The Nov. 6 election was not particularly kind to sitting school board members, who were edged out in nine of 26 races in Santa Clara County where incumbents were running for re-election.
Why the built-in incumbent advantage failed varies in each case; there appears not to have been a broad throw-out-the-bums sentiment.
In East San Jose, two longtime fixtures of school boards, with a combined 68 years of tenure, lost their seats. Richard Tanaka, 81, lost his bid for a sixth term on the San Jose-Evergreen Community College District, the first time he's even faced competition since he first ran for the board in 1992. Before that, he served 21 years on the East Side Union High School District board.
This time not only was his seat contested, but Tanaka faced four challengers and came in third. Winner Craig Mann, who recently stepped down from the Santa Clara County Board of Education, credited his success to a strong ballot statement -- "those 200 words are very powerful, and everyone's going to get that" -- and to Tanaka's free pass the past four election cycles.
"When you are not before voters on a regular basis, you dilute your connectivity with constituents," Mann said.
About the campaign, Tanaka conceded, "I think my opponent did much more work than I did."
Patricia Martinez-Roach also said she did virtually no campaigning, not even submitting a ballot statement, to keep her seat on the East Side Union High School District board. She did post some campaign signs.
She attributed her seeming defeat -- she remained more than 4,700 votes behind as of Thursday afternoon, with many mail-in and provisional ballots still uncounted -- to a well-funded opponent. Magdalena Carrasco, the presumptive winner, had the backing of San Jose political and business leaders and a charter-schools political action committee.
Martinez-Roach has 27 years experience on the Alum Rock and East Side boards. She hopes the tally of late-arriving ballots still will propel her past Carrasco. Incumbent Lan Nguyen finished first in the race for two open seats on the board.
If not, Martinez-Roach said, "I'm very disappointed. I'm concerned about my constituents."
Across town, Kalen Gallagher credited three months of hard work for finishing first in a four-way race for two seats on the Campbell Union High School District board.
Gallagher said he walked as many precincts as he could in the sprawling district, which stretches from Westfield Valley Fair Shopping Mall in the north almost to Saratoga-Los Gatos Road and Blossom Hill Road in the southeast. He used Facebook, Twitter and a Web tool called Votizen that allowed his campaign to identify and reach out to voters and potential voters among people he knew.
"I don't think there's a silver bullet. We did a ton of things," said Gallagher, 29.
Plus, he said voters endorsed his messages: to start new efforts to reduce the dropout rate, to give teachers more teaching tools and training and to improve technology. The district's teachers union endorsed him.
Growing up and having attended schools in the area helped, Gallagher said. He graduated from the district's Westmont High, and his mother graduated from Del Mar High.
In the Campbell Union High race, still-uncounted ballots might enable another challenger, Linda (Jopp) Goytia to claim the second seat. As of Thursday, incumbent Diane Gordon was second, and incumbent Rick Costanzo was third.
While losers were disappointed, some said there's an upside to losing. "If you retire and have something else to do, it's OK," said Tanaka, noting that he and his wife, Barbara, now don't have to schedule vacations only during board recesses. He'll have more evenings free. Plus he can spend more time working out and practicing tai chi at the YMCA, he said. "I'm in pretty good shape now."
Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/noguchionk12.
Vote tallies aren't final, but it appears that nine school board members in Santa Clara County lost their seats
District Unseated incumbents Winning challenger
San Jose-Evergreen Community College District Richard K. Tanaka Craig Mann
Alum Rock Union Elementary School District Esau Herrera Karen Martinez
Cambrian School District Jarod Middleton Jeneva Sneed
Campbell Union High School District Rick Costanzo, Diane Gordon Kalen Gallagher, Linda (Jopp) Goytia
East Side Union High School District Patricia Martinez-Roach Magdalena Carrasco
Evergreen School District Balaji R. Venkatraman Bonnie Mace
Los Gatos-Saratoga Joint Union High School District Lorrie Wernick Katherine Tseng
Moreland School District Brian Penzel Julie Reynolds-Grabbe
Santa Clara Unified School District Trustee Area 3 Elise DeYoung Michele Ryan