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Embattled Sierra Unified Trustee Says He’s Staying ‘Because Elections Matter’



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Sierra Unified Trustee James Hoak Jr., who is facing heated criticism and calls for his removal because of his involvement in protests over Joe Biden’s election as president last week at the Capitol, said Monday night that he’s not resigning “because elections matter.”

Hoak’s comments came during a lengthy public meeting that included two hours of comment from teachers, parents, and others questioning his fitness to hold office and claiming that he’s a racist and white supremacist — claims that Hoak and his supporters emphatically deny.

Hoak, who was elected to his first term on the board in November, said that the comments from detractors who are calling for his removal from the School Board were “a character assault on an upstanding member of the community.”

While acknowledging that he was at the Capitol after President Donald Trump’s rally that prompted some protesters to break into the Capitol, kill a police officer and injure 50 others, and vandalize and steal government property, Hoak said that he doesn’t condone violence or vandalism. He said he was at the rally and the Capitol using press badges issued by the Secret Service, although several public commenters noted that real journalists do not cover news events wearing a Biden mask and striped prison garb, as Hoak reportedly did.

Dad Says Hoak Is ‘A Good Man’

Hoak’s defenders included his father, Jim Hoak, who tearfully talked about his son being “a good man” and not a crazed zealot, as some have painted him. When his father finished speaking, Hoak wiped tears from his own eyes.

Clovis real estate agent Ben Martin, who identified himself as the president of the Coalition for Individual Liberties, noted that Hoak has not been charged and his name is not on a list of suspects posted by the FBI.

Like Hoak, Martin was at the Capitol last Wednesday, but unlike Hoak, he acknowledges that he went inside. But Martin told GV Wire℠ last week that he was trying to act as a peacemaker between Capitol police and protesters when he was carried inside on a wave of humanity.

Martin said the educators who spoke out against Hoak during the meeting should instead be using him as a role model in lessons about the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

“You have created a political witch hunt against an amazing man simply because your belief systems are different than his,” Martin said. “It’s one of the most beautiful things about the country in which we live is that we have the ability to live and believe differently.

“However, in this case, for the leftists, when we believe something different than they, they want to cancel us, they want to eliminate us, they want to financially gouge us, and they want to defame us. This is not OK and should not be allowed.”

‘This Is Not A Witch Hunt’

Hoak’s critics included Elizabeth Taylor, a mother of two who said she received threats after she called for Hoak’s removal. Because of that, Taylor said, she initially had decided not to speak out at Monday’s meeting but then changed her mind.

“It’s not an us versus them, and it’s not a right versus left. This is not a witch hunt,” she said. “This is about facts, an examination of those facts regarding a public School Board member attending a riot that resulted in the death of five people and the storming of the Capitol. This is about a standard of ethics we hold our elected officials to. This is about a public school system serving the public … families of all backgrounds.

“This is about Jewish children in our district who have seen pictures of Mr. Hoak in a crowd of people where participants are wearing a ‘Six Million Were Not Enough’ shirt. For those of you who were not aware, that is in reference to the Holocaust. This is about our African American students who again see pictures, and watch videos, of a board member, a man whose job is to promote their academic well-being, standing under the flag of the Confederacy, a flag that represents years of genocide, slavery, and abhorrent racism, and abuse.”

The community, Taylor said, has the responsibility to hold its elected officials to a standard “that allows our student body to feel welcome, accepted and most of all, safe.”

Defending His First Amendment Rights

Later in the meeting, Hoak had the opportunity to speak at length. He displayed the two media passes, one yellow and one orange, that said “Property of the U.S. Government.” He defended his right as a “private citizen” to participate in Trump’s rally protesting Biden’s election. He denied ever entering the Capitol, although he admitted he climbed a ladder on an outside scaffold “trying to get a better view for my viewers” as he live-streamed the events. He emphatically said that he does not condone violence against police officers or the destruction of property.

“I’m honored to be chosen by this community and I’m honored to sit on this School Board,” he said. “My political beliefs will never affect the decisions I make for our schools or our children, and I will continue to make the best decisions to ensure that our children receive a well-rounded education and that they become successful adults.”

What’s Next

The fallout from Hoak’s participation in last week’s events at the Capitol remains to be seen. Board chairman Connie Schlaefer told GV Wire℠ on Tuesday that the board will consult with its legal counsel and could schedule a special meeting to review input from the community, board bylaws, and state education code, and determine its next steps.

She agreed that the governance training scheduled for trustees this week is timely because it comes as the board is grappling “with some pretty heated issues.” And with four new board members, such training is particularly important, Schlaefer said.

As for Hoak’s contention that he attended the Washington rally as a private citizen, Schaefer said publicly elected officials such as School Board members are subjected to more intense scrutiny for their political actions because they also represent public agencies.

Meanwhile, the online petition drive, “Remove James Hoak,” had attracted nearly 3,700 supporters by Tuesday afternoon. They apparently include Fresno Unified Trustee Veva Islas. She could not be immediately reached for comment Tuesday.

Screenshot of the “Remove James Hoak” website

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email