Richard Blackston was an active Republican since he started a Republican club in eighth grade. But the Lodi resident says he struggled with what he considered a "private agenda" the Republican Party held.
"I continued to have this conflict until the 'Contract for America' came out (in 1994)," Blackston said.
He immediately changed his registration to the Democratic Party.
Blackston, 53, teaches severe-to-moderate handicapped students at Franklin High School. He has taught special education in the Stockton Unified School District since 1994. He previously taught at Galt High School and at Mary Graham Hall in Stockton.
He also serves as president of Democrats of Greater Stockton and the San Joaquin County Democratic Central Committee.
He lives in Lodi with his wife, former Lodi City Clerk Susan Blackston, who now holds the same position in Elk Grove; and stepson, Casey, 5.
Blackston responded to an e-mailed questionnaire from News-Sentinel staff writer Ross Farrow.
Q: What satisfaction do you get from your work at Franklin High?
A: Being a special needs teacher is difficult because you work with students who have a very poor track record of learning new and additional information. For some, it will take years to learn the most basic of information, and some may never understand what is being taught. But teachers and teaching assistants keep working to make it happen because it will allow that individual student to gain an increased degree of personal freedom over their life and future, something that general education students take for granted.
Q: How did you become active in the Democratic Party?
A: I was in eighth grade when I was asked to meet my state assemblyman and state senator to discuss developing a Republican Club at school. I was elected to the San Luis Obispo Republican Central Committee back in the 1970s. The highlight was working at the Republican National Convention in 1976 in Kansas City. I worked with the group called "Youth for Reagan from California."
During the convention, we were allowed unlimited access "behind the curtain." I experienced situations that will never be in history books. It was a turning point in my political development, and I spent a very long time thinking about the public vs. the private agenda of the Republican Party.
Q: How long have you been a member of the Democratic Central Committee? What is the committee's general purpose?
A: I started attending meetings about four years ago and was appointed as a member a few months later. My interest was to take all the lessons I learned with the Republican Party and bring it to the Democratic Party. I was elected chairperson last July.
When you become involved at a Central Committee level and higher, you take on a different view of campaigns and elections. We think in larger and longer terms. The day after any election day, we look to the next campaign, set of candidates, issues and election.
The San Joaquin County Democratic Central Committee is already developing our trainings, fund-raisers and campaigns for the next two years, but you have to remember the Republicans are doing the same.
That is the beauty of our political system in the United States. The political parties are working to develop the best set of candidates, issues and direction.
Q: Is this a paid position?
A: All my political positions and activities are done as a volunteer.
Q: How long have you been a member of Democrats of Greater Stockton?
A: Less than two years. I was elected president about 10 months ago.
Q: What is the organization's purpose? How does it differ from an organization like Greater Lodi Area Democrats?
A: The only real difference between the Greater Lodi Area Democrats and the Democrats of Greater Stockton is location, officers and members. In general, we are all the same with mild differences. Our main purpose is to promote the goals and objectives of the California Democratic Party.
Q: What is the greatest satisfaction you've had with either organization?
A: Winning elections. Democrats worked very long and hard to elect a number of local officials on school boards, city councils, and state and national positions. I am very proud of the work that was done by so many individuals in the 10th Assembly District to elect our Assemblywoman, Alyson Huber. She is an outstanding individual who will work with all citizens of the district.
Q: If you could take President Barack Obama on a tour of San Joaquin County, where would you two go, and where would you have lunch?
A: I have had the pleasure of being around six presidents or members of the first family, and Mr. Obama is one of them. As for where would I take him to eat, my first thought is to take him to my home and enjoy a home-cooked meal that my wife has prepared.
Q: When you're not teaching or politicking, what do you enjoy doing for relaxation?
A: Some of the best time in the week is when Susan and I can take our Husky out for a walk, or better yet, it is when she takes us out for a walk/run. It is a good time to walk, share ideas, complain about the state of things. It is also a great time to view the beauty of our region - the hills, creeks, animals, birds, crops, etc. I also collect plant seeds and bring them to school so that my students can learn how to propagate them and plant them in the community when they are large enough to survive.
Q: What is your favorite movie, TV show and music?
A: "The Jim Lehrer Report on PBS," the Animal Channel's "Growing Up" … and "NCIS." I enjoy reading political and historical books, and doing Internet research. I love listening to talk radio and hearing all the different discussions. The diverse opinions and thoughts challenge me to view ideas and concepts from a number of viewpoints.