narrow Marxist view of America,” Whitacre boomed, jabbing at the podium.

Then he backtracked. “I respect the man for having his views,” he said. “I'd put him in a foxhole with me.”

Then he backtracked again and accused Lopez of harboring secret plans to turn the Southwest brown.

“He's a reconquista!” Whitacre asserted.

“My main role in the recall was to show people this man was just a man,” Whitacre continued. “The aura that was put in front of him was that he could invade your house and kill your pets. The city was paralyzed by all of this bigger-than-life stuff that was accredited to this man.”

Lopez has indeed haunted Orange County for years, withstanding vicious assaults by Bob Dornan, the Los Angeles Times, even his own school board yet never suffering defeat. So only direct engagement could topple Nativo, assured Whitacre. “So I went up to him once and said, 'As far as you're concerned, I'm invading your country. As far as I'm concerned, you're invading the Constitution. I swore to defend it. We can agree to disagree. But you need to know something, right here and now. If you want to go head to head, bayonets with bayonets, we'll go toe to toe, every time, everywhere, every store. And that's what you want to do.'

“When I stepped onboard [for the recall campaign], I saw where we had to be, and I realized we had to pick up the steam,” he continued. “So I ran it like a military campaign.”

More like guerrilla warfare.

“We couldn't go head to head with Lopez,” Whitacre recalled, “so we would do things to give the impression that we could match him.” This included, he said, protesting on a street corner for 30 minutes, then packing up and going to another location to delude Lopez into thinking the opposition was mightier than it actually was.

Whitacre's battlefield strategy was successful—more than 70 percent of Santa Ana voters chose to recall Lopez.

Earlier in the evening, SAUSD board president Rosemarie Avila raved about Whitacre's store-to-store fight. The 12-year board member spoke of the atrocities she and her supporters supposedly suffered under Lopez's rule: sabotage, favoritism, a lack of self-discipline. “We felt like we didn't have leadership, real choice or options,” she mournfully confessed.

And life after the Whitacre-led liberation? “There's a sense of relief,” she gushed. “I see joy! People can relax and not watch their backs too much.”

But Whitacre wrapped up his briefing by urging eternal vigilance in the face of the mustachioed menace. “We must remain diligent,” Whitacre concluded. “Because if we don't . . . He's not gone! Just like Saddam, he's not just going to go away. I've told folks he's not done; he's going to try to rear his ugly head. And until we can really, really render him totally irrelevant, he's going to continue to knock on our doors and try to harass us folks.”

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