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Assembly Race Pits Opposing Views of Moderation


Though their downtown Ventura campaign offices share the same block, the two candidates in the competitive 35th Assembly race are striving to show they are ideologically apart--but not too partisan for the middle-of-the-road district.

Democrat Hannah-Beth Jackson, who grew up in a GOP-voting family, touts her experience as a divorce lawyer and former deputy district attorney.

Republican Chris Mitchum, son of Hollywood legend Robert Mitchum, is a B-movie actor and a former vice president of the Screen Actors Guild whose latest role is that of concerned citizen stepping onto the political stage.

Where these first-time candidates disagree most is whether patients can sue their HMOs, how to combat juvenile crime, who should pay for abortions and whether parents should know when their daughters have them.

The combination of two relative unknowns with deep pockets running in an open district that is not strongly partisan adds up to a tight race. The 35th District covers Ventura, Santa Paula, Ojai and most of Santa Barbara County.

Even Assemblyman Brooks Firestone, the moderate Republican in Los Olivos who is giving up the seat and campaigning for Mitchum, says the race is too close to call.

"I think that Hannah-Beth Jackson is too liberal and too partisan," he said. "Chris Mitchum is more of an unknown because he hasn't been involved in the political scene, but I think he's probably perceived as being more conservative than the district would like.

"It swings all over the place--very independent," Firestone said of the district he has represented since 1994.

John Davies, a Santa Barbara communications consultant who usually works for Republicans, agreed that there's not much room for extremes in the 35th District.

"It's a seat for a moderate Democrat. It's a seat for a very moderate Republican," Davies said. "So if you look at it from that point of view, it's Hannah-Beth Jackson's to lose."

Jackson's party has targeted the 35th as one of 19 competitive races that it must win Nov. 3 in order to hold or strengthen its majority in the Assembly.

For the Republicans' part, they want to defend the seat and, like the Democrats, say they are willing to spend several hundred thousand dollars to do it.

All told, each campaign expects to spend between $500,000 and $1 million on the race.

Candidates Stake Out Positions

On health care, Jackson advocates a patients' bill of rights, including the right to sue HMOs.

"If there's no teeth in something," she said, "then there's no point in having it."

Mitchum favors the use of independent review panels to settle claims rather than the lawsuits that he says are exorbitant and primarily benefit trial attorneys.

Both candidates support abortion rights, but Mitchum does not back government funding for abortions. Jackson says paying for the procedure for poor women makes fiscal sense, saving the government money in other areas down the road. She opposes parental consent, which Mitchum supports, and parental notification.

Mitchum said, "There's something very wrong with our laws when they'll sit around and hold my daughter there all day long waiting to set her [broken] arm, but they will go ahead and perform an intrusive medical procedure on her without my knowledge and consent."

Both Jackson and Mitchum worry about the influence of gangs in the area and increasing juvenile crime.

Jackson supports rehabilitation programs; Mitchum focuses on freeing up more jail beds for underage criminals and keeping their offense records intact through their adult years.

Seeking Swing Vote

On paper, the 35th is Democratic. Of the district's 238,000 voters, 44% are Democratic and 36% are Republican. The swing vote comes in the 14% who decline to align themselves with a political party and the 6% who belong to minor parties.

Some of those votes may go to Eric Dahl, the Natural Law candidate from Goleta.

A sign that both sides realize the district's fondness for moderation, Mitchum calls himself "an independent voice for the central coast" in one brochure and never directly mentions that he is a Republican. Jackson also keeps her party affiliation quiet in most of her literature.

Further tailoring themselves to the district's population, both Jackson and Mitchum sprinkle their stances with a little bit of Republican, a pinch of Democrat.

Jackson boasts of her experience on women's issues and advocates "rational" gun control. But she reveres the Republican heroes of her 1960s youth in Boston, whose party she abandoned when it began shifting further to the right.

Mitchum is a National Rifle Assn. member and has the endorsement of longtime friend and NRA President Charlton Heston, but says he will consider bills that improve gun safety. He says he's an environmentalist, citing his involvement in an effort to protect the ocean.

Mitchum laments the percentage of local tax dollars that get sent to Sacramento, never to return. He says he will work to increase the amount of taxes that stick around to provide more funding for self-governance.

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