Ventura County at a crossroads

Ventura County at a crossroads

Redrawn district may realign political direction

By Joan Trossman Bien 10/18/2012


On Nov. 6, voters in Ventura County will get a chance to choose between two very different candidates to represent the area in Congress. Without an incumbent in the race for the first time in a generation, the interest in this race is high as far away as Washington, D.C.

Democrat Julia Brownley and Republican Tony Strickland are battling to represent the newly reconstituted 26th Congressional District. Not only will the winner decide which direction the new district will take, conservative or liberal, but the national political climate has made this swing district one of the most important House races in the country. Most of the redrawn district had been represented by Republican Elton Gallegly for 26 years.

Jose Marichal is a professor of political science at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.  He said the race between these two candidates is well-balanced.

“Both are solid, experienced public servants,” he said. “As an open seat in a new district, it is one of the few legitimate toss-up races in the nation.”


Polar opposites

Tony Strickland lives in Moorpark, where he was first elected to the state Assembly in 1998. He then was elected to the state Senate in 2008 over Democrat and former Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson. Additionally, he has twice failed to be elected as state controller.

Strickland’s campaign was contacted three times for interviews but failed to respond to the requests.

Strickland has established a reputation as a staunch conservative, adhering to the philosophy not only of the California Republican Party but also to the “no new taxes” pledge to the unelected conservative Grover Norquist. The web page of
Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, from 2004 reads: “Tony Strickland, a Republican, recently signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge sponsored by Americans for Tax Reform. The Pledge commits signers to ‘oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses ... and oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.’ ”

The state pledge has since added, “I will oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.”

Politics has been Strickland’s profession since he was in his mid-20s. Republicans see him as a rising star. Democrats see him as inflexible and politically shrewd. Nearly everyone acknowledges that Tony Strickland has become a conservative powerhouse.

Strickland co-founded the California Club for Growth. It is a branch of the national Club for Growth, an ultraright-wing organization that hews to the Grover Norquist concept of never raising taxes, no matter the need. Its members say it is better to shrink the size of what they perceive as a bloated and power-hungry government. They also advocate privatizing most of its obligations.

The Club for Growth uses the term RINO or Republicans in Name Only for fellow Republicans who are not conservative enough. That includes Republicans who are willing to work with others across the aisle in order to find a compromise. Those who do so have been targeted to be voted out of their jobs.

The Club for Growth also labels opposition politicians as “comrade of the month” in a blatant reference to Communism. It is described on the group’s website:  “The Club’s Comrade of the Month Award is given to the politician or public figure who best embodies big-government policies and restrictions on economic growth.” President Obama was so designated in 2009.

Julia Brownley began her career in public service when she joined the PTA. That experience led to serving on the local school board for several years. In 2006, she was elected to the Assembly, where she became a leader on education and environmental issues.


Mailers from Republican Sen. Tony Strickland’s camp calls out accusations made by Democratic Assemblywoman Julia Brownley.

Lenny Young is Brownley’s campaign manager, and he emphasized her passion for education. “We’ve allowed education to fall off the radar a little bit as a national priority. Her broad focus would be making education a national priority again.”

Young said that Brownley will represent Ventura County’s interests more accurately than her opponent. “She has shown herself to be someone who is about moving things forward rather than about campaigning, which Tony Strickland seems to be largely about. He seems to want to run for every opportunity that presents itself. Julia Brownley simply wants to go to Congress and represent Ventura County.”, a nonpartisan nonprofit that tracks politics and elections, looked at 2008 through 2012 and named Tony Strickland as the California politician who was the recipient of the most campaign contributions in the state. He received a total of nearly $5.93 million from corporations and industry.

During the same time period, Brownley received $129,050 from corporations and industry. The bulk of Brownley’s campaign contributions have been from private contributors, something that does not track.

Strickland’s largest contributing group was the insurance industry, which gave him a combined total of $170,257 during this time period. Brownley received a little less than $40,000 from her largest supporting sector, which were public unions.

