Redistricting will be the deciding factor in whether Assemblyman Tony Strickland (R-Moorpark) seeks a third and final term next year or switches course and runs for the Ventura County Board of Supervisors.
"My first choice is to stay in the state Assembly," the 31-year-old conservative said in an interview last week. "I fully anticipate running for reelection. But no one knows what that seat is going to look like."
Strickland first expressed interest in a county post last month, after Supervisor Frank Schillo of Thousand Oaks announced he would not seek reelection to the nonpartisan seat. Supervisors are paid $85,000 annually for four-year terms and are not subject to term limits.
The 37th Assembly District now includes Moorpark, Thousand Oaks, Camarillo, Oxnard and Port Hueneme.
But once a decade, after the census is taken, new district lines are drawn at the county, state and federal levels to account for population shifts. State lawmakers are expected to settle on new districts within the next month.
Politics plays an important role in the process. In drawing new boundaries, the controlling party typically tries to shore up its power while undermining reelection prospects for the opposing side.
In addition to a Democratic governor in California, the Democratic Party controls the Assembly with 50 of the 80 members, and the state Senate with 24 of the 40 members.
Strickland has good reason to consider himself a target in redistricting, said Herb Gooch, chairman of the political science department at Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.
Strickland is chairman of the Minority Caucus. He briefly floated his interest in a gubernatorial bid. And he sued Gov. Gray Davis earlier this year to force the release of power-related documents during the peak of the energy crisis.
But Gooch believes Strickland is equally driven by other considerations.
"I don't think it's a matter of him simply thinking 'Well, if they somehow district me out, then I'd go to the supervisors,' " he said.
"He's got to be looking around and saying 'I'm one of what almost looks like a permanent minority. I can win this time, but looking down the road . . . there's nowhere for me to go for several years.' "
Possibility of Other Offices
While Strickland could seek reelection to the Assembly next year, term limits would prevent him from running for the seat again in 2004. His onetime boss, state Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks), is waging a bid for state controller next year. But McClintock doesn't have to give up his Senate seat unless he wins the other post. And if McClintock stays in the Senate, Strickland could find himself with nowhere to go at the state level at the end of his final Assembly term.
Strickland has said he would like to run for Congress one day. But longtime Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) has given no indication that he is ready to leave office.
Strickland acknowledged term limits bring some uncertainty. But he maintained that it is the immediate possibility that Democrats will draw him out of his district or slice out a chunk of his Republican constituency that has him thinking seriously about other options.
"There's a lot of attractive things about the Board of Supervisors," Strickland said. "You're one of five instead of one of 80, and you get to stay in the community. Now, I have to be in Sacramento four days a week, no matter what. Staying with my wife seven days a week would be a real positive."
Race Against Parks Could Be Costly
Although he spent years in Thousand Oaks, Strickland recently bought a home in Moorpark. To hold Schillo's job, he would have to move back to Thousand Oaks.
Still, two independent sources have told The Times that Strickland has conducted polling to see how he might fare in the supervisorial contest. The assemblyman declined to discuss any polling, but said his role as a fiscal conservative and his experience at the state level would bring needed skills to the board should he run.
Although no candidates have made their intentions official, Thousand Oaks City Councilwoman Linda Parks is expected to make an announcement soon.
A match between Parks and Strickland would likely be costly for both candidates and focus on growth. Parks has fashioned a political career of being critical of developers. Strickland says he is for "smart growth" that is balanced against the rights of private property owners.
His well-oiled fund-raising machine includes significant contributions from builders.
Tony Quinn, a political demographer involved in three reapportionment efforts in California, doesn't believe Strickland will be hurt in this year's redistricting.
"I think the Democrats in Sacramento have decided they do not want to fight about this subject this election year," he said. "Their members are worried there's an anti-incumbent sentiment out there because of the energy crisis. There's a strong desire to draw safe seats for themselves and to give Republicans who are not a threat to them safe seats."
In Ventura County, Quinn said, Democrats will likely want to bolster their lock on the seat now held by Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) by adding Oxnard voters now represented by Strickland. Taking Oxnard out would only make Strickland's district more Republican.
McClintock agreed. "If you look at his current district lines, it's about as bad as it could get for a Republican," he said of Strickland. "Move any of the lines in any direction, and it simply improves the chances for any Republican--and particularly Tony."