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With Labor Day Here, Politicians Go to Work


While the nation's presidential candidates elbow for the political center, Ventura County voters will choose this fall among candidates with starkly different views on such hot-button issues as school vouchers, gun control and abortion.

As the traditional election season kicks off this Labor Day weekend, dozens of candidates will take to the stump, championing education, the environment, aid to working-class families and local control of tax dollars.

Holding center stage among local initiatives is Measure O, which would wrest $260 million in tobacco settlement money away from Ventura County government and give it to private hospitals. Some analysts say the nonpartisan measure is taking on partisan overtones, with Republicans supporting it and Democrats opposing it.

The most contentious races threaten to break spending records.

Steve Bennett and Jim Monahan--opposites in style and ideology--have already broken the record for fund-raising in a race for county Board of Supervisors, about $300,000 total.

And incumbent Supervisor Kathy Long is in an expensive brawl with challenger Mike Morgan, a Camarillo councilman.

Two Assembly races pit first-term incumbents who are darlings of their parties--Democrat Hannah Beth Jackson (Santa Barbara) and Republican Tony Strickland (Thousand Oaks)--against well-funded challengers, Santa Paula Councilwoman Robin Sullivan and Somis teacher Roz McGrath, respectively. Both races have been targeted as must-wins by party leaders, so spending in each campaign could approach $2 million.

"These will be high-dollar, competitive races," said Jamie Fisfis, political director for the Republican Assembly Caucus. "We view Tony as a real up-and-coming member. And beating Hannah Beth is absolutely a top priority for us."

For the first time since 1992, seven-term Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) is facing a serious challenge. But former Ventura County Bar Assn. President Michael Case, a Democrat who has stolen some of the incumbent's traditional farmer support, still trails badly in fund-raising since Gallegly has $1 million to start the two-month push to election.

In a second congressional race, Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman (Sherman Oaks) is seeking a second term in a district that includes Thousand Oaks. He is challenged by Republican actor Jerry Doyle of Calabasas.

And in a race for an open 19th District state Senate seat, Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Northridge) is stockpiling donations to defeat Simi Valley Democrat Daniel Gonzalez, who has raised little money and is fighting a State Bar of California suspension of his right to practice law.

In nearly every campaign, the candidates' positions could hardly be more different. But they have taken care to position themselves as moderate, or at least mainstream for Ventura County.

"The politicians are sifting out from brand X to whatever the brand is in the middle," said Hank Lacayo, chairman of the county Democratic Party. "They're all trying to be more human, Mr. Nice Guy. They've sensed the mood of the electorate, who are tired of the mudslinging."

Paul Leavens, immediate past chairman of the county Republican Party, said everybody's strategy is to capture the voters in the middle of the political spectrum.

"That's our push, and Democrats are trying to push to the middle ground too," Leavens said. "We're trying for the same set of undecided voters."

Council races in nine cities also offer an array of political views and a wide variety of professional experience among about 50 candidates. Consider the high-profile campaign in Thousand Oaks, where free-spending consumer lawyer Ed Masry, the real-life boss of movie subject Erin Brockovich, is one of seven candidates.

Mayoral elections will lead the municipal ballots in Simi Valley and Moorpark, where incumbents are seeking new terms. Four-term Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez is unopposed.

Trustee seats in two west county community college district areas are on the ballot, as are school board races from one end of the county to the other.

The latest round of Ventura County's anti-sprawl battle is being waged in the scenic Santa Clara Valley, where Fillmore voters will consider rival ballot initiatives and Santa Paula residents will decide whether their small city should expand into a huge cattle-grazing canyon north of town.

Ventura voters, meanwhile, will decide whether to build a regional park on 100 acres of protected farmland.

Two statewide initiatives expected to grab local interest include Proposition 38, which would allow parents to use state-paid school vouchers in private schools, and Proposition 39, which would lower the vote needed to increase property taxes for school bonds from a two-thirds super majority to 55%.

A third proposition would punish first-time drug offenders guilty of simple possession with counseling instead of jail.

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