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THE CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / A VOTERS' HANDBOOK: DECISION
'98 | Ventura County: Landmark Ballot Measure on Growth;
Congressional and Assembly Seats at Stake

Charges Fly in Final Spate of Campaign Mailers, Ads

November 01, 1998|DARYL KELLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As Ventura County's legislative campaigns push toward Tuesday's climax, candidates who once stressed their own virtues are now spotlighting their opponents' warts.

In Assembly races, candidates for two open seats are setting spending records on hard-hitting mailers and advertisements.

No less volatile is the congressional race between one-term Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and his millionaire Republican challenger Randy Hoffman.

In the county's second congressional race, six-term Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) has barely broken a sweat against underdog Democratic challenger Daniel Gonzalez, a Simi Valley lawyer.

State Sen. Jack O'Connell (D-San Luis Obispo) is also on the ballot in a marginally contested race against Republican businessman Gordon Klemm.

But the Assembly races have been the featured attractions.

The 35th Assembly District--which includes Ventura, Ojai and the Santa Clara Valley--is seen as pivotal to control of the Legislature's lower house. So both major parties have poured money into a campaign that may cost $2 million.

In a final-week assault, Republican actor Chris Mitchum called Democrat Hannah-Beth Jackson, a family law attorney, "a hypocrite" and "a disgrace to the legal profession."

In a flurry of mailers, Jackson painted Mitchum as a supporter of the "radical gun lobby," an opponent of a woman's right to have an abortion and a newly minted environmentalist who favors offshore oil drilling.

Both say the other has distorted their positions.

Mitchum says Jackson's too liberal for a district that elected moderate Republican Brooks Firestone (R-Los Olivos) twice before he decided to vacate the seat this year. Jackson says Mitchum's too conservative for a district that was Democratic for 20 years before Firestone won in 1994.

Mitchum's ads say Jackson is a hypocrite for opposing offshore drilling while owning stock worth more then $100,000 in two oil companies. But Jackson said the stock, which is actually worth about $25,000, was a gift from her grandfather in 1965. It has nothing to do with her support of a permanent ban on offshore drilling, she said.

Mitchum also said Jackson misrepresented her legal experience by claiming she prosecuted felons in the Santa Barbara County district attorney's office. She insists Mitchum got that wrong too, saying she handled rape, robbery and burglary cases.

A similarly prickly debate has enlivened the 37th Assembly District race, as the state Democratic Central Committee recently pumped at least $120,000 into underdog Roz McGrath's campaign.

McGrath, a 51-year-old kindergarten teacher, has matched former legislative aide Tony Strickland, 28, mailer for mailer. And McGrath has blasted Strickland, who she insists is a member of the "radical right," for his positions on abortion and gun control.

"Tony Strickland wants government to make your private decisions," says one McGrath flier about abortion. Strickland says he opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest and when a woman's life is in danger. Government money should not be spent on it, he said.

A second McGrath mailer features a child holding a handgun and describes Strickland as "a pro-gun extremist, bankrolled by the NRA." Strickland opposes new gun-control laws.

In turn, Strickland has sharply criticized McGrath for favoring development on her family's Camarillo farm while claiming to support farmland preservation: One flier asks: "Why does Roz McGrath want to develop pristine farmland?"

He has also chastised McGrath--whom he describes as an "extremist liberal"--for refusing to support student vouchers and competency tests for teachers. That is "Roz McGrath's curriculum for failure," one flier says.

After a slow start, McGrath's campaign has raised more than $230,000, mostly from the Democratic Party and labor union and education interests. Strickland has raised more than $550,000, with at least $90,000 coming from a conservative political committee backed by Camarillo religious broadcaster Edward Atsinger III.

The political temperature is just as hot in the 24th Congressional District, where Democratic incumbent Sherman is opposed by Hoffman, a Republican from Thousand Oaks.

In this race, the nastiness quotient has crept higher with every passing day. On Friday, the Sherman campaign accused Hoffman supporters of misrepresenting themselves as Democrats and calling on voters to punish Sherman. The same day, the Hoffman campaign said Sherman supporters were tearing down the Republican's yard signs.

Both Sherman and Hoffman have waged the bulk of their campaigns through the mail--which has proved to be expensive--and both have cried foul over how their record and political positions have been distorted.

"Absolute lies," Sherman said of Hoffman's campaign mailers, almost the exact words Hoffman has used to describe Sherman's political fliers.

This past week, Hoffman pumped nearly $200,000 of his own money into his campaign--adding to the $550,000 the candidate has already taken from his bank account. Hoffman, the former president of Magellan Systems Inc., a high-tech firm in San Dimas, has an estimated worth of $2 million to $7 million.

In the county's other congressional race, Gallegly was stuck in Washington for most of the campaign as a member of the House Judiciary Committee weighing an impeachment inquiry against President Clinton.

It may not have mattered, since Gonzalez has not mustered much of a campaign.

Gallegly, 54, a former real estate broker in Simi Valley, has cruised to six consecutive victories, and raised more than $600,000 to defend himself this time. Meanwhile, Gonzalez has raised only $16,000.

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