Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Bennett Announces Re-election Plan

By Daryl Kelley
A full year before the 2008 primary election, Steve Bennett announced Monday that he is running for a third term as the Ojai Valley’s representative on the county Board of Supervisors.
Bennett, 56, said he decided to start his campaign early to deter potential opponents in the June, 2008 primary.
“I have heard that opponents are trying to send a message that they are going to come out against me,” Bennett said in an interview.
“Well, I want to send a message early that I’ll have the resources and the endorsements to counter their negative campaigning.”
Bennett, a Democrat, said his campaign already has $110,000 in the bank, more than he spent in both the primary and general elections in 2000, when he won an open seat against two well-financed Republicans.
Bennett won that general election with about 63 percent of the vote, and then won re-election in 2004 with nearly three-quarters of the vote.
First indications that he might face a stiff challenge in next year’s primary came in early March, when an anonymous phone message circulated that accused Bennett of harassing county employees and causing costly lawsuits.
That prompted a district attorney’s investigation, since such anonymous messages are against the law. The inquiry is still underway.
Bennett said he might have been a target of an opponent for his nonpartisan supervisor's seat, because some Republicans consider him a potential candidate for higher office.
The chairman of the Ventura County Republican Party, Mike Osborn, said then that neither he nor his party were behind the phone messages.
But Osborn said this week that Bennett is a political target not only of Republicans but of Democrats.
“A number of people have expressed interest, but none has said they’re actually going to run yet,” Osborn said Monday. “I have heard there are two Democrats thinking about it and maybe three Republicans.”
He said he expects at least one of the Republicans to announce in the next couple of weeks. “You should give yourself a year to run an effective race, to be able to meet everybody in the district,” he said.
Like presidential races, the length of county campaigns has been increasing. And Osborn noted that a two-year effort by a Simi Valley candidate in last year’s race for a superivsorial seat.
Bennett said he’s taking the potential challenge seriously, raising more money than ever and securing the endorsements of numerous elected officials, including Supervisor Linda Parks, who appeared at his Monday morning press conference at a Ventura mobile home park.
Bennett said he has not yet sought the endorsements of other board colleagues. He and veteran Supervisor John Flynn, also a Democrat, have fought over several issues.
And Flynn said this week that there had been much discussion in political circles about strong candidates to oppose his board rival.
Flynn also criticized Bennett, author of a law that limits supervisors’ campaign spending to $175,000, for raising so much money so quickly.
“In the spirit of his campaign fund-raising law, he ought to give that $110,000 advantage up, so everybody could start out at the same place.”
In addition to his bankroll, Bennett said he has received early endorsements from four politically potent employee groups – the Ventura County Deputy Sheriffs Assn., the county firefighters union, and the city of Ventura police and firefighters unions.
He has also been endorsed, he said, by the Ventura Citizens for Hillside Preservation, a group that killed a huge development.
Indeed, Bennett’s support in District 1, which includes Ventura and the Ojai Valley, has been strong among environmentalists and growth-control advocates.
A former Nordhoff High School government teacher, Bennett was coauthor of the county's agricultural land protection S.O.A.R. measures. He is also a former Ventura city councilman.
Bennett said he’s running on his success as a fiscal watchdog in county government.
“When I came into office, county budget reserves were zero; now, they’re at nine percent and that’s after going through some tough times.”
Another cornerstone of his campaign will be promoting “sustainable envirnonmental policies,” he said.
He’s also campaigning on several key Ojai Valley issues: demolition of Matilija Dam to revive the Ventura River, change of state law to protect mobile home owners from soaring rents, and stopping gravel trucks from using states highways 33 and 150 as access points to the Ventura County coast.
“Certainly, those trucks are a threat to our quality of life,” he said.

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