Return to duty

Deborah Ortiz is ready to get back into elected office. No, she’s not planning to take out Mayor Kevin Johnson in 2012, a fantasy Bites knows many of you continue to nurse.

In fact, regular readers will recall that Ortiz took a close look at running for city council—against incumbent Steve Cohn—this year. But the more she saw of the current council, the less she wanted to return to City Hall.

“I looked long and hard at city council, but it didn’t fit where I am in my life right now,” said Ortiz, who served on the city council before moving on to a long run in the state Assembly and state Senate.

Polls on Ortiz showed that she had a good chance of beating Cohn, but she wasn’t optimistic about success once she got there. “There are some very deep divisions on that city council. Every way I looked at it, I think that would have been very frustrating for me.”But it turns out, there is an opening on a less dysfunctional local elected body: the Los Rios Community College District. Ortiz has announced she’s running in this November’s election for the Los Rios board of trustees, hoping to replace her friend Bruce Pomer, who left the board earlier this year for job-related reasons.

The District 6 seat, one of seven on the board, covers Midtown, East Sacramento, Arden Arcade and parts of Carmichael and Rancho Cordova—all places where the former state legislator is pretty well-known.

Ortiz, whose day job is serving as vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, said she thinks Los Rios would be a good fit for her.

“I’m attracted to it because it would allow me to do more policy and less politics,” said Ortiz, explaining that “I don’t particularly miss the Legislature.”

It’s not a terribly high-profile job, but the Los Rios district is a powerful economic engine for the region. It’s the second largest community-college district in the state and in the middle of a period of dramatic growth. And unlike the state Legislature or even the Sacramento City Council, people are pretty positive about the Los Rios board.

Voters easily passed a $475 million bond measure in 2008 to help Los Rios expand. “That’s a huge accomplishment at a time like this,” Ortiz noted.But Ortiz is not guaranteed a spot on the board. She’ll be running against Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District Capt. Christopher Reed, who is himself a product of Los Rios schools. He received an associate’s degree in fire science from American River College, and has sent two of his kids to ARC.

Based on his experience as a student and a parent, he’d like to see the system improve its vocational programs and streamline the process of transferring credits from community college to four-year schools.

He also wants to serve the district that has served him so well. “My children and I have gone through that system. I’m very proud of it. It’s a huge asset in the community.”

But when Bites caught up with Reed, he had not yet heard that Ortiz has also pulled papers. “Oh, great,” he said with a laugh when Bites broke the news. “She’s a nice lady. I think she’d be pretty difficult to beat, but I’ll run against her and see what happens,” Reed added.

It’s not always easy to say what will happen in a down-ballot race like this one, which will likely be overlooked by most voters as they’re being beat over the head with advertising for gubernatorial, Senate and ballot-initiative contests.

“I know I’ll need to make the case anew to voters,” Ortiz told Bites. “I’m not assuming anything.”