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The race for American Canyon’s seat on the Napa Valley College Board of Trustees represents a first for the two candidates running against one another.

For incumbent Mary Ann Mancuso, who represents District 3, the 2018 election marks the first time she’s had to run a competitive campaign for her seat.

Mancuso was appointed in 2013 after Trustee Brenda Knight stepped down. She ran unopposed in 2014 after no one challenged her.

This time, however, American Canyon High School teacher Elizabeth Goff is running to be the District 3 trustee, marking her first foray into political campaigning.

“I never thought I would run for office,” said Goff on Monday. “I’m probably one of the least political people you’ll meet.”

The same cannot be said of Mancuso, who has been deeply involved in the Democratic Party, both locally and statewide. Her endorsement list reflects her political connections, and is a veritable who’s who of Democratic politicians in the Napa Valley and beyond.

Those backing her reelection include Congressman Mike Thompson, state Sen. Bill Dodd, Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, Napa Mayor Jill Techel, American Canyon Mayor Leon Garcia, three American Canyon City Council members, all five members of the Napa County Board of Supervisors, plus Secretary of State Alex Padilla, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, state Sen. Kevin de León and many more individuals and organizations.

Goff, meanwhile, has endorsements from the Napa County Taxpayers Association and the Green Party.

“My opponent has not actually even shown interest” in endorsements, said Mancuso.

The two candidates have avoided saying much about each other directly.

When Mancuso found out about Goff running against her, all she had to say was: “It is what it is,” and, “OK, somebody is going to run against me.”

Goff was similarly brief. “I don’t talk about Mary Ann,” she said when asked about Mancuso’s performance on the NVC board. “People can find out what she has done.”

There are differences between the two candidates in terms of their backgrounds as well as how they see the role of an NVC trustee, and what the position can do for American Canyon.

Mancuso, 63, spent her career in the employment staffing industry, and says she has used her work on the local workforce investment board to forge connections between the college and business people that have benefited the college’s vocational programs. She’s lived in Napa and American Canyon over the past two decades.

Goff, 54, who was born and raised in Napa, began her career in commercial insurance before switching to education. She has taught for 18 years, almost all of it in American Canyon schools. Currently, she teaches English at American Canyon High School.

Being a teacher with business experience would make her an asset for the college, Goff says.

“If you put those two experiences together,” she said, “I think it gives me a pretty good background to be able to understand” the job of being a trustee. “There is a learning curve, but I think I have a little better insight” because of her familiarity with curriculum and teacher contracts.

Mancuso said, “Being an educator absolutely gives you no edge to what we do” on the board.

“People don’t always know what we do on the board,” Mancuso added, “so they think they can play a different role than what really is the reality of the role” of serving as policymakers and providing oversight for the college.

She agrees with Goff that there is a learning curve for new trustees — which is why people should vote for the incumbent, Mancuso said.

“So if you vote for my opponent, you’re starting from scratch,” according to Mancuso, who considers herself “a strong asset” on the board and one of its “most highly visible and well connected” trustees. Mancuso currently serves as the board’s chair.

The two opponents also differ on their outlook for the trustee role.

If elected, Goff said she will represent “the people down here” in American Canyon. She says the trustees talk more about representing Napa Valley College — to which Goff remarked: “No, you’re not. You’re representing the people who voted you in, and you’re working on behalf of them to make the college work for the community.”

Mancuso said: “While I represent American Canyon, I can only help American Canyon if we collectively work together throughout the entire district to bring all of the opportunities together.”

Then, there is dual enrollment — the issue that got Goff into the race.

Napa Valley College currently has three classrooms and an office at American Canyon High School to offer college courses to high school students.

Goff said the classrooms have been underutilized by the college, and that students should have more offerings that allows them to earn both high school and college credits.

“I want to sit at that board table and say, ‘I know what’s good for American Canyon’ — and what’s good for American Canyon is good for Napa because if I’m pushing for dual enrollment at American Canyon High School that means Napa [High] and Vintage (High) should have dual enrollment, too.”

Mancuso acknowledged, “My opponent is stressing that not enough is happening in those classrooms. But what I like to stress is what is happening” and what will happen with them.

College officials, according to Mancuso, are working on rebranding the three classrooms at ACHS as a new “South Valley Campus” for Napa Valley College.

Expanding dual enrollment will require a lot of collaboration, and it “is not as simple as one might believe,” Mancuso said. It is “not going to happen overnight” and no single trustee “has any influence over” it.

As for the campaign, Mancuso has been going door-to-door in American Canyon talking to voters, putting up lawn signs, and attending candidate forums.

“I feel like the community is behind me in my reelection,” she said.

Goff’s approach to winning has been similar, though perhaps with less enthusiasm for the rigors of campaigning.

The race has “shown me more and more I’m not a politician, that I can’t play the game,” Goff said. “I don’t want to play the game, and I’ve kind of been slammed for that.”

She would love to serve as a trustee, but if she loses, “I can handle that because the day after the election, I’m going to be in my classroom, which is my favorite place to be.”

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American Canyon Eagle editor

Noel Brinkerhoff has been editor of the American Canyon Eagle since 2014. Prior to that he covered state politics in Sacramento for the California Journal.