Ventura County politics, or rather local governance in general, can be a wonder. It’s the lifting off point for many into higher office, such as Democrat Julia Brownley, who got her start running for trustee of the school district that her child had attended. She lost her first run, but persistence paid off, from her election as a trustee all the way to becoming a U.S. Representative. That is a similar story for many climbing the political ladder.
In Ventura County, running for County Supervisor has become a rather fierce and divisive campaign. For instance, in 2015, then-FOOD Share Director Bonnie Weigl announced her campaign to run for District 1, covering West County. Given her affiliation to the nonprofit and funding FOOD Share would routinely request from the county, the community became divided over her decision to run. She eventually withdrew from the race.
In 2016, Kelly Long ran for District 3 (covering Camarillo, Port Hueneme, Southeast Oxnard, East Oxnard Plain, Santa Paula, Fillmore, Piru, East Lockwood Valley and Eastern Portion of Naval Base Ventura County Port Hueneme) and won with 30,834 votes, compared to Carla Castilla at 28,959. The semi-quasi trick is that her predecessor, who served as supervisor for 20 years, is named Kathy Long — no relation. Although the position is nonpartisan, the difference is that the decisions by Kathy leaned left, while Kelly leans right. Kelly’s background in politics — Pleasant Valley School Board of Trustees — appears fairly neutral and typical. But a representative in her office, Matt Guthrie, was the director of CoLAB, a nonprofit dedicated to addressing overregulation of land uses and improving business relations in the ag community. He also served as the political director for Republican Jeff Gorell, who ran against Brownley and lost; and as a district representative for the California Assembly Republican Caucus. There is nothing wrong, per se, about party affiliation, but it did come across as opportunistic for someone having such a similar name as the longterm supervisor to run for office — especially given that Kathy and Kelly appear to be very different on their views on governance. There is a saying about birds of a feather when reflecting on Guthrie working for Kelly.
Now, the most interesting seat thus far is District 1, with Steve Bennett terming out after 20 years in the position. Bennett makes no qualms about his environmental activism, with policies and votes leaning left. There was, however, a big to-do during one 2018 Ventura City Council candidate forum about a response from sitting City Councilman Erik Nasarenko, who was running for reelection.
While there were prepared questions for the candidates for Districts 4 and 5, the audience was afforded the opportunity to ask questions during the forum. One question, asked by Michael Anderson, financial advisor and KVTA talk show host, appeared targeted for Nasarenko: Will you be serving a full term? Candidate Spencer Noren, ambassador for the Rancho Conservancy founded by the Atmores, Richard and Bonnie, formerly Weigl, was robust in his response about his four-year commitment. The rest followed suit, with the exception of Nasarenko, who simply responded that he didn’t know. At that time, he was completing a five-year term due to changing the election years — from odd years to even. Noren, who had been video recording the meeting, cut the clip out of Nasarenko and started a whole campaign about how Nasarenko appeared unreliable.
While Nasarenko has since been quiet about running for higher office, Ventura Mayor Matt LaVere has officially declared his run for Supervisor District 1. He is still in his first term. Noren, however, made it abundantly clear that he supported LaVere as Noren was running for City Council but since then, there has been no outcry over LaVere jumping from City Council to Supervisor. That seems odd since Noren tried to exploit Nasarenko’s noncommittal response about a full second term while LaVere hasn’t even completed his first four-year term on City Council before announcing his run.
There is much at stake when it comes to governing Ventura County, even the city of Ventura. When it comes to politicians, however, trusting words and actions to be linear is often foolish, and that is with any politician. We are concerned about the lack of transparency and consistency when it comes to many involved in and running the local political show. But it’s hard to convince the public that they should be privy to clear and concise information about those running for office when household names triumph over newspaper editorials.