Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Jorgensen Stuns Demos, Gallegly Next Foe

Rep. Elton Gallegly, with aide Tom Pfeifer, at the OVN office last week

By Daryl Kelley
Longtime Ojai Valley resident Jeff Bennett swept to victory in a rare contested Superior Court judge's race this week, as County Supervisor Steve Bennett, who represents Ojai, cruised to a third term and a surprise Democratic candidate emerged to face veteran Rep. Elton Gallegly in November.
Just 24 percent of registered county voters participated in Tuesday's state primary election, with about half of the nearly 93,000 voters casting a ballot by mail.
Jeff Bennett, a chief deputy district attorney, received nearly two-thirds of the vote in a race that pitted him against civil lawyer Roberto Orellana of Santa Paula, an apparently strong candidate with solid qualifications and funding and endorsements nearly matching Bennett's.
But Bennett, whose wife, Dee, is a teacher at Ojai's Matilija Junior High School, received 50,734 votes to Orellana's 26,781.
"It's very humbling, I have to tell you," Bennett said Wednesday. "I think part of it is that it's a law enforcement county and voters were looking to support someone who supports public safety."
Bennett said he was also helped by a sophisticated mailing campaign that targeted absentee and frequent voters, and by endorsements by a host of top law enforcement officials, including District Attorney Greg Totten and former District Attorney Mike Bradbury.
Bennett said he might have gained a few votes, too, by what he did during rush hour election morning: Standing in the bed of his truck along Highway 33 in Casitas Springs, holding a big "Jeff Bennett for Judge" sign. "I don't do things like that," the usually serious Bennett said. "It made me feel great. I was saying 'thank you' to the people of Ojai."
In a less competitive race, Supervisor Steve Bennett, a former Nordhoff High School teacher, retained his seat on the powerful five-member county Board of Supervisors, receiving nearly 97 percent of the vote to overcome a nominal challenge by write-in candidate Jeff Ketelsen.
The incumbent received 16,352 votes compared with 547 write-in ballots.
"I've got three" top goals for the next four years, Bennett said. "First, is the budget crisis. With the state budget situation, we are now going to be in permanent fiscal crisis. And we're trying to hold together our safety net of (social) services. Second, we're trying to push environmentally sustainable issues. And we're really trying to focus on constituent services such as volunteer organizations Ñ -they'll need more help in this tough economic period."
In a fourth race with local implications, government teacher Ferial Masry won the Democratic primary in the 37th Assembly District by routing Camarillo businessman David Hare by a 2-to-1 margin. Masry of Newbury Park now faces Republican incumbent Audra Strickland of Moorpark in the general election. Masry lost to Strickland in 2004 and 2006. If elected the Saudi Arabia native would be one of the first Muslim women elected to state office in the United States.
The race for the 19th state Senate seat, though uncontested in partisan primaries, promises to be one of the best and most expensive in California this fall: Sen. Tom McClintock has been termed out and former Assembly members Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara and Tony Strickland of Moorpark are headed toward a general election match-up. Jackson received 47,825 in the Democratic primary and Tony Strickland 50,756 in the Republican primary, so their race could be close.
But the biggest surprise Tuesday evening was the domination of teacher Marta Jorgensen of Solvang in the 24th Congressional District race to see who would challenge Gallegly.
Jorgensen had dropped out of the Democratic primary race at one point, re-entering only two weeks ago after backers in Santa Barbara County complained that two Ventura County candidates, Jill Martinez and Mary Pallant, were ignoring the northern portion of the district.
Jorgensen, a former nurse, was stunned by her own success. She said she'd expected to get just a smaller share of the vote, but received nearly half: 46 percent to Martinez's nearly 32 percent and Pallant's 22 percent. Jorgensen, who had not campaigned much in Ventura County, even swept here, taking about 43 percent of the vote.