Young said that Strickland took two contributions from New York bankers well after the deadline had passed for accepting contributions for the primaries. Brownley’s campaign has filed a complaint about that issue with the SEC.

“The bigger picture is that he took $27,000 from the banking industry before voting against the homeowners of Ventura County, the Homeowner’s Bill of Rights,” Young said. “We think that is a pretty good example of why he doesn’t represent the interests of the residents but instead represents the interests of special interests.”

Steve Barkan of SG&A Consultants represents Brownley and agrees with Young. “There’s a pay-to-play element to it,” he said. “Some of Strickland’s positions are extreme, ideologically, and others are too extreme because he is doing it on behalf of his big contributors.”

Barkan is referring to two related occurrences. In 2006, Intuit, makers of Turbo Tax, made an independent expenditure of one million dollars to support Strickland’s bid for State Controller. He lost to the current controller, John Chiang.

In 2009, Intuit wanted the state to stop offering free tax software to low income residents and have them pay for the Turbo Tax program instead. When this did not happen, Strickland joined the Republican block of legislators in their refusal to even vote on 20 different and unrelated bills. Those bills all died. Among them was a bill to keep shelters open for victims of domestic violence, one to help counties prepare for the next outbreak of swine flu (that was the year of H1N1), and another to help make borrowing easier for cities and counties. quotes Strickland on why he supported a tax program that cost money instead one that was free. “I’ve always thought it was wrong to use taxpayer dollars to compete with private enterprise.”


The one and only debate

The candidates battled over the issues during the one debate of this election. It was held at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks on Oct. 2 in front of a full house of invited guests and media.

Opening statements by both candidates clearly outlined their different priorities and styles. Brownley was serious and focused on what she was going to say. Strickland appeared to have a folksiness, peppering his politics with family stories. During the debate, he pointed out six or seven times that he grew up locally and that Brownley recently moved to Ventura County, saying that he didn’t need MapQuest to find the debate hall.


Photo by Heber Pelayo
Strickland and Brownley participated in a debate Oct. 2. It will be their only debate for the entire election season.


Brownley kept her emphasis on education, the environment and health care, pointing to Medicare as something that should not be changed.

Strickland’s vision of Medicare was unclear. “I signed the Medicare Protection Pledge because we need to preserve and protect Medicare. I came out crystal clear that I opposed the Ryan plan. I don’t support vouchers.”

That pledge says that Medicare will be retained as it now is for those who are retired or are close to retirement. Strickland suggested, however, that younger people may need to work longer before collecting Medicare and may need to pay more.

Strickland tried to lighten the mood with a family reference. “The Greatest Generation, they paid into Medicare for a long time. If anybody knows my mom, you know she’d kill me if I touched Medicare.”

The mention of elder Americans brought a response from Brownley. “I know that you’re the founder of the California Club for Growth, and a board member of yours said that seniors were the most selfish group in America today.”

A look at how each candidate voted on a few bills reveals how different they are in their political philosophies.  
Brownley voted “yes” on all of the following issues: requiring health insurance to cover mental illness; requiring schools to provide free drinking water in their cafeterias; authorizing minors to seek medical care for sexually transmitted diseases; allowing family child care workers to organize; and the Homeowner’s Bill of Rights, which bans banks from dual tracking (leading homeowners to believe they are working on a mortgage modification while the banks secretly move forward with foreclosure), and which requires the lender to provide a single point of contact for the homeowner.

Strickland voted “no” on the above bills, all of which were passed.

Brownley commented on Strickland’s pattern of staying loyal to the Norquist pledge of never passing any new tax to balance the budget, just cutting programs he believes are not essential.

“It has been difficult to balance the state budget because we have people who signed the Grover Norquist pledge [no new taxes], and other kinds of things, that does not allow us to have all the tools in the toolbox that you need to balance the budget,” Brownley said.

