The race for Ventura County's congressional seat heated up Thursday when more than 100 residents signed a "We the People" letter deploring what they said was Rep. Elton Gallegly's "racially motivated politics" in an appeal for campaign dollars.
The signatures were collected by the campaign staff and supporters of Democrat Anita Perez Ferguson of Oxnard, who is engaged in a tight race with the Simi Valley Republican incumbent in the 23rd Congressional District.
"In a time when we must heal the wounds of yesterday, we cannot afford to ignore actions which may give way to hatred and prejudice today," the letter said.
Prompting the letter was a Sept. 28 fund-raising mailer Gallegly sent to an individual outside his district in San Marino.
In his appeal for contributions, Gallegly wrote that Perez Ferguson is a "hand-picked opponent" from the ranks of "ultra-left, pro-illegal alien groups . . . working feverishly to defeat me this year."
Gallegly has drawn criticism from Ventura County's Latino leaders for introducing a legislative package that he said was designed to control illegal immigration. Its most controversial component is a constitutional amendment to prohibit automatic citizenship for the newborn of illegal immigrants.
Latino leaders have questioned Gallegly's motives, saying the legislation appears like a racist appeal to gather support of bigoted Anglo voters.
Although Gallegly could not be reached for comment on the letter Thursday, he said earlier this week that his intentions on the issue have been misconstrued by political opponents. He vowed to continue his fight against illegal immigration.
"On this issue I'm not going to make any apologies for putting America first," he said in an interview this week. "I know in my own heart it's a major, major problem."
Perez Ferguson on Thursday called Gallegly's fund-raising letter "really sad.
"The whole thing we're trying to do is to pull the community together rather than tear it apart. My whole thing is building bridges."
In the fund-raising mailer, Gallegly reiterated his contention that illegal immigrants are a major cause of escalating crime and social problems:
"I don't have to tell you that crime in our neighborhoods is out of control, or that welfare payments and government subsidies drain off a huge amount of our federal and state budgets.
"But you may not know that these problems are related. Both have a common denominator--illegal immigration."
Sam Rodriguez, Perez Ferguson's campaign manager, said the letter generated outrage from everyone who was apprised of it.
Ojai businesswoman Rikki Horne, a Perez Ferguson supporter, then wrote the "We the People" response and telephone calls were quickly made to gather 111 signatures, he said.
The individuals who signed the letter attacking Gallegly included attorneys, doctors, teachers, retired people and city council members who live in the 23rd Congressional District, which includes all of Ventura County except for most of Thousand Oaks.
The signatures includes those of Ventura Councilman Gary Tuttle, Moorpark Councilman Bernardo M. Perez, former Moorpark Councilman Clinton D. Harper, county Democratic Central Committee Chairman Nels Henderson, Democratic Assembly candidate Roz McGrath, and former Green Party congressional candidate Mindy Lorenz.
On Wednesday, Gallegly unveiled his first aggressive attack on Perez Ferguson in a radio commercial.
He accused her of being a carpetbagger who moved to Ventura County earlier this year after losing a congressional race in another district two years ago. This was a reference to her living in Santa Barbara until May when her family bought a townhouse in Oxnard.
Gallegly also accused her of breaking election laws, including accepting an illegal $4,000 contribution during her first unsuccessful congressional race. The Perez Ferguson campaign returned the contribution this year.