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VENTURA COUNTY ELECTIONS

Long, Flynn Lead Supervisor Races

Bennett appears headed to easy reelection, while Audra Strickland is locked in a tight battle for her husband's Assembly seat.

March 03, 2004|Catherine Saillant and Steve Chawkins | Times Staff Writers

Ventura County Supervisor Kathy Long was handily fending off a law enforcement-backed challenger as the votes came in late Tuesday, while veteran board member John Flynn appeared headed for a runoff election.

With votes counted from 100 of the 3rd District's 124 precincts, Long was beating Mike Morgan by more than 20 percentage points.

Long, who had been criticized during the campaign for the board's moves to limit increases in the sheriff's budget, was gratified by the returns.

"I feel there clearly was a message that fiscal responsibility comes first," she said. "Everyone feels the importance of public safety, but if we can't pay the bills, that diminishes everything."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday March 04, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 50 words Type of Material: Correction
Endorsement -- An article in some editions of Wednesday's California section about the Ventura County Board of Supervisors' elections incorrectly implied that Dist. Atty. Greg Totten backed Camarillo Councilman Mike Morgan in an unsuccessful bid against incumbent Kathy Long. In fact, Totten did not make an endorsement in the race.

Long's seat had been one of two targeted by the county Deputy Sheriffs' Assn. The law enforcement group gave a combined $47,000 to Morgan and to one of Flynn's challengers, Oxnard City Councilman John Zaragoza.

Flynn and Long had voted against the powerful union's request for a hefty pension increase and also voted to rein in spending in public safety departments. Sheriff Bob Brooks opposed Long's reelection but took no position in Flynn's race.

Early returns showed Flynn with a 20-percentage point lead over his closest competitor. Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez was narrowly leading Zaragoza for the second-place spot.

"My whole approach was to keep John from getting more than 50%," Lopez said. "In November the turnout will be much greater and there will be more nontraditional voters. If it stays this way I will be very, very happy."

A third supervisor up for reelection, Steve Bennett of Ventura, appeared to be cruising to an easy victory over substitute teacher Jeff Ketelsen and write-in candidate George Galgas.

In another high-profile race, Audra Strickland was pulling to the front of a tight three-way battle in the 37th Assembly District to replace her husband, termed-out Assemblyman Tony Strickland (R-Moorpark).

Early balloting showed Strickland, 29, leading county prosecutor Jeff Gorell, 33, and investor Mike Robinson, 28, a former aide to state Sen. Tom McClintock.

"The voters agree with my economic blueprint for California in terms of creating jobs, retaining jobs and lowering taxes," Strickland said at a celebration in Thousand Oaks. She added that her marriage to a well-known legislator may have helped: "The Strickland name is one that they know and trust."

A fourth candidate on the GOP ballot, Eric McClendon, 40, was trailing far behind the others. The top finisher, with or without a majority of the vote, advances to the November general election against a Democratic challenger, if there is one.

Democrat Ferial Masry appeared to have received the 1,200 votes needed to get her name on November's ballot. There are no other Democrats running in a heavily Republican district that includes Thousand Oaks, Camarillo, Moorpark, Santa Paula, Fillmore and Ojai, as well as parts of Chatsworth and the Santa Clarita Valley.

Strickland and Robinson had each claimed to be the conservative choice while Gorell staked out moderate ground as a "Schwarzenegger candidate."

The supervisor races had been marked by arguments over law enforcement funding, particularly in Long's Camarillo-based 3rd District.

In her previous election bids, Long, 53, had enjoyed the support of the sheriff, the district attorney and the deputies' union. But this time around, they backed Morgan, 56, a candidate they had snubbed in the past despite his law enforcement background.

A retired federal probation officer, Morgan assailed Long for her votes to restrict the growth of the sheriff's budget and clamp down on law enforcement retirement benefits.

Brooks and Dist. Atty. Greg Totten are suing the Board of Supervisors over the budget restrictions, saying they are illegal and put residents' safety at risk. Supervisors have countersued, arguing that changes are necessary to keep law enforcement budgets from decimating other county departments.

Morgan contended that Long had committed fiscal blunders that resulted in reduced sheriff's patrols, the dismantling of the sheriff's gang-suppression unit and other cuts in public safety.

"Do you want your public safety to stay strong?" he asked crowds at public forums, suggesting that street crime would thrive if Long were reelected.

For her part, Long said the county had to set new limits on the sheriff's budget to avoid deep cuts in other areas. She said Morgan's law enforcement backers were effectively trying to restore the sheriff's budget by buying themselves a seat on the board. None of her votes had placed the public at risk, she contended.

"At every forum, I've asked: 'Do you feel less safe than you did seven years ago?' " she said. "No one says yes."

In the 5th District supervisor race, support for law enforcement took a lower profile. In that district, the overarching issue was whether it was time for Flynn to step down after seven terms to open the way for a Latino supervisor.

Flynn, 76, had clashed with several prominent Latino leaders in recent years, angering activists who were gunning for his removal. Lopez, 76, who has held Oxnard office for 26 years, was supported by the city's Latino activists while Zaragoza, 62, a third-generation Oxnard resident, was backed by many city and county employee unions.

As in his previous elections, Flynn relied on hands-on campaigning and his long record as a civil rights advocate to make the case for why he deserved a record-tying eighth term.

Lopez and Zaragoza both portrayed Flynn as ill-tempered and out of touch with the district's residents.

Also on the ballot was a $145-million school bond measure in Simi Valley and a temporary property tax in Oak Park to keep school class sizes small. Santa Paula property owners were also asked to support their local library with a new parcel tax.

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