Barkan mentioned that Strickland has a reputation in Sacramento for his refusal to pass a budget. “The Governor specifically called Tony Strickland out by name for blocking the budget and costing local schools even more. He is a leader in that movement.”

Yet, during the debate, Strickland inserted a new theme, saying how he was flexible and did not always vote with his own Party. “I have a history of voting different from my party on many issues.”

His voting record tells another story. It appears that Strickland has stood solidly in what President Obama has referred to as “the party of No.” A summary of important bills, aggregated by, a nonpartisan and nonprofit group that publishes political information, provides a window into how Strickland has voted over the past few years.

In 2012, Strickland voted “no” eight times, “yes” one time and “did not vote” nine times.

In 2011, he voted “no” 26 times, “yes” five times and “did not vote” four times.

In 2010, he voted “no” 33 times, “yes” eight times and “did not vote” six times.

Among the bills Strickland did not vote for were a bill that required insurance companies to cover maternity costs and another bill that prohibited including an applicant’s credit report in consideration for employment.


Mailers from Brownley’s camp include an endorsement from Planned Parenthood.

Though he may claim independence from the party line, a media release from Strickland’s office on Oct. 5 showed that he was in lockstep with his party when it comes to taxes. It reads, “The California Taxpayers Association has given Sen. Strickland (R-Moorpark) a 100% on their annual Legislative Voting Record. ‘Instead of raising taxes yet again, we need to focus on job-creation and putting people back to work,’ Strickland said.”

The divergent philosophies of the candidates were evident during the debate when they were asked about their favorite member of the Supreme Court of the United States.  Brownley singled out Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a source of inspiration.

Strickland was less certain. “Before the health care decision, I would say Justice John Roberts.  (pause) Clarence Thomas. Upon further reflection, I would say Justice Alito.”


Why this election really matters

The obvious reason that this particular race is important is the closeness of the presidential election. Although President Obama had been leading Mitt Romney in the polls before Oct. 3, the lead was within the statistical area of uncertainty. This district, with its new boundaries, also lies within the area of uncertainty.

Another reason why this election has the nation’s attention is the focus on different issues that each candidate would bring to Congress.

Brownley has been an education and environmental advocate for many years and is a strong supporter of Democratic policies. Strickland believes that job creation is the solution to a growing federal deficit, yet he has not specified exactly how those jobs would be created. Despite Strickland’s pledge not to ever raise taxes, on his campaign website, he makes the argument for increased military funding.

The website says, “Our military is struggling under the policies of the Obama Administration. Deep cuts in military funding threaten … our armed forces. Proper funding is necessary in order to keep our military a viable and ardent force. … Such steep cuts hinder our military’s ability to do its job.”


Photo by Heber Pelayo
A group of young people donned their support for Sen. Tony Strickland at the Oct. 2 debate at Cal Lutheran University.

Medicare is important to both candidates. Brownley stated she wants to leave it alone for now. Strickland said that he does not support Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s plan, which would eventually privatize Medicare with the government providing vouchers for seniors. Strickland said he wants to open up the process of purchasing insurance by allowing consumers to buy coverage across state lines as a way to increase competition and keep premium prices down.

Right now, insurance can only be purchased within the state of your residency. Only that state has the power to regulate and control the insurance industry. By eliminating that limitation, states would lose their ability to regulate insurance.

The federal government is forbidden from regulating insurance by the 1945 McCarren-Ferguson Act. Despite a 1944 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that federal regulation of the insurance industry was constitutional, Congress went in the opposite direction, voting to give the states, and only the states, that power. In fact, the federal government is specifically barred from passing any law that would invalidate or supersede any state law regulating insurance. Therefore, if insurance could be purchased across state lines, there would be no way to effectively regulate the industry.


Your vote counts

Election Day is Nov. 6. Remember that each and every vote matters. It is more important than at any other time in recent local history that voters turn out and cast their votes in a knowledgeable and thoughtful manner.  The old saw of the disillusioned and the cynical who say that their vote doesn’t count simply is not true.   


Other Stories by Joan Trossman Bien

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