Cameron wins Twin Rivers board seat in low-turnout race

Sonja Cameron
Sonja Cameron

Charter school executive Sonja Cameron defeated civil rights activist Basim Elkarra to win a seat on the Twin Rivers Unified School District board, the Sacramento County elections department announced Monday.

Cameron had 52 percent of the vote, compared with Elkarra’s 47 percent, in a race that drew only 2,100 ballots from a pool of 11,228 registered voters in last Tuesday’s election. Less than 1 percent of ballots contained write-in candidates.

“They don’t have to make a new name tag for the podium,” said Cameron, who will represent North Natomas and Robla after briefly serving as an appointee in December and January before petitioners forced the Area 5 special election.

Cameron, 69, is chief operations officer and co-founder of the Pacific Charter Institute, a Rio Linda-based charter school network. One of its programs, Heritage Peak Charter Institute, is authorized by the Twin Rivers district but operates independently.

She said her first order of business will be to increase the district’s focus on student achievement and communication with parents. She would like to hire more reading specialists to ensure students are reading at grade level by third grade, a benchmark considered an indicator of future student success.

Cameron said her job with Pacific Charter Institute is part time and that she plans to spend a lot of time in district schools. “I absolutely love being with the kids,” she said.

Elkarra, 35, has been executive director for 10 years of the Sacramento office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which became the focus of an anonymous attack flier during the campaign that attempted to appeal to anti-Muslim sentiment. Local elected officials and Cameron denounced the flier.

Both candidates believe the flier cost them votes.

Cameron said the flier made her campaign look bad. “I refuse to believe the average person today in the state of California would still harbor such racist thoughts,” she said.

Elkarra said early supporters rescinded their support once the flier surfaced. “One lady asked whether my wife wore a burka,” Elkarra said.

Democratic Party of Sacramento County chairwoman Kerri Asbury said the flier “played to the fears” of older residents.

Twin Rivers trustees initially appointed Cameron in December to the vacancy, but Asbury’s Democratic Party organization and neighborhood activists gathered signatures to force the district to hold a special election. Petitioners contended that trustees illegally cut short the selection process.

The seat became vacant after the resignation last year of Cortez Quinn, who pleaded no contest in October to conspiracy to obstruct justice in a paternity case. Cameron will serve the remaining 13 months of Quinn’s term before facing another election in 2016.

The special election cost the district about $113,000, an amount Cameron called “a horrendous waste of money for the district.”

Both Cameron and Elkarra plan to run again in 2016. Asbury said the Democratic Party of Sacramento County will support Elkarra and is looking at someone to run against Area 7 trustee Linda Fowler.

“I’m committed,” Elkarra said. “We are committed to staying engaged in Twin Rivers and making a difference.”