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Scandal Provides Backdrop for Voters' Decision on 3 Seats


Ventura County voters, peppered with last-minute appeals, go to the polls Tuesday to pick three county supervisors in races dominated by an embarrassing scandal that raised questions about the quality of leadership and fiscal responsibility at the county Hall of Administration.

Also on the ballot are four contested primary races for the state Legislature and U.S. Congress, including a bare-knuckles fight between Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Northridge) and Supervisor Judy Mikels--ideological opposites who want to replace retiring state Sen. Cathie Wright (R-Simi Valley).

The final days of the campaigns have been punctuated by a flurry of spending as candidates in most races touted their best qualities, but some also appealed to the emotions of voters through mailers or newspaper advertisements.

For instance, Ventura City Councilman Jim Monahan weighed in with a large ad supporting the anti-gay-marriage Proposition 22, saying he is the only Ventura official publicly supporting it and declaring his 1st District supervisorial opponent, educator Steve Bennett, "wouldn't tell."

In Oxnard, supervisorial candidate Francisco Dominguez was forced to rebuff charges delivered anonymously in a plain-brown envelope that he had lied about graduating from college. A check showed Dominguez finished all classes necessary for a bachelor's degree, but the paperwork had not been completed. Incumbent Supervisor John Flynn said he knew nothing about the tip.

And in Camarillo, Supervisor Kathy Long, buffeted by accusations she was a principal architect of Ventura County's budget problems, responded with attacks that challenger Mike Morgan was responsible for a similar fiasco as a Camarillo councilman. Morgan said the 1987 Camarillo investment debacle was transacted behind the council's back by the city treasurer.

The quarter-page ad by Monahan, a conservative businessman, prompted a quick response by Bennett, a coauthor of the SOAR anti-sprawl initiatives.

"I think it's unfortunate that some candidates think they have to attack, particularly on issues that have nothing to do with county government," Bennett said. "He's bringing up wedge issues because he doesn't have any good county issues."

Monahan said his focus on Proposition 22 is legitimate, because so many voters have raised the issue with him. He said he believes Bennett's position on the measure, which limits marriage to men and women, would indicate his overall character.

"I just think that people need to know the type of people they are electing," said Monahan, who received a late contribution of $2,200 from Edward Atsinger III of Camarillo, owner of a chain of Christian radio stations. "Your character is important."

Bennett and Monahan are in a hotly contested three-way race with businesswoman Rosa Lee Measures, a former Ventura councilwoman with backing from the Ventura Chamber of Commerce, Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury and Sheriff Bob Brooks.

Monahan also has strong business backing, while Bennett is supported by environmentalists and numerous labor unions.

The 1st District, which encompasses Ventura and much of the Ojai Valley, has been represented by retiring Supervisor Susan Lacey for 20 years.

The Long-Morgan race in the Camarillo-based 3rd District is marked by recent claims of fiscal mismanagement.

A Morgan flier chastises Long, to whom he lost in 1996, for voting to merge the county's welfare and mental health agencies in 1998. That action indirectly resulted in a federal audit that disclosed improper Medicare billing practices that will cost the county at least $23 million.

Morgan asks voters to "bring financial stability back to Ventura County."

Long, whose $88,000 in donations is four times Morgan's contribution tally, mentions her opponent only sparingly in her six mailers. She focuses mostly on her record as a supervisor in a sprawling district that includes the Rincon, Ojai and Santa Clara valleys, Camarillo and part of Newbury Park. And she cites her backing from a wide variety of groups--from labor unions to law enforcement.

But she notes it was during Morgan's tenure that Camarillo had its own financial crisis.

"The councilman's own city lost more than $25 million during his early years in office when council members didn't know their own finances," a Long mailer states. "That's an experience we can't afford to repeat."

A third candidate, retired businessman Jim Shinn, has run a low-key campaign.

In Flynn's Oxnard-based 5th District, where fund-raising is relatively modest, candidates have generally been on good behavior.

Flynn has focused on his accomplishments during 24 years in office, while Dominguez, an Oxnard schools trustee, has cited his leadership of El Concilio del Condado de Ventura, a social service group in Oxnard.

But both Dominguez and Port Hueneme Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Arlene Fraser, who is challenging Flynn for a third time, have criticized Flynn for the image-tarnishing scandals that have plagued county government in recent months.

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