None of the Democratic candidates spent much money, so it's possible that Jorgensen's ballot designation as "educator" helped her, compared with Pallant's title of "insurance agent" and Martinez's as "businesswoman-housing developer."
Jorgensen, a member of the Sierra Club, has written screenplays on environmental issues and ran a private computer school for five years until 2006, when she began to direct a computer lab and student newspaper at a private school.
"We won!" Jorgensen said on her web site Wednesday morning. "We are humbled by this outpouring of support É Now the real work begins." She declined to comment Wednesday about how to fund her longshot chances against Gallegly, who has has always won by more than 13 percentage points.
Jorgensen is an environmentalist with a "green" platform and a fervent opposition to the Iraq War.
As for Gallegly, a conservative Republican from Simi Valley who is seeking his 12th term in Congress, this primary evening was a breeze.
He'd faced an aggressive challenge from Harvard-trained lawyer Michael Tenenbaum, who claimed the incumbent had abandoned his conservative roots.
But Gallegly, a former Simi Valley mayor, won nearly 77 percent of the vote, about the same margin as his 80 percent victory over Tenenbaum in 2006, and despite an anti-Bush backlash that has already cost three GOP congressmen their jobs in special elections this year.
"They spent a lot more money this time and basicly got the same outcome," said Gallegly in an interview Wednesday.
As for Jorgensen, Gallegly said: "I don't know about the woman on the other side. She said in the press that she hadn't been to Ventura County because it was too far to travel, so I was surprised she did so well here."
Gallegly said he doesn't yet know much about Jorgensen, but expects to spend all $900,000 in his campaign treasury making sure voters are fully aware of his positions and how they differ from hers.
"This was an overwhelming victory for her," Gallegly said. "That tells me that Democrats see her as a very strong, serious candidate. But I'll stay the course. It's worked well for 22 years."
Despite a narrowing of the Republicans' registration advantage to seven points, Tuesday's vote indicated just how high of a mountain Jorgensen must climb to defeat the incumbent: Gallegly received 36,618 votes (to Tenenbaum's 10,949), while all three Democratic candidates received a total of 32,059.
So Gallegly enters the general election campaign with an advantage of nearly 6,500 votes without picking up any of Tenenbaum's Republican ballots.
Perhaps the most compelling race for Ojai Valley voters was that for judge, in which Jeff Bennett became the third Superior Court Judge from the Ojai Valley, following Fred Bysshe and John Dobroth. Former Judge Arturo Gutierrez, who retired in March, also lives in this area.
Bennett, 52, also became the first local judge in a decade to be elected, since seats on the 29-jurist bench are usually filled by gubernatorial appointment. He was opposed by Orellana of Santa Paula, a graduate of nearby Thomas Aquinas College and a civil lawyer in the Ventura County Counsel's Office.
"My opponent was a gentleman throughout this process," Bennett said. "I have a lot of respect for him."
Both candidates were rated as "well qualified" by the county Bar Association. And both have been endorsed by a wide array of prominent local political and civic figures. Orellana spent about $55,000 and Bennett about $70,000 to get their message to voters.
Bennett ran on his extensive law enforcement experience, Orellana on his decades of work in civil and government law.
Orellana, who would become only the second Latino judge in a county that is more than one-third Latino, said he wasn't running on his ethnicity, but that the court should represent the larger community. Bennett said that while ethnic balance on the bench is a worthy goal, what was important in a judge was an ability to apply the law fairly.
Bennett cited 29 years of experience as a police officer, district attorney's chief investigator and the last 13 as a chief deputy district attorney.
"He is a person of fairness É and that is a hallmark of any good judge," said Bradbury, who hosted a fund-raising event for Bennett at his Ojai ranch.
Bennett is also known locally for his participation as a coach and referee in youth sports, as an amateur astronomer, and as the husband of Dee, a local physical education teacher, and father of Alison, a star college basketball player, and Andrea, a Nordhoff junior who is a standout in volleyball.

No comments: