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Democrats Fired Up at Annual Barbecue


It was a day of beans and barbecue, of a master of ceremonies in red, white and blue, and when Ventura County's Democrats were done, they'd skewered Republicans and rallied loyalists at the traditional Labor Day picnic in Thousand Oaks.

About 300 union members and Democratic activists joined in the annual celebration of working men and women to kick off the fall campaign season and spotlight their party's blue-collar traditions.

"This is officially the first day of going out there and kicking butt," said Democratic county Supervisor Kathy Long, who is running for reelection against Republican Camarillo Councilman Mike Morgan in a race that is officially nonpartisan. "And I am proud to have the support of all the major labor organizations in this county."

One after another, from the top of the local ticket to the bottom, Democrats at Monday's barbecue had the chance to polish speeches and line up volunteers to take their messages to thousands of doorsteps before the Nov. 7 election.

"It's a day that America returns to its roots. And as people who can reach back to our labor roots, let's not leave any working family behind," said Port of Hueneme Harbor Commissioner Jess Herrera, who wore a star-spangled flag of a shirt. "Notice this shirt is topped with a blue collar."

Hank Lacayo, county Democratic Party chairman, noted a Republican prediction of a clean sweep in local races.

"I have news for the elephants," he said to resounding applause. "You're in for a fight."

On the denim vest of Lacayo's wife, Leah, was something of a party platform, campaign buttons proclaiming: "Sensible Gun Laws," "Pro-Child Pro-Family Pro-Choice," "UFW The Struggle Continues," "Arriba con Gore and Lieberman," and inside a Star of David, the words, "Gore Lieberman 2000."

Two-term Rep. Brad Sherman, a San Fernando Valley Democrat whose district includes Thousand Oaks, told the crowd at Conejo Creek Park they need to keep the heat on conservative Republicans.

"I was one of Newt Gingrich's top 10 targets two years ago," Sherman said. "Well, I'm still here and Newt's gone."

Sherman pointedly endorsed two Thousand Oaks City Council candidates with strong environmental records, lawyer and activist Ed Masry and Councilwoman Linda Parks, even though they are not registered Democrats.

And declaring his race against Republican actor Jerry Doyle in good shape, Sherman donated $2,000 to the county Democratic committee and challenged loyalists to work hard to put a second local Democrat, Ventura lawyer Michael Case, into Congress.

"Isn't it a shame we haven't increased the minimum wage yet?" Sherman asked, referring to a bill stalled in Congress. He chided Republicans for backing elimination of the inheritance tax--"to lower taxes for Bill Gates"--while refusing to hike the basic wage for the working poor.

"We need reinforcements like Michael Case," said the balding Sherman, who handed out combs with his name on them.

In a race against seven-term incumbent Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley), Case is far behind in fund-raising.

But Case said Monday that he can win if voters understand how far to the political right Gallegly stands. Gallegly says he is a moderate on many social issues, but Case disagrees.

Gallegly was a Gingrich protege and is a longtime favorite of the National Rifle Assn. and the Christian Coalition, Case said.

"This is a battle of who's moderate and who's not," Case said. "I'm in this race because of the issues, and because I consider myself a true moderate."

Assemblywoman Hannah Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) weighed in for Case. She said Roz McGrath is facing a similar race against a conservative opponent, Assemblyman Tony Strickland of Thousand Oaks, in the 37th Assembly District.

"He's about as right wing as you can get," Jackson said of Strickland. And she encouraged Democrats to work for her too. The GOP has targeted Jackson's district, which includes Ventura and Ojai, and has pledged to support Republican Santa Paula Councilwoman Robin Sullivan with big donations.

Steve Bennett of Ventura, a second candidate for the Board of Supervisors, chastised his opponent, Republican businessman Jim Monahan, for not taking a position on Measure O, a countywide initiative that would wrest $260 million in tobacco settlement money away from Ventura County government and give it to private hospitals.

"[Monahan] doesn't know his position on Measure O," Bennett said. "He is not somebody who is prepared to handle the complex county government we have."

Lacayo said he sees the measure taking on partisan overtones, with Republicans supporting it and Democrats opposing it. Measure O was not popular at the Democratic picnic.

"Measure O is really bubbling up and causing consternation," Lacayo said. "Although it's nonpartisan, I see a lot of Republicans running for it. I'm completely against it personally."

Ventura County Republicans hold their annual barbecue Sept. 23 at Freedom Park in Camarillo.

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