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ELECTIONS / CONGRESSIONAL RACE : Ready Challenges Gallegly on Crime, Troops : Politics: Democrat probes opponent's vulnerability on conservative issues, claims to be better able to protect local Navy bases.


Proud of his conservative credentials, U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly faces an unusual challenge to his reelection this fall: His Democratic opponent attacks him for waffling on anti-crime legislation and refusing to support the commander in chief's decision to send troops overseas.

The Simi Valley Republican even finds himself fending off questions on how he avoided the draft nearly 30 years ago.

The political onslaught comes from Kevin Ready, a twice-enlisted officer and former federal prosecutor, who now lives in Ventura and works as an attorney in Santa Barbara.

"Gallegly is a hypocrite," Ready said, commenting on the congressman's opposition to military intervention in Haiti. "In 1991, he was more than willing to risk American lives halfway around the world to restore a non-democratic monarchy and protect oil reserves. Now Gallegly doesn't want to help restore democracy right off our coast."

Gallegly defends his position on Haiti, saying President Clinton has failed to make a case that American interests are threatened by events in the tiny Caribbean country.

As for his opponent's attacks, Gallegly is trying to ignore them. He said he plans to run a frugal reelection campaign against an opponent with little name recognition and almost no political cash.

"It is obvious he has nothing else to talk about," said Gallegly, 50, who is seeking his fifth term in Congress. "Here's a guy who is trying to double his salary and represent a bunch of people he doesn't know. He's lived here only a year. I think that's sad."

Actually, Kevin E. Ready Sr., 41, moved into a Ventura townhouse with his new wife and two sons from a previous marriage about two years ago. He lived briefly in Santa Barbara prior to that and holds a job as a senior deputy county counsel there.

Although Ready is relatively new to Ventura County, he has a long history of Democratic activism--and a brief flirtation with the Republican Party.

Twenty years ago in Colorado, he worked on Gary Hart's first successful campaign for the U.S. Senate. He aided Sen. Frank Church's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976. And in 1984, Ready ran unsuccessfully for a congressional seat in Iowa as a Democrat.

But Ready strayed from the Democratic Party in 1989, when he moved to El Centro to take a job in the Imperial County counsel's office. He registered as a Republican and quickly accepted a position on the Imperial County Republican Central Committee.

"He seemed to be a nice young fellow," said Harry Free, the GOP committee's chairman in 1989. "And there was a vacancy at the time."

Ready explains his switch this way: He was disillusioned by Democratic politics in Colorado and ventured into the Grand Old Party in search of answers.

He said he found none.

"I guess you could call me a born-again Democrat," Ready said. "I had my 40 days in the wilderness and came back into the fold."

For the most part, Ready's views are mainstream Democratic, sharply contrasting with Gallegly's conservative philosophy. The differences give voters a clear choice in the race.

Ready favors abortion rights for women. He supports universal health care for all Americans and strongly backs federal efforts to conserve natural habitats, such as the California Desert Protection Act.

Gallegly opposes abortion in nearly all cases, wants to keep the government out of the health-care business and voted against the Desert Protection Act and many other conservation measures.

On illegal immigration, Gallegly is one of the leading voices in Congress calling for doubling the nation's border patrols, creating tamper-resistant "green cards" and prohibiting illegal immigrants from collecting welfare benefits.

He supports Proposition 187, which would deny health, education and welfare benefits to illegal immigrants, saying it would eliminate many of the "incentives" that prompt immigrants to breach American borders.

"It should send a message to Washington that they are not dealing with our immigration problem," Gallegly said.

Ready, in contrast, opposes Proposition 187, calling it a sham by political opportunists that will do little more than promote divisive debate among Californians.

He said he supports "firm and fair" enforcement of existing laws and cracking down on businesses that knowingly employ illegal workers. He also wants to establish an officially sanctioned system to bring in foreign labor when needed.

"Gallegly's theory is that if you are cruel enough for long enough, these people will finally give up and want to go home," Ready said. He called the approach inhumane and unrealistic as long as jobs beckon workers across the border.

Gallegly is used to sparring with liberal opponents. But Ready, who calls himself a moderate, has knocked the congressman off balance by poking at what he sees as weaknesses in Gallegly's traditional support of law enforcement and the armed forces.

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