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Incumbents in Trouble With Union

Ventura County deputies ante $161,000 to unseat supervisors.

August 01, 2003|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

Mounting a $161,000 political war chest for next year's Board of Supervisors race, the union representing Ventura County sheriff's deputies will back candidates who support public safety "not just in words but in action," a labor official said Thursday.

Representing more than 800 sheriff's deputies and district attorney's investigators, the union has already endorsed Oxnard businessman John Zaragoza's campaign to unseat longtime Supervisor John Flynn.

Two other incumbents up for reelection in the March 7 primary, Steve Bennett and Kathy Long, have not yet drawn challengers. But the union has made clear its unhappiness with all of the incumbents, contending they have failed to adequately fund public safety efforts in Ventura County.

"We are actively soliciting good candidates," said Pat Buckley, president of the Ventura County Deputy Sheriffs' Assn.

Campaign finance statements due Thursday show that the union transferred $72,000 to its political action committee during the first six months of this year, bringing the total to $161,000.

A battle over funding for the Sheriff's Department and district attorney's office has raged at the Hall of Administration for years. It gained new strength this spring when Sheriff Bob Brooks and Dist. Atty. Greg Totten balked at lower-than-expected budgets for the coming year.

The two officials have filed suit against the Board of Supervisors, alleging that the panel's approval of those budgets violated a public safety finance law that sets minimal funding levels for four law enforcement departments.

Supervisors responded with their own suit, contending that the funding ordinance was invalid because state law gave final budget authority to the county board.

Buckley says the board's actions demonstrate its unwillingness to adequately fund public safety, even though Ventura County residents consider it a top priority. The union will use its money and muscle to get that message out next year, he said.

"We already have our people out walking for Zaragoza," Buckley said. "We'll go talk to schools, community groups. Whatever it takes."

Finance statements show Zaragoza, an Oxnard city councilman, raised $21,000 for the filing period covering Jan. 1 to June 30. He received $600 each from labor groups representing Oxnard's police and firefighters.

Flynn raised $26,000 during the same period from many longtime supporters in his district. The veteran supervisor, seeking his eighth term, said he would abide by a $150,000 voluntary spending limit adopted by supervisors earlier this year.

He isn't surprised that Zaragoza beat him out for the union's support, Flynn said. The labor group is upset with him because he voted against a pay and pension package it had sought in its last contract negotiations, the supervisor said.

"I thought it was out of the question because it would have been too expensive," Flynn said. "But I don't think the loss of the deputies' support will make much of a difference."

In an early show of fund-raising prowess, Bennett raised $89,000 in the first six months of this year.

Bennett, who coauthored a county campaign finance reform law that sets spending limits, said he had to start raising money early because, under that law, the maximum a contributor can give is $600. His finance statement lists more than 400 individual contributors and a $4,000 personal loan.

Though a challenger has not yet appeared, Bennett said he wanted any potential opponent to be aware that he intended to run a "vigorous" campaign.

"My supporters and I are serious about this reelection," he said.

Long raised nearly $24,000, much of it from farmers and ranchers in her sprawling district, which includes Camarillo and the Santa Clara Valley. Long also loaned her campaign $9,500.

Long, who is seeking a third term, said she was not intimidated by the prospect of a union-financed opponent.

"It's been proven in this county many times that voters are not swayed by who has the biggest campaign account," Long said. "They are swayed by the candidate who takes a balanced approach to governance. And I will stand on my record and experience."

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