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Official's Residency Is Questioned

Ventura County Supervisor Judy Mikels denies opponent Jim Dantona's assertion that she lives in Tucson.

April 28, 2006|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

Judy Mikels has heard it all before. She's arrogant and inaccessible. She's not supportive of public safety. Each time, the 12-year Ventura County supervisor has beaten back the claims and remained in office.

But as her fourth campaign swings into the final weeks before the June primary, Mikels is facing a new line of attack: that she doesn't really live in her Simi Valley district and is coasting through her job.

Though Mikels has dismissed such talk as part of the pre-election "silly season," the theme was bruising enough that last week she invited reporters into her Simi Valley home to rebut assertions that she lives in her other home in Tucson.

Pointing to stacks of appointment calendars as news cameras flashed, Mikels, 60, said the allegations are the product of a dirty campaign.

"It's a bald-face lie," Mikels said of opponent Jim Dantona's assertion that she lives in Arizona. "If candidates can't offer something of substance to the public, they resort to bashing me. I don't think that's what the voters want to hear."

What Mikels did not mention is the uncomfortably narrow margin by which she kept her seat in her last election four years ago. In that campaign, first time-candidate John Lane, a retired Los Angeles police officer, received 48% of the vote to Mikels' 52%.

Her apparent vulnerability, and the chance to change the board majority on a number of hot-button issues, has drawn two well-positioned challengers.

Though the race is nonpartisan, the 4th Supervisorial District tilts heavily Republican, which has helped propel the Republican Mikels to successive victories.

Though Dantona, 57, has built his career as a Democratic political consultant, he locked up early support from several prominent Republicans in Mikels' district. He has also displayed impressive fundraising chops by amassing $123,000.

A second challenger, Peter Foy, 50, jumped into the race at the last minute and is little known in political circles. But Foy, who is a Republican, says he is prepared to spend up to $150,000 in the primary alone to make voters familiar with his name and message.

That's significant money in a district where the per-candidate spending in recent campaigns has barely topped $75,000. As of late March, Mikels had raised about $110,000 for her reelection campaign.

Mikels pledged to remain within a voluntary fundraising cap of $150,000, as did Dantona. Foy, who owns an insurance brokerage firm in Woodland Hills, said he will not abide by the cap because "it's going to take money to unseat an incumbent."

Dantona, meanwhile, is getting help from a powerful source -- one of Mikels' colleagues on the county board. Supervisor John Flynn, a longtime rival of Mikels, is taking an uncommonly active role in trying to see that his fellow board member is defeated.

Flynn has endorsed Dantona, and at a recent meeting urged his Oxnard constituents to donate to the challenger's campaign and walk Simi Valley neighborhoods with Dantona, according to others at the meeting.

Flynn declined to discuss his role in the election. Mikels contends that it is because she and other board members have criticized Flynn's handling of issues at the county-owned Channel Islands Harbor in his Oxnard district.

Mikels also called for a motion late last year, approved by a majority of the board, banning Flynn from meeting privately with Harbor Director Lyn Krieger because of alleged bullying.

Before last week's news conference, Mikels was running a low-key campaign centered on the county's return to financial stability after years of budget uncertainty.

She says her experience as a supervisor and, before that, as a Simi Valley councilwoman, helped her make the tough decisions to call for cutbacks and layoffs to put the county's $1.4-billion budget on the road to recovery.

Just five years ago, the county's emergency reserves were at less than 1% of the general fund budget. Today that figure is a little more than 7%.

The Board of Supervisors last year also settled a nasty legal battle with the sheriff and district attorney over budgets. Union members who walked off the job four years ago are no longer filling the boardroom with demands for higher pay and benefit packages.

Those gains didn't happen by accident, Mikels said. The board hired a disciplined chief, County Executive Johnny Johnston, and supported the tough cuts and layoffs that he recommended, she said.

She is running for a fourth term, she said, to ensure that the policies the board has implemented will be followed.

"The next four years are critical ones so that we don't slide back into bad habits," she said.

Among her goals are opening more specialty clinics linked to the county's successful public health system and revitalizing the aging Channel Islands Harbor.

Fighting over development proposals at the harbor has slowed the board's goal of bringing new business there, she said.

"It's a business asset of the taxpayers, and it needs to perform," Mikels said.

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