“I don’t belong to any organized party. I’m a Democrat.” — Will Rogers

When voters decided in 2008 to end gerrymandering in California, it was a great endeavor. Citizens, rather than legislators, would redraw state assembly districts that would best represent their communities. In 2010, voters amended the law to include congressional districts as well. This year, the new districts have gone into effect despite a handful of conservative politicians asking the courts to consider other options. (The courts recently decided in favor of citizens, not legislators.)

For Ventura County residents, this was a fundamental game changer as the new district boundaries would no longer preserve the status quo that would get politicians elected time and time again. The most contested local seat is the former congressional district of 13-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Simi Valley, which now excludes much of Simi Valley and some of Ventura. Along with the shift in the district came a shift in demographics of party affiliations for the area, giving Democrats a fighting chance to win the coveted position for the first time in decades.

With the new district defined, the announcements of local Democratic candidates running for office came rolling in: Moorpark City Councilman David Pollock declared his intent to run in August, Westlake businessman David Cruz Thayne in October, Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett in November, Oxnard Harbor Commissioner Jess Herrera in January, and environmentalist and educator Akiva Werbalowsky of Ojai in February. Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks, considered a moderate Republican but designated “undeclared” this election season, and Republican state senator Tony Strickland also threw their hats in the ring, although Strickland is so far the only candidate to have filed formal paperwork as of Valentine’s Day. (Stephen Schrader of Camarillo, Eileen Macenery of Newbury Park and Kimberly Rivers of Piru are also in the process of gathering of signatures to run for the seat. Richard Francis, co-author of the SOAR initiative is considering entering the race.)

There is much at stake now for area Democrats who have felt they lacked representation in D.C. In June 2010, California voters passed Proposition 14, the initiative that did away with partisan primaries and leaves only the two top vote-getters to battle it out in November. Because of the new law, there is no real shoo-in for the 26th Congressional District — especially now that Bennett, widely viewed as the front runner raising more than $241,000 for his campaign, has dropped out of the race to run instead for re-election as county supervisor. Some controversy had arisen when Pollock told local media that Bennett had promised to concede to him. Bennett announced last week at the latest California Democrats State Convention in San Diego that he was out of the race, stating that his heart remains in local politics.

As much as California voters want to be progressive and do away with partisan politics, too many still cling to their parties. With at least four Democrats in the race for the 26th District, there is a possibility that votes will be spread too thin among them, and Strickland and Parks may push the other candidates out of the race. With Bennett’s reputation at the county level and his Democratic party affiliation, he was the stronger candidate but it was a fight he wasn’t willing to get into.

Although we’re disappointed about Bennett’s withdrawal, we’re even more concerned about strengthening Tony Strickland’s potential, which, if he is elected, will more than likely lead to more of the same of what we saw under Gallegly’s leadership. We hope the local Democratic Party can organize in an efficient and effective manner and back one strong candidate to bolster a fair fight for a position that has long been seen as serving only a few.