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Gallegly Foe Has Own Party Probed

Brett Wagner, who lost a bid for a congressional seat last year, has sought an inquiry into a request by Democratic officials that he not run again.

November 03, 2005|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

The unsuccessful Democratic challenger to Rep. Elton Gallegly, beaten nearly 2 to 1 last November, has persuaded state party officials to investigate whether Democratic leaders in the Ventura County area inappropriately sought to have him abandon a second campaign.

Brett Wagner, who failed in his bid to unseat the Simi Valley Republican, intends to run again in 2006 but was approached by local party leaders who advised him to halt his campaign to make way for a stronger candidate.

"We have come to the inescapable conclusion that your continued candidacy is not in the best interests of our local Democratic Party.... We are hereby requesting that you terminate your candidacy and, for the good of the party, step aside in favor of more viable candidates," states an Oct. 3 letter hand-delivered to Wagner that was signed by 24 party officials and delegates to the 24th congressional district.

The letter admonished Wagner for his poor showing at the polls, expressed doubt about his fundraising abilities and questioned the veracity of several items on his resume.

Wagner, president and chief executive of the California Center for Strategic Studies, a nonprofit international policy think tank based in Ventura, said he had no intention of withdrawing from the race. He said the accusations against him were unfounded and suspected that several detractors who signed the letter wanted him to quit because he is homosexual.

"I'm not saying all of them did it because of my sexual orientation, but some of them did," Wagner said.

"This has nothing to do with him being gay; it's about him only getting 34% of the vote. There was nothing underhanded, scurrilous or character-bashing about the letter," said Sue Broidy, chairwoman of the Ojai Valley Democratic Club and one of those who signed the letter. "This should have been handled as an internal matter, but Brett overreacted" and made portions of the letter public on his campaign website.

Wagner has called on those who signed the letter to resign or be removed from office for what he considers inappropriate actions.

At his request, the state Democratic Party has appointed Bob Manley, director of the party's Region 14 in Los Angeles County, to review the matter after Tuesday's election.

"Nobody is going to discriminate against a person who's a homosexual if the party has anything to say about it," said Manley, who has not begun his investigation nor spoken with Wagner or those who sent the letter. "The party is never going to tell a Democrat he can't run, but he might not get the [party's] endorsement."

Manley, whose district stretches from UCLA through the Compton-Lynwood area, said that if anything unethical was found, the information would be forwarded to party committees for possible reprimands or sanctions. He expects the investigation to conclude by early next month.

Manley said the Ventura County skirmish was unfortunate but shouldn't harm the party's chance next year of opposing 19-year congressional veteran Gallegly, whose 24th District stretches from Oak Park north to Vandenberg Air Force Base.

"At this point, I don't think it's embarrassing," Manley said. "What's so unusual about Democrats fighting? That's what makes for a strong candidate."

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