WASHINGTON — Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) regards former Rep. Robert J. Lagomarsino (R-Ventura) as a mentor and close friend. The two shared representation of Ventura County, served on the Interior and Foreign Affairs committees together and were political confidantes.
Thus, Gallegly was distraught when Michael Huffington ran a sharp-edged, $3.4-million campaign against Lagomarsino in a Republican primary in 1992 to unceremoniously end the lawmaker's long congressional career. Reelected himself, Gallegly professed suffering "survivor's guilt."
In the nearly two years since, Gallegly has not warmed to Huffington, the multimillionaire fiscal conservative and social moderate who is seeking the Republican Senate nomination this year, sources say. Gallegly's public comments about his congressional neighbor and GOP colleague to the north are tempered--but pointed nonetheless.
"I have not tried to be openly hostile toward Michael because of my strong feeling of respect for Bob Lagomarsino and the way the campaign was handled," Gallegly said Friday. "I try to separate the two things in terms of what we're dealing with on Congress."
But then he added: "He's not the first guy I go running to, to establish an alliance on every bill I work on."
Indeed, Gallegly, who has not made an endorsement in the Senate primary, said of Huffington: "I don't know anybody who knows him well. He's not a high-profile guy. . . . I haven't seen an awful lot of Michael Huffington."
To be sure, Gallegly and Huffington have fewer overlapping geographic interests than Gallegly and Lagomarsino had. Following the redrawing of district lines in 1992, Gallegly represents Carpinteria and all of Ventura County except most of Thousand Oaks. Huffington represents all of Santa Barbara County except Carpinteria and all of San Luis Obispo County. And they are not assigned to the same committees, where much of Congress' work is done.
For his part, Huffington said in interview that his association with Gallegly has come a long way after a rocky start. His assessment so contrasts with Gallegly's that it is difficult to believe they are describing the same relationship.
"Our relationship is excellent," insisted Huffington, who suggested Gallegly would agree. "He and I have a great working relationship and we are friends. He also happens to be friends with Bob Lagomarsino. But that's a separate issue."
To bolster his assertion, Huffington said he has signed on as a co-sponsor of six of Gallegly's bills--more than those of any other member. Half of them concern steps to crack down on illegal immigration. "Making a tempest out of a teapot doesn't fit here," Huffington said.
He said that in general he has worked mostly closely with his fellow GOP freshmen. A leading first-term Republican who speaks well of Huffington nonetheless said, "He hasn't really developed as many friendships as others."
For Gallegly, who still talks often to Lagomarsino about politics and other concerns, separating the personal and the professional when it comes to Huffington is clearly not easy.
"My deep feelings about the way that campaign was run are obvious," Gallegly said. "It's not the kind of thing that you quickly forget--something that you feel very strongly about."
Huffington's campaign attacks on Lagomarsino portrayed the 19-year House veteran as a tired career politician who had supported the sale of state-of-the-art equipment used to spy on Chinese dissidents during the 1989 Tian An Men Square massacre. Lagomarsino responded by calling the issue of the surveillance cameras "ridiculous and counterproductive."
Today, Lagomarsino remains bitter about the scion of a Texas oil and gas fortune who decided to run for the Senate seat held by Dianne Feinstein, a San Francisco Democrat, less than a year after winning the 22nd District congressional seat.
The ex-legislator provided no assistance to Huffington during the post-election transition and has taken numerous shots at the freshman in a monthly political newsletter that Lagomarsino and his wife, Norma, have published since September. And last week, the Ojai resident endorsed former Orange County Rep. William E. Dannemeyer in the Senate primary race.
But Lagomarsino's most eyebrow-raising gesture was to turn over boxes of Huffington press releases, videotapes, scripts and other materials to Feinstein's campaign in October. He said he did it "because I thought it would help the other Republicans in the primary, to the extent that anybody got (the information) out."
A day after endorsing Dannemeyer at two Santa Barbara County news conferences, Lagomarsino said, "I don't want to be completely negative (about Huffington), but I am." On Friday, he launched this riposte: "I feel so strongly that he is not a proper person to be a U.S. senator, let alone what his real ambition is, which is to be President."