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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS

For Flynn, Tough Fall Test Awaits

The Ventura County supervisor, top vote-getter in his district primary, will seek an eighth term, probably against Oxnard's Manuel Lopez.

March 04, 2004|Fred Alvarez | Times Staff Writer

Facing his first real election challenge in more than two decades, veteran Ventura County Supervisor John Flynn began gearing up Wednesday for a November runoff against popular Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez -- a race expected to pit the incumbent's record of service against a growing push for leadership change in the mostly Latino district.

Flynn, 71, was the top vote-getter in Tuesday's 5th District primary, collecting 46% compared with 24% for Lopez, 76.

Oxnard Councilman John Zaragoza, who had strong support from law enforcement, finished with 23% of the vote, and community leader Arlene Fraser captured 6%.

But Lopez pointed out that together he and the other challengers received more votes than Flynn in the four-way race and said he expected a significant slice of that "anti-incumbent" vote to flow to him this fall.

"I knew I had a big mountain to climb just to get into the primary but now it's a completely new contest," Lopez said. "I would think people who supported [Zaragoza and Fraser] would be anti-incumbent, so I think there's a very good possibility we could pick up a good share of those votes."

Flynn is unconvinced. Seeking a record-tying eighth supervisorial term, the hands-on politician was studying precinct returns from Tuesday's balloting to identify areas where he needs to shore up support in the Oxnard-based district.

Flynn, citing his three challengers, said he was not surprised to be forced into a runoff for the first time since 1980. And while he has butted heads in recent years with prominent Oxnard leaders -- some eager to elect the first Latino to the Board of Supervisors in nearly 100 years -- he said he didn't believe his popularity with most constituents had waned.

"I think I made a super showing when you consider I was running against the mayor and a City Council person, that's what stands out," Flynn said. "The other thing that stands out is the terrible defeat suffered by the sheriff and the deputy sheriff's association. I'm sure the sheriff has got black-and-blue marks all over him this morning."

Indeed, none of the incumbents in Tuesday's primary was supported by the county's law enforcement establishment. Incumbents in three supervisorial races drew fire for denying a hefty pension boost for deputies and capping budget increases for public safety departments.

Still, even without that backing, the incumbents fared well on election day.

Flynn took the most votes in the 5th District despite a strong push by the Ventura County Deputy Sheriffs' Assn. for Zaragoza. In the Ventura-based 1st District, Supervisor Steve Bennett breezed to reelection even though the deputy sheriffs' union withheld its endorsement, citing Bennett's positions on public safety funding.

And in perhaps the sharpest rebuke of Ventura County's powerful law enforcement lobby, Supervisor Kathy Long was swept back into office despite strong support by the deputy sheriffs' association and Sheriff Bob Brooks' endorsement of her challenger, Camarillo City Councilman Mike Morgan.

In fact, Morgan was recruited by the sheriff to challenge Long, and the deputies' union spent more than $26,000 to try to get him elected. Instead, Long took 60% of the vote in defeating Morgan for the third time in as many tries. It was Long's largest margin of victory and an overwhelming win, considering she beat him by only a little more than 1,000 votes four years ago.

"To me [Tuesday's vote] is a strong message to law enforcement that the first responsibility of any manager is fiscal responsibility," said Long, who before Tuesday had said the election would decide who sets the county's budget policy. "I believe the voters felt that putting limits on the growth [of law enforcement budgets] was appropriate and the right position to take."

Brooks, however, doesn't see it that way. He said the incumbents succeeded in reshaping concerns he and the union raised about public safety funding into a campaign centered on the deputies' desire for improved pension benefits.

"I think they got that message across and that's what carried the day," said Brooks, who with Dist. Atty. Greg Totten is suing the supervisors over budget restrictions they say are illegal and put residents at risk. "I think if the issue was clear to the public that this is about our ability to maintain adequate levels of law enforcement in this county, they would clearly speak out because they support that."

The law enforcement lobby has tried before to express its displeasure about public safety funding through the electoral process.

Two years ago, Supervisor Judy Mikels fended off a law enforcement-backed challenger in her quest for a third term in the Simi Valley-based 4th District.

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