Ventura City Councilman Erik Nasarenko announced this week that he was dropping out of the race for the 37th Assembly district, which now has only one candidate, Santa Barbara school board member Monique Limon. Nasarenko announced his candidacy for the seat in March. Last month, Bonnie Weigel of FOOD Share formally withdrew from the race for District 1 of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors; she entered the race in February. Incumbent Supervisor Steve Bennett is now uncontested. Both Weigel and Nasarenko relayed a similar reason for bowing out: not jeopardizing what they cared about the most. For Weigel, it’s FOOD Share and its mission to help the less fortunate; for Nasarenko, his family, his job as a deputy district attorney and his work as a City Councilman. Their entries into their respective races did raise some eyebrows. Some felt that by entering into politics, Weigel could compromise FOOD Share and deter donors while Nasarenko hadn’t even fulfilled one term on the council before running for another office. Despite the negative media, in the end, the rewards of the commitments they had already made seemed to supersede any current political ambitions. This change of heart, however, reveals the soft underbelly of local politics, or just politics in general.
With congressional job approval at historical lows (19 percent in May) and voter turnout in 2014 the lowest in over 70 years, plus the overall thanklessness of a job that comes with heavy scrutinizing, from live confrontation to online commentary, it’s no wonder so few are getting into politics, much less sticking with it. It’s a feeling of political exhaustion and disenfranchisement that must deter even the most well-intentioned political aficionados from throwing their hats in the ring. Unfortunately, those who pay attention the most, those who have passion and compassion for their communities and all of the residents’ best interests and those with a vision for Ventura County, those seem to be the ones who would rather do anything other than getting into the firestorm of political agendas.
As time dwindles down to the 2016 campaign season, Ventura County residents will be facing some change, with at least two retiring and others potentially moving on. Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, will retire next year as well as Ventura County Supervisor Kathy Long, District 3. For supervisor, there have been some murmurings that former state Sen. Tony Strickland, R, will make a bid, but given that he has lost his last two elections, it seems clear that voters prefer a candidate with a different point of view. It has been said that Oxnard Mayor Tim Flynn is considering running against Supervisor John Zaragoza, District 5, next year, though there has been no confirmation. Regardless of who runs in 2016 for supervisor, both Bennett and Zaragoza will term out in 2020. Will there be leadership ready to fill those positions? It has also been said that several Ventura City Councilmembers will not run again in 2016 or 2018. Who will be the next to want a seat on the dais? In Oxnard, if Flynn does run for supervisor, then who will be the up-and-comers for mayor and City Council?
The small pool of candidates has been a bit discouraging over the last several years, and that so few candidates have been really knowledgeable about local issues. Further, some who have said they want to get into politics don’t even know the names of local politicians. While there is still time for newbies to enter relevant races around the county, we hope that somehow there will be a reinvigoration in the democratic process, that some of our community leaders will discover a desire to run for office despite the hardships that may come and that Ventura County residents will be represented by individuals who care about the whole and not just their political parties or their own best interests.