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Ex-State Sen. Ellis to Challenge Killea in 39th District


Setting the stage for a political showdown between two veteran San Diego legislators, former Republican state Sen. Jim Ellis, pronouncing himself "recharged" after a three-year respite from government, has declared his candidacy for the seat now held by Sen. Lucy Killea (I-San Diego).

Ellis, who decided not to seek reelection in 1988 because of physical exhaustion, said Tuesday that the three-year break from elective office has given him both a new political and personal perspective as he prepares for a tough campaign against the popular Killea in the newly drawn 39th District.

Coupled with his legislative experience, that fresh outlook could enhance his productivity if voters allow him to resume his political career, Ellis said.

"I haven't smelled any roses (since 1988) but I have learned how to handle stress a lot better," said Ellis, who served on the San Diego City Council and in the state Assembly before being elected to two four-year state Senate terms.

"I was just wrung out when I quit. Physically, I was in good shape, but I was exhausted. I think I've learned how to marshal my time and energy much better. . . . I see now that I should have rolled with the punches, instead of taking it on the chin and nearly being knocked out. Now my batteries are recharged, and I am ready to return."

A major advantage of his candidacy, the 63-year-old Ellis argued, is that it offers 39th District constituents experience in Sacramento at a time when voter-approved term limitations, redistricting and incumbents' quests for higher office will strip the Legislature of some of its most senior members.

"There's going to be a premium on experience in the state Capitol," said Ellis, who was a naval fighter pilot and businessman before entering politics. "No other candidate for this office can offer such a wide range of legislative experience."

One of the major themes of his campaign, Ellis said, will be "government restructuring" aimed at reducing the state budget and eliminating duplication of effort via consolidation of existing programs and agencies.

Though that is a commonly cited but rarely achieved political goal, Ellis contends that his three years out of office have provided him with new insights into economies. For example, having served as a gubernatorial appointee on the Agricultural Labor Relations Board since 1988, Ellis said he has concluded that its duties could be easily combined with another state employees retirement board with no loss in service but at considerable savings.

"Statewide, there are dozens of cases like that," he said. "We have to stop perpetuating the growth of government."

A strong proponent of "sunset" legislation, which requires periodic review of laws and governmental boards in order for them to remain in force, Ellis also called for that approach to be adopted "across the board" in Sacramento with an eye to eliminating unnecessary agencies.

Ellis, whose former state Senate district included most of Killea's current district, said he believes his chances of unseating her were improved by her decision last year to quit the Democratic Party in order to become an independent.

That decision, Killea said at the time, stemmed from her frustration with a legislative system "gridlocked by partisanship and a selfish status quo mentality," and was consistent with her efforts to "deal independently with the issues of our day."

Supporters and opponents alike, however, speculated that political motivations also entered into Killea's decision, suggesting that she abandoned her Democratic affiliation in part because of her realization that redistricting could produce a conservative shift in her district's demographics.

The boundaries subsequently drawn by a special state Supreme Court panel--which the court itself is scheduled to act upon by the end of this month--gives Republicans a 46%-40% edge among registered voters in the 39th District, which covers most of coastal and north-central San Diego.

Given Republicans' traditionally higher turnout, that disparity poses a formidable though not insurmountable obstacle for Killea, whose understated style and nonpartisan approach traditionally have drawn strong support from both major parties.

Nevertheless, Ellis argued that Killea--who, like him, served on the City Council and in the Assembly before being elevated to the state Senate--might have undermined her Democratic base in an effort to attract more GOP votes.

"That 'D' or 'R' behind your name guarantees you a certain number of votes in any election," Ellis said. "By being independent, one loses that party identity. I expect that to be a factor in this race."

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