Dems sweep Ventura County, Brownley wins 26th congressional district
By Michael Sullivan 11/08/2012
With the end of gerrymandering and the control of state and congressional districts put back into the hands of citizens, rather than politicians, red-dominated politics in Ventura County came to an abrupt end this week. With the exception of the re-election of Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, Democrats swept state and congressional offices in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, and thanks to voters in northern Los Angeles County, Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, managed to keep her seat in the 27th state senate district, though east Ventura County voters had chosen Republican prosecutor Todd Zink.
The real game changer, however, was the election of Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Oak Park, to the newly drawn 26th congressional district. Representing only small portions of Ventura County, including Port Hueneme, Naval Base Ventura County, Oak Park and a small section of Oxnard, Brownley was not a familiar name to those who would be voting for her. Having lived in Santa Monica for most of her tenure as an assembly member, only moving to Ventura County in February, it seemed like a long shot that she could take on the popular state senator, Tony Strickland. Known for his conservative policies, the Thousand Oaks resident had served six years on the assembly and was elected in 2008 to the 19th state senate district by a very slim margin over termed-out Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson, D- Santa Barbara.
It was a fairly unpredictable battleground, with only a slight democratic edge. Rep. Elton Gallegly stifled the competition for 25 years, carving out his constituents via gerrymandering and keeping a tight hold over Ventura County in the 24th congressional district, as well as the 23rd and 21st. But with the newly drawn lines of the district by the Citizens Redistricting Committee, the 26th district, representing much of Ventura County and now with a democratic edge, Gallegly announce his retirement in January and the seat was up for grabs.
Brownley said that she wasn’t planning on running for the district until Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett, who had announced his intentions to run for the race in November 2011, bowed out at the California Democrats Convention in San Diego in February to fight for his seat on the Board of Supervisors. Bennett, as of Nov. 8, secured his position on the board over retired Fire Chief Bob Roper by a 53-47 percent margin. When Bennett bowed out, Brownley said she received phone call after phone call from area democrats asking her to take on Strickland for the congressional district.
“I gave it a lot of thought and waved a little money at it to see if I had a shot at winning it,” she said. “I gathered more information and found that I had a fighting chance to win this one.”
With only two public forums, one at Cal Lutheran University and a less publicized telephone conference with AARP members, the only word voters got of the two candidates came from mailers and advertisements. But when it came down to it, the democratic edge proved to be Strickland’s downfall. By a 52-48 margin, Brownley was declared the winner on Nov. 7, with Strickland calling her and sending his congratulations.
Brownley will give up her state assembly seat on Dec. 5 and will be sworn into congress in January. So what will Brownley do when she gets into office?
“First and foremost, I will set up a staff that will best serve the folks in Ventura County,” she said, adding that she will continue focusing on issues that she fought for in California, like the California disclose act and the national federal disclose act. She also wants to work on overturning the Citizens United case — “There is so much money being spent [on these elections].” She also wants to work on No Child Left Behind, which is up for re-authorization in the coming year.
Brownley’s main concerns, however, are much broader.
“The larger picture is to put the economy back on all cylinders, expanding middle class, making college more affordable, preserving Medicare,” she said. “Honestly these are bigger, more macro issues that I have heard over and over again, that these thing most Ventura County residents are concerned about.”