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Politics Are Anything but Usual in Oak View

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For Thousand Oaks residents blase about the continual City Council bickering or Oxnard citizens weary of the latest City Hall machinations, the modest Ojai Valley community of Oak View offers an antidote.

In a refreshingly honest burst of political fresh air, the unincorporated community allows its honorary mayor to essentially purchase power.

“Real politicians lie about it, we make no bones about it,” said John Mikkelsen, treasurer for the seven-member civic council. “We buy elections here. . .We’ve turned the mayoral election into a fund-raiser for us.”

Anyone who attends tonight’s combined annual election, $6 tri-tip dinner, awards banquet, Miss Oak View and Miss Teen Oak View pageant, has the right to cast a vote for one of two candidates vying for the title of honorary mayor.

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Additional votes may be shamelessly bought by purchasing tickets sold for $1 apiece at the event. The winning candidate will lead the community’s volunteer civic board for the next year.

“You can vote as often as you want,” Mikkelsen said. “If you want to you can vote for your dead friends . . . . My wife’s going to be running so I’m going to buy maybe $5, $10 worth of tickets.”

The honorary mayor’s power is virtually nonexistent.

The mayor is a member of a board elected by people who attend monthly civic council meetings. But the mayor doesn’t lead the meetings--that’s the responsibility of the board’s president.

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“We don’t really keep track of [council] members,” Mikkelsen said. “We have a seven-person board, but anybody who lives in the area is a member. All they have to do is walk in and sit down and they’re a member.”

The civic council’s main duties include running youth activities such as an Easter egg hunt and the annual Pony Express Day that is held on Columbus Day weekend and includes a chili cook-off and horseshoe tournament.

The real political power in the community resides with the local recreation commission, which runs the community center. The commission members are appointed by the county.

With so little at stake, the election usually assumes a somewhat irreverent tone.

Landis Potter, the 1995 honorary mayor and a big Civil War buff, showed up for last year’s crucial election in full battle regalia, ready for a rough and tumble political war.

His rival--a 50-year-old sculptor, wooden bird house maker and Harley Davidson rider--turned up looking like a circa 1860s big city carpetbagger complete with top hat. In a savvy political move, Jay Paddock placed 3-by-5 inch American flags on the tables with the slogan “Vote for Jay” on the handle of each one.

“I believe I got 79% of the vote,” he said. “I was surprised actually. I voted once and I voted for my opponent.”

Paddock may have been the fortunate recipient of the closest thing to a political backlash Oak View has seen.

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Potter, a sheriff’s deputy, had won the previous election by placing fund-raising boxes in sheriff substations around the county enabling him to purchase hundreds of dollars worth of tickets. After that instance of “voter fraud” the electoral loophole was changed so that only people attending the annual dinner could buy tickets.

Still, Paddock took his job seriously. He served on an advisory board that held meetings for months in an effort to reach a consensus on whether body-contact sports should be permitted at Lake Casitas. He led 100 bikers on a parade through the valley. Perhaps most importantly, he adhered to his campaign slogan that proclaimed no taxes and a balanced budget.

“We don’t have taxes because we’re unincorporated and there is no budget,” he said. “So I can say I successfully fulfilled my campaign promise. I would say there’s very few [elected officials] in recent history that I’ve been aware of that fulfilled their campaign promises.”

Until a couple of days ago, Paddock was unaware a challenger would be gunning for his seat. Peggy Mikkelsen is a 52-year-old Navy program analyst who enjoys riding around on the back of her husband’s Kawasaki and has dubbed the election the “battle of the bikers.”

“I’ve always had political aspirations, I like being on center stage,” she said. “He doesn’t stand a chance against me. I’ve got lots of friends and I’ve been politicking like crazy.”

Trouble is, Mikkelsen hasn’t had much time to hit the campaign trail during the crucial run-in for the 6 p.m. event at the Oak View Community Center, 18 Valley Road.

Friday afternoon she had to go buy food for the event, then expected to spend today as part of the crew that cooks and serves the tri-tip meal for the 100 to 150 people expected to turn out.

“Sometime between then and now I’ve got to put together my campaign speech and some campaign posters,” she said. “I don’t know when I’m going to get it done.”

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