Ventura County supervisor’s race attracts outside money


Leafy Thousand Oaks is getting a taste of Sacramento-style politics with a partisan battle for a county supervisor’s seat that is attracting huge sums from the state GOP as well as development, oil, tobacco, insurance and Indian gaming interests.

Termed-out Republican Assemblywoman Audra Strickland has received a $250,000 boost in outside spending in her bid to oust incumbent Supervisor Linda Parks, also a Republican. And money is still pouring into the Ventura County Republican Party for a final push in the anti-Parks campaign.

Parks, who is seeking a third term, has also benefited from outside spending, primarily by public employee unions. But the sums spent by firefighters, sheriff’s deputies and nurses on Park’s behalf, about $25,000 to date, is dwarfed by the Strickland fusillade.

The race is on track to become the costliest supervisor’s contest in Ventura County history, raising concerns that the normally low-profile 2nd District county supervisor’s office has become a partisan minefield. The district includes Thousand Oaks, Westlake Village and Newbury Park.

“It’s immense sums of money for a little supervisor’s job,” said Herb Gooch, a political science professor and frequent debate moderator at California Lutheran University. “There is a lot of distortion and name calling. It is not very pretty.”

In a slew of negative mailers, Strickland’s backers have painted Parks as a tax-and-spend liberal who doesn’t belong in the Republican Party. The ads accuse her of mismanaging the county government’s $1.9-billion budget and approving a $3-million fund for services for the homeless at a time of lean budgets.

Strickland, 35, said Parks is hostile to the local business community and has done too little to help create jobs in a county with 11% unemployment. The Board of Supervisors needs a second conservative on its five-member panel, Strickland said, forcing it to move further to the right on fiscal issues.

If she wins, Strickland said, she would refuse to vote for any budget that includes new taxes.

“They are out of touch with what’s going on, especially with our economy,” Strickland said of the current board. But Strickland might have a tough time selling that argument to voters. While the state and many local governments are facing layoffs and massive budget holes, Ventura County has been operating relatively smoothly.

The chronic budget deficits of a decade ago have disappeared as a new board majority imposed fiscal discipline on department heads and began stashing money in a reserve fund. Previous labor unrest and bureaucratic infighting also have quieted.

Strickland argues that pension costs have risen dramatically in the last year, imposing a drain on the general fund, though the surge is driven largely by fluctuations in the stock market and not from any new benefits approved by board members.

Parks said Strickland is purposely distorting her record to hide the real reasons she wants the job: She and her husband, state Sen. Tony Strickland, are career politicians who see the supervisor’s slot as a convenient job for the termed-out assemblywoman.

Strickland considered the secretary of state and county treasurer/tax collector jobs before filing papers to run against Parks. She moved to a Thousand Oaks apartment from nearby Moorpark so she could take on the incumbent. Strickland said business leaders who have bumped heads with Parks over the years urged her to run.

Parks, however, thinks Strickland’s previous job-shopping shows that her opponent, aided by big money from Sacramento, is trying to buy a seat. Tony Strickland, in his first term as a state senator, is trying to win the Republican nomination next week for the state controller’s contest in November.

“Sacramento interests want to have that influence with the Stricklands,” Parks said. In addition to money from special interests, Strickland is benefiting from an infusion of cash from the California Republican Party. The state GOP has given $200,000 to the county’s Republican organization, which has funded mailers attacking Parks.

Mark Standriff, a state GOP spokesman, said state party leaders often give money to local chapters but don’t tell them how to use it.

Mike Osborn, head of the county Republican Party, doesn’t apologize for the heavy spending. “If she voted and supported issues like a Republican, we’d have no problem with her,” Osborn said. “But she doesn’t.”

Parks thinks another factor behind the big money is developers’ wish to make inroads in the potentially lucrative Ventura County housing market. Tough growth control laws championed by Parks now restrict most growth inside cities.

Strickland is a staunch property rights advocate and could push to weaken the county’s tough growth-control laws, Parks said. Strickland vehemently denies the claim.