Democratic Ventura attorney Michael Case will challenge Rep. Elton Gallegly next year in a race that pits the next president of the county bar association against a Republican who has cruised to reelection six times since surprising Bob Hope's son in 1986.
Case, a 52-year-old political neophyte, said Thursday that he will formally announce his run for Congress at a news conference next week.
"I don't think Elton's views are any longer in sync with the majority in this county," said Case, a founding partner of Ventura's largest law firm. "Elton is a conservative whose positions are right of the voters."
Meanwhile, two other Democrats who had considered a run in the 23rd Congressional District are bowing out. The district includes Carpinteria and all of Ventura County except Thousand Oaks.
Former Ventura Mayor Richard Francis, co-author of the SOAR open space initiatives that swept to victory last fall, said he still thinks he could beat Gallegly but won't run because of the cost to his family and law firm.
"I think Case is a good candidate," Francis said. "I had the name recognition, but no money. He has the money, but no name recognition. Money can buy you name recognition."
Daniel Gonzalez, a Simi Valley lawyer who lost badly to Gallegly last year, said he won't try again. Instead, he is considering a run for the state Senate seat Cathie Wright will vacate next year.
Gallegly, 55, a onetime real estate broker and former Simi Valley mayor, hasn't really been tested since 1992, when Anita Perez Ferguson spent $750,000 but still lost 54% to 42%.
Although Democrats have a slight edge in voter registration, Gallegly has swept away all challengers since he overwhelmed Tony Hope, who had both money and name recognition, by 16 percentage points in the Republican primary in 1986.
"You don't get reelected six times unless you do things right," Gallegly said. "I do what I promise to do. And my voting record shows I am a moderate conservative. I have dealt with many social issues more moderately than some of my colleagues."
As for Case, Gallegly said the lawyer is an unknown.
"I've not heard of this man before," Gallegly said. "So it's pretty hard to say what it will take to deal with him."
Case said he expects to raise $750,000 for his campaign, including up to $100,000 of his own money. Gallegly said he already has about $750,000 in his campaign account.
Aside from finances, Case said Gallegly is vulnerable, to him in particular, because of Case's moderate politics and his affinity and understanding of people in business.
"I'm a business and real estate lawyer, and some of my clients are the same people he looks to for votes," Case said. "I'm not a force to be feared. I'm a Democrat that even a Republican can vote for."
Gallegly is also vulnerable, Case said, because the incumbent's positions on abortion, gun control, illegal immigration and the Clinton impeachment fly in the face of his constituents.
"His are the politics of division," Case said.
Case said he supports a woman's right to choose an abortion. Gallegly said he has consistently opposed spending federal dollars on abortions but supports the law that allows them.
Case says that Gallegly has long espoused the positions of the National Rifle Assn. in opposing gun control. Congress needs to further restrict the sale of guns, especially assault weapons and armor-piercing bullets, Case said.
"I realize there are some traditions of guns being available, but I think we've gone too far," Case said.
Gallegly responded: "If he doesn't believe in the 2nd Amendment, that's his right."
Case said Gallegly's years-long crackdown on illegal immigration has created needless rifts between races and ethnic groups.
"Latinos are feeling the focus of this whether they're here legally or not," Case said. "Gallegly's zealousness in this area has created more problems than it has cured."
Gallegly said he is a strong supporter of immigrants and that his office spends about 70% of its time assisting new American residents who come here lawfully.
"When he starts playing race, I say walk into my office unannounced and sit down and see all of the things we do every day for the people of this county," Gallegly said. "The work we've done for immigrants has been excellent."
Case also takes Gallegly to task for voting for Clinton's impeachment--a move Case considers a harmful party-line power play. Clinton's actions were wrong, Case said, but should not have prompted impeachment.
"I firmly believe he knew how he was going to vote all along," Case said.
Gallegly, the only nonlawyer on the House Judiciary Committee, said he sat through all testimony as an open-minded juror.
"How does he know what's on my mind? That's lawyer talk," Gallegly said. "That's the kind of statement that disappoints people about lawyers, why lawyers have the reputation they have."
When Case formally kicks off his campaign next week, he said, he will emphasize his own professional qualifications and personal history, as well as Gallegly's perceived shortcomings.
A farmer's son from the San Joaquin Valley, Case was student body president at Fresno State College and graduated with honors from Hastings College of Law at the University of California in 1971. He was a captain in the Air Force, practiced civil law in Fresno and taught at a Fresno law school before moving to Ventura County in 1979.
Case co-founded a three-lawyer Ventura firm in 1981 that has grown to 16 attorneys. He has held numerous offices in the county bar association and served on the State Bar of California Board of Governors in 1993-96. He is currently one of four lawyers on the California Judicial Council, which oversees the performance of the state's trial and appellate courts.
Case includes in his list of community activities directorships at Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura, the Ventura Police Activities League, the Ventura Education Partnership and the local chapter of the American Cancer Society.