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Bits of High Drama Among Largely Low-Key Races

Rep. Gallegly said he'd retire and then didn't. Supervisor Mikels' style is attacked. Payments to Assembly's Strickland likened to laundering.

May 29, 2006|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

Ventura County's primary election season started with a bang when, on the last day to file candidacy papers, Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) announced he was retiring.

That unleashed a weeklong scramble that ended only when the 20-year congressman was persuaded to stay in the race by Karl Rove, one of President Bush's top political strategists.

Since then, Ventura County campaigns for seats in Congress, the state Legislature and on the county Board of Supervisors in the June 6 election have been mostly low-key.

One exception has been veteran Republican Supervisor Judy Mikels' battle to hang on to her Simi Valley-based 4th District seat.

Two challengers have aggressively attacked Mikels, saying she was out of touch with constituents after 12 years in office.

Democratic political consultant Jim Dantona in particular has hammered Mikels for missing too many meetings and for a personal style that he says is too abrasive for a public servant.

Dantona, 57, has even suggested that Mikels should no longer be considered a Simi Valley resident because she spends so much time at a second home in Tucson.

Meanwhile, Peter Foy, 50, a businessman who came to the race late, has positioned himself as a safe Republican alternative to Mikels in the Republican-leaning district. The race is nonpartisan.

Foy, who has ties to Sheriff Bob Brooks, has said his top priority will be providing additional funding for public safety programs in Ventura County.

Foy is also pushing for term limits for supervisors and would like to see county government limit its role in healthcare and social services.

Mikels, 60, has flatly denied Dantona's residency allegations as the work of a "dirty campaigner." She acknowledged that she has missed several meetings of the Ventura County Transportation Commission but said she is always fully briefed on what happens in them.

She points to the supervisors' success in reversing chronic budget deficits as evidence that she is fit to serve another four-year term. For the first time in five years, supervisors are considering a financial plan that does not call for cuts in jobs or services.

The supervisors have also made progress in replenishing reserves depleted during lean years.

A second race drawing attention is the Republican primary matchup between incumbent Audra Strickland and challenger Bob Larkin in the 37th Assembly District.

Strickland, 31, is seeking a second term on an anti-tax, anti-illegal immigrant platform that is appealing to conservative voters in a district that includes Thousand Oaks, Moorpark, Camarillo, Simi Valley and a portion of Los Angeles.

Larkin, 70, is a former chairman of the county's Republican Party. Larkin represents a moderate faction of the party that has struggled in recent years to gain favor with voters.

Larkin entered the primary race after Strickland and her husband, Tony, who is running for state controller, endorsed Dantona over Mikels in the supervisor's race.

Party insiders saw the Stricklands' endorsement of Dantona as retaliation for Mikels' decision two years ago to back Audra Strickland's Republican challenger, Jeff Gorell.

Both Stricklands withdrew their endorsement of Dantona after Foy entered the race.

Larkin has criticized the Stricklands for transferring more than $138,000 in campaign contributions over the last several years to businesses that they and a legislative staffer owned.

While the transfers were investigated and cleared by the Ventura County district attorney's office and elections regulators, Larkin has likened them to money laundering.

The assemblywoman said the payments were legal and are routine in Sacramento political circles. She accused Larkin of bringing them up only to divert attention from his support for higher taxes and benefits for illegal immigrants.

During her first term, Strickland passed legislation requiring the owners of exotic animals to inform authorities when the animals go missing. A second bill made it easier for seniors to get immunizations, Strickland said.

If she is reelected, Strickland said she will work on improving education and ending benefits for illegal immigrants.

In the heavily Republican 24th Congressional District, which includes most of Ventura County and a part of Santa Barbara County, Gallegly, 62, faces two challengers -- Republican Michael Tenenbaum, 37, a Westlake Village attorney, and the Rev. Jill Martinez, 55, a Presbyterian minister from Oxnard who is a Democrat.

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