Thomas questions Scrivner family politics at BC ribbon-cutting | News
During an otherwise congratulatory set of comments Wednesday at a ribbon-cutting for Bakersfield College’s new $65 million Science and Engineering Building, retired Congressman Bill Thomas took the opportunity to note a concern he had about developments in local politics.
It’s one he plans to do something about, he said.
The elder statesman for the Kern County Republican party who served nearly three decades in Congress, which included mentoring his replacement, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy — whose first electoral win happened to be a Kern Community College District seat in 2000 — discussed the politics of the upcoming KCCD election.
Thomas started his remarks with a reference to the Thomas Road Improvement Program, a federal roads allocation that bears his name and is now responsible for about $1.5 billion in road construction projects locally.
He likened the Highway 58-Highway 99 connector to the Science and Engineering Building because the new facility is a bridge for students. But his larger point was the collaborative effort that made the half-billion-dollar, voter-approved Measure J dollars possible was worthy of praise and followed a similar approach to TRIP, in that “there was significant coordination and cooperation.”
Then Thomas turned to the KCCD board election.
“There’s one incumbent who’s on the ballot this year that has an opponent,” Thomas said. “Nan Gomez-Heitzeberg has been absolutely critical in working with the board, as she did for decades for Bakersfield College, getting people to ‘yes.’”
In 2016, Thomas was appointed to the seat that Gomez-Heitzeberg currently holds. She was elected to the board in 2018, after Thomas’ appointed term ended.
Thomas mentioned her candidacy, and specifically her opposition, because it upset him for a couple of reasons: Her opponent, whom Thomas described as a late entrant into the race, is John Antonaros, chief of staff for county Supervisor Zack Scrivner.
In June, Scrivner, a former Bakersfield City Councilman, was elected to a fourth term on the Board of Supervisors after garnering more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary.
“So you just wonder why somebody (Antonaros) would want to run against an incumbent who you heard clearly is a significant and positive influence and keeping us to the schedule that we said we were going to meet,” Thomas said, noting that Scrivner’s wife and mother are also candidates for local school district boards.
When reached for a reaction to Thomas’ comments Wednesday, the supervisor noted that it was important to look at the motives of everyone involved.
“My understanding is that Bill Thomas raised a lot of money to get Ms. Gomez-Heitzberg elected, but I admit I don’t understand the full scope of his vested interests in this race,” he said in a statement sent via email.
“Let’s get this straight,” he added, “college trustees are elected by the voters. John Antonaros is a candidate, as is his opponent, and the election is in November. John’s occupation does not limit his ability to seek this volunteer elected office.”
For his part, Antonaros responded to the comments about his alleged last-minute candidacy in a statement sent to The Californian via email. He noted he is a Bakersfield High alum, a third-generation county resident and hails from a family of teachers, principals and school counselors.
“I want to serve our college district as a trustee; this is the district I live in, and that is why I’m running,” he added. “Regarding Bill Thomas’ comments, it’s a free country, and he can say what he wants.”
Christina Scrivner, a Tehachapi city councilwoman, is running to represent Area II for the KCCD, which includes eastern Kern, as well as parts of Inyo, Mono and San Bernardino counties, against Jennifer Slayton, who’s listed on KernVote.com as an education administrator. They’re both seeking the seat currently held by Jack Connell, who’s not seeking reelection.
Zack Scrivner’s mother, teacher Kathy Scrivner, is one of four candidates seeking election to the District 4 seat in the Kern High School District, which is currently held by Janice Graves.
Christina and Kathy Scrivner were not immediately available for comment by email or phone Wednesday.
Thomas said he could only think of one reason for the seemingly concerted candidacies.
“I think, frankly, they want to make a move on school boards so they can deal with what’s being taught — and we’ve been dealing with our commitment to the community to build on time and within budget,” Thomas said.
Asked what the retired politician felt his role would be in the current election cycle, he replied, “whatever it needs to be.”
“I can’t sit by and let what has been happening in other areas of the state, but more importantly, other areas of the country, with people who somehow have to say that you have to be like us, or there’s something wrong,” Thomas said. “And apparently, Zack has decided the only people he can really trust are people he either controls through finances, his chief of staff or his relatives, in dealing with school boards.”
Zack Scrivner also pointed out it’s fair to ask the same question of Thomas and the impetus for his comments at Wednesday’s event.
“As I recall, Bill Thomas started his career as a candidate running against an incumbent, as was his right to do,” Scrivner noted. “If there is an issue in Thomas’ mind about ‘control’ of this board, then he should be asked, ‘Whose control are you concerned about, Mr. Thomas?’”
For her part, Gomez-Heitzeberg, who retired after a long career as a BC administrator, preferred to keep the conversation Wednesday about the new building and the college’s goals.
“I always appreciate the belief in our Kern Community College (District) board,” she said, when asked about Thomas’ remarks, “and the fact that we worked so harmoniously together and that we have moved forward so many projects for … the district and Bakersfield College in particular, because that was my home for 36 years.”