When Raymond Gonzales began preparing in 2016 to mount a re-election campaign to the Bakersfield City School District board of trustees, he was ready for a fight.
He drummed up some funding from Milt Younger, the late local Democratic kingmaker, and began stockpiling “Vote for Ray” buttons, stationary and yard signs.
He anticipated having an opponent. But nobody challenged him.
“Boom, nothing. I was getting geared up for a contest, but there was no one,” the 78-year-old former state assemblyman said Monday, lamenting that display of political apathy months after retiring from the board over personal health concerns.
And it seems not much has changed in that time. Two weeks into the nomination period for the April 10 special election, no one has officially filed papers announcing their candidacy to fill Gonzales’ seat, which has been sitting cold for nearly seven months. The filing deadline is Jan. 12.
Since his abrupt retirement, the board has been plagued by indecision over whether to appoint a replacement or hold a special election. When they attempted in July to appoint a candidate — five applied — board members stalemated after 16 rounds of voting, forcing them into a special election.
“This is sort of a unique situation,” Trustee President Pamela Baugher said.
Meanwhile, Gonzales’ Area 3 — comprised of downtown and central Bakersfield, including challenging schools like Stella Hills, McKinley and Emerson — has gone without an elected representative.
“The good thing is that we have a very active board, and they really do represent the whole district,” BCSD spokeswoman Irma Cervantes said. “But hopefully we’ll have a good pool for the special election.”
The district has begun running advertisements calling for candidates.
“I don’t know that I need a knock-down, drag-out fight, but it would be nice for two people at least to run, ideally, for voters to have a real choice,” Baugher said.
At least one candidate who applied for an appointment earlier this year — local pastor Ralph Anthony — said he was in the process of filing candidacy papers.
A one-time BCSD board member who served between 1992 and 1994, Anthony spent about 40 years running an in-home day care center, but he says his calling is “helping people.” Most recently, he served as a volunteer member of the district’s Close the Achievement Gap Committee, aimed at accelerating the performance of minority students.
He says that work should remain a priority for the district through its Focus Schools Initiative, which targets some of the district’s lowest-performing schools and provides them more support.
Three of the five “focus schools” — Stella Hills Elementary, McKinley Elementary and Emerson Middle — are located in unrepresented Area 3.
Still, the 77-year-old pastor said he wouldn’t have run for the position if not for the urging of community members and a sense of duty for somebody to fill the seat.
“I was a supporter of Ray Gonzales. He was doing a good job, then all of a sudden, here we are in the middle of trying to improve things in the district and he became ill,” Anthony said. “I just stepped up to the plate.”
Gonzales, now living with family in Oceanside, said he would be calling his former board colleague, Bakersfield City Councilman Andrae Gonzales (no relation), whose boundaries comprise much of Area 3, and asking him to "beat the bushes" for candidates.
"They need people that are really interested in the kids and their education and safety," Gonzales said. "Somebody has to run."