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Lagomarsino Plans Move Out of County : Politics: The congressman ended up in a district with Rep. Elton Gallegly under a map being reviewed by the Supreme Court. Unless the boundaries change, he will go north to preserve GOP unity.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rep. Robert J. Lagomarsino, making what he called the “hardest political decision” of his 34 years in public office, announced Monday that he will move out of Ventura County to avoid a congressional primary fight with another Republican congressman.

Lagomarsino, a Ventura Republican, and Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) were tossed into the same congressional district under the political map being considered by the state Supreme Court. Unless the boundaries change, Lagomarsino said he will move north to a different congressional district to preserve Republican unity.

“It just doesn’t make sense to have two incumbent Republican congressmen running against each other,” Lagomarsino said. “This is obviously the best way to maximize Republican chances.”

Lagomarsino decided to move at the urging of Gov. Pete Wilson and White House officials who assured him that they would help him raise money and campaign for the open seat representing nearly all of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

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The 17-year congressman is not moving into new political turf. Since 1982, his congressional district has included all of Santa Barbara County and the western half of Ventura County. From 1974 to 1982, Lagomarsino’s district included the southern portions of San Luis Obispo County.

The decision may mark the end of an era in Ventura County politics. Lagomarsino, who has lived in the county for all his 65 years, is a direct descendant of one of the pioneer families that used to dominate public affairs in the area.

It also leaves Gallegly without a Republican opponent in the June primary for the proposed 23rd Congressional District that encompasses Carpinteria and all of Ventura County except for the city of Thousand Oaks.

Gallegly, a five-year congressman, expressed relief that the man who has been his mentor in Congress would not force him to move to Thousand Oaks to run against a wide field of Republican hopefuls.

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“It reinforces what I’ve been saying about Bob Lagomarsino all along,” Gallegly said. “He’s a great statesman who is looking out for the interests of the party.”

So far, three Democrats have expressed interest in challenging Gallegly for the Ventura County seat: Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Jack O’Connell (D-Carpinteria), educator and former congressional candidate Anita Perez Ferguson of Santa Barbara and Patagonia Inc.'s public affairs director, Kevin Sweeney of Ventura.

“I’m not surprised that he is moving,” said O’Connell, a popular assemblyman. “It has no bearing on my decision whatsoever.”

By moving north, Lagomarsino is virtually assuring a rematch with state Sen. Gary K. Hart (D-Santa Barbara). In 1988, Lagomarsino narrowly defeated Hart in the nation’s most expensive congressional race at the time.

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Hart said he was surprised that Lagomarsino announced his plans before the Supreme Court officially adopts new political boundaries in late January. “Everybody is running for different offices, moving their houses,” Hart said. “People are kind of in a frenzy.”

Hart said that Lagomarsino’s decision would not dissuade him from running for Congress in the same district.

John Doherty, Lagomarsino’s press secretary, said the congressman is considering buying a house in San Luis Obispo so he could live in a central location in the new congressional district.

Members of Congress are not required to live in their districts, but otherwise they can leave themselves open to the charge of being a carpetbagger. Lagomarsino also plans to keep his million-dollar oceanfront house at Solimar Beach just north of Ventura, Doherty said.

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This would not be the first political move for Lagomarsino. In 1981, a gerrymandered redistricting plan drawn by the late Rep. Philip Burton (D-San Francisco) forced Lagomarsino to move to Ventura from Ojai.

This would be the first move that would tear Lagomarsino from his roots in Ventura County, where his influential family has been involved in business and civic affairs for more than a century.

The decision to give up Ventura County “is the hardest political decision I’ve ever had to make,” Lagomarsino said in his announcement.

“Bob Lagomarsino is part of the historic fabric of the community, the descendants of the old guard,” said Judith Triem, the author of a book on county history. “People really trusted him in this county, particularly the descendants of this area’s agricultural families. It was the old way of doing things.”

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Politically, the move actually places Lagomarsino in a more solid Republican district.

Under the proposed political boundaries before the Supreme Court, the 22nd Congressional District has 4% more registered Republicans than Democrats. Republicans have only a 2% edge in registration in Ventura County’s 23rd Congressional District.

Lagomarsino has struggled for weeks with the decision, his aides said, finally relenting when Gov. Wilson persuaded him that his move would increase the chances of Republicans winning more seats in Congress.

Proposed Congressional Districts

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VOTER REGISTRATION 23rd District: 45% Republican, 42.9% Democratic 24th District: 45.1% Democratic, 44.6% Republican


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