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Opposites in Supervisorial Race Hope to Attract Voters


One candidate is described by his opponent as a pawn of big-money interests, part of an "old boys' network." The other is branded as an "environmental extremist" who is beholden to county unions.

Indeed, few local races in November offer such a stark choice of candidates than the battle between Steve Bennett and Jim Monahan for a Ventura County supervisor's seat.

The two are virtual opposites on every front.

Bennett, 49, is an Ivy League graduate, an educator and the author of successful laws to limit growth and cap local campaign spending. He says the county is at a turning point and can either go the way of powerful special interests or follow his style of grass-roots politics.

Monahan, 65, owns and operates a local welding company and has served on the Ventura City Council for 23 years. He is unabashedly pro-business and a consummate politician, inspiring an intense loyalty among supporters. Monahan says the county needs to get its fiscal house in order and share in the national economic revival that he says it is missing.

The two have known each other for years, having served together on the Ventura City Council from 1992 to 1996.

Bennett says Monahan doesn't work hard enough, never bothers to study the issues and will do or say anything to get votes.

"People don't trust his abilities, they don't trust his work ethic," Bennett said. "There is no one I know of who represents the old boys' network like Monahan."

Monahan counters by calling his opponent an extreme liberal, a man in the back pocket of local unions. Of himself, Monahan said his two decades in city government have yielded a dedicated following built on trust.

"I've been elected six times and Steve's been elected once," said Monahan, who ran unsuccessfully for county supervisor in 1996.

As for a "good old boys' network," Monahan says he is simply a local resident with lots of friends throughout the community.

"I have deep political roots in this county. I went to school with these people. I can't go anywhere without people knowing me," he said. "Steve doesn't have that. I love this county more than Steve could ever love it."

The Ventura-based 1st District, which consists of 80,000 voters, also includes Ojai and a tiny portion of Oxnard. It has been represented since 1980 by retiring Supervisor Susan Lacey, a liberal Democrat.


Aside from growth and environmental issues, Bennett often speaks out on the corrosive influence of special-interest money in politics.

During his time on the Ventura City Council, Bennett sponsored a local ordinance that limited campaign contributions to city candidates at $100 per donor. If elected to the board, Bennett said he will push for a similar law for county races.

In the supervisorial race, Bennett has refused to accept individual contributions over $500 in the general election. As of July 31, he had raised $129,540, including $500 contributions from the county firefighters' union and the deputy sheriff's association. He also received $500 from Yvon Chouinard, owner of Patagonia Co. and a noted environmental activist.

Unlike his opponent, Monahan has no self-imposed contribution limits. He collected $177,920 during the last campaign finance reporting period, including more than $11,000 from Orange and Los Angeles county developers and business interests. He also received $2,200 from Christian conservative radio station owner Ed Atsinger III. Oltman's Construction of Ventura contributed $3,000, and Glenda and John Hammer, also builders, donated $4,000.

These were all dwarfed by the $20,000 dropped on the Monahan campaign by retired thrift store magnate Ray Ellison of Ventura.

Asked why he donated so much, Ellison quipped, "Because Bennett is a liberal nutso!"

Bennett dismisses such remarks as silly.

"My positions don't break cleanly between liberal and conservative," he said. "The question is where are we going to grow and how are we going to grow?"

Growth and development issues are at the heart of the nonpartisan contest.

Bennett has been successful in taking his growth-control initiatives directly to voters. The SOAR measures have been adopted in six cities and the unincorporated area of the county. The new laws require voter approval for projects proposed on farmland or open space outside city boundaries.

But Bennett said he supports economic growth within city limits, saying he advocated the expansion of Pacific View Mall in Ventura's midtown area.


Of SOAR, Monahan said land-use planning should be done by elected officials and not at the ballot box. He said he worries the county's strict growth-control laws may force some major businesses to leave.

He said Bennett would be better off pursuing his "pet projects," such as campaign finance reform and growth control, outside the system rather than as an elected official.

"He didn't work as a team player on the council," Monahan said. "He liked to go off on his own direction. He's promoting his own career. He's using the supervisor's race as a springboard for higher office."


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