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Official opens reelection bid

Steve Bennett, so far unopposed as Ventura County supervisor, says attack calls led to action.

June 26, 2007|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

Anticipating the possibility of an "attack" candidate emerging, Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett on Monday kicked off his bid for a third term with a show of political muscle and campaign cash.

Speaking at a Ventura mobile home park, Bennett told a crowd of 50 that he was running again to cement changes that he has helped institute within county government during his six years in office.

But he could face significant opposition from people who are gunning to see him unseated, Bennett said.

Though no challengers, Republican or Democrat, have emerged to oppose him in the June 2008 primary election, Bennett said that "attack" calls made to his constituents earlier this year suggested one might be forthcoming.

The anonymous calls, made by computer, were sent out to hundreds of Bennett's constituents in Ventura and Ojai. The recording alleged that the supervisor was harassing government employees and causing costly lawsuits to be filed against the county. It urged residents to call the district attorney's office to investigate.

Dist. Atty. Gregory Totten said he was investigating the source of the calls, which are illegal.

"That's why we had to launch early, and we had to launch strong," Bennett said. "We will have the resources, the energy, the volunteers and the passion to keep moving forward."

His campaign treasury holds $110,000.

Bennett is one of three incumbents seeking reelection next year to the Board of Supervisors. Kathy Long, based in Camarillo, and John Flynn of Oxnard are each expected to seek another four-year term.

During his six years representing Ventura and the Ojai Valley, Bennett, 56, a Democrat, has emerged as an articulate and powerful voice of the board's liberal majority.

He has led efforts to change campaign finance laws, banish executive perks and rein in spending within public safety departments. Bennett favors strict regulations on building in the county's unincorporated areas.

As a coauthor of the county's growth-control laws, he has become a political target of home builders, who would like to see the county adopt more relaxed development standards.

The Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources laws require a public vote whenever development is proposed outside of established growth boundaries.

County Republican leaders have made no secret of their wish to have a conservative supervisor in the 1st District seat. But voter registration favors a Democrat, making Bennett hard to beat, said Mike Osborn, chairman of the Ventura County Republican Party.

"Anytime you have an incumbent, it will require an enthusiastic campaign," he said.

At the announcement, the supervisor was introduced by an array of public safety union leaders, city council and school board members from Ventura and Ojai, and community activists, who praised him as a man of integrity.

All said the former high school teacher is hardworking, sincere and committed to serving the common good.

Bennett made his announcement at the Sea-Esta Village Mobile Home Park in Ventura. He did so, he said, to draw attention to residents' fight to hang on to rent-control protections.

State law allows the owners of mobile home parks to abandon rent controls after a park is subdivided and at least one lot is sold. Bennett has worked vigorously this year to support state legislation that would keep local rent-control laws intact.

"This is the greatest transfer of homeowner's equity ... that I have seen in the history of California," he said to hearty applause. "We have to lobby night and day to get this stopped."

Bennett is backed by city and county police and fire unions, which is helpful in law-and-order Ventura County. He also has the support of the Sierra Club and other environmental groups.

catherine.saillant@latimes.com

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