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Bennett to Run for a 2nd Term

The Ventura County supervisor says he won't take contributions from special interests.

June 10, 2003|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

Supervisor Steve Bennett announced Monday that he will seek a second term, promising to fight to preserve programs for Ventura County's neediest residents while building the credibility of county government officials.

The grass-roots reformer also pledged not to accept any campaign contributions from public employee unions, developers or anyone who stands to profit from county government.

Distancing himself from such special interests is necessary to make the county board's hard decisions, the 1st District supervisor told about 100 supporters who gathered for his announcement outside a county social services building in Ventura.

"County government really is where we put our vision of community into practice," Bennett said. "How we take care of [needy residents] speaks volumes about who we are as a community."

Bennett, 52, a resident of Ventura, has emerged as a powerful reformer on the five-member board since his election in 2000. He led efforts to pass a new campaign-contribution law that limits donations to $600 per person.

He forcefully articulated the board's position in altering a public safety finance law, a controversial move that the county's law enforcement leaders are preparing to challenge in court.

Although endorsed by all of the county's major public employee unions during his first supervisorial run, Bennett has on occasion voted against them.

Those positions have helped Bennett earn the public's trust, said Ventura Councilman Brian Brennan, who spoke at the event.

"Steve is changing the face of local politics here in Ventura County," Brennan said. "He has elevated and brought dignity to grass-roots politics."

A primary for three supervisorial seats will be held in March. A runoff election will be held in November if any of the candidates fails to win a majority.

Supervisors John Flynn of Oxnard and Kathy Long of Camarillo have already announced their intention to seek reelection. So far, only Flynn has drawn a challenger, Oxnard Councilman John Zaragosa.

Bennett said he has raised $85,000 from 500 supporters in the last eight weeks, indicating that he will have broad support as he seeks reelection.

He told supporters he would continue to focus on a "hard-nosed approach to fiscal discipline" in a second term. County government finances have been battered for years by lean revenues and misguided policies, Bennett has said.

Officials from the county's major labor unions said they have not yet decided whether they will endorse Bennett or anyone else.

But the backing of the sheriff's deputies' union may be hard to get this time, said Pat Buckley, the union's president.

"He's actively gone after public safety money and programs," Buckley said. "When you try to reduce funding for people whose main goal is to protect women and children and to get gangs and drugs off the streets, that kind of conflicts with what our role is."

Bennett said he would appreciate the deputies' nod, but knows it may not be possible.

"I'd be honored by that endorsement," he said. "But I recognize it may be challenging for some of them to do that."

Bennett and his supporters addressed the crowd while standing on the shoulder of busy Donlon Street. Bennett said he had planned to hold the event in a parking lot outside the county office but realized too late that it would be filled. That forced the podium, and a stream of speakers, literally into the street.

"Now I really know why Steve invited me here," joked Robert Dodge, a Ventura physician who served as master of ceremonies.

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