Ventura County tends to hang on to its elected officials, re-electing them term after term. But sometimes, those officials are termed out, retire, choose to return to the private world, or lose an election. Sometimes, they do return to politics, but mostly they remain out of the spotlight.
The watershed election of 2012, the first go-round with redistricting, would be a good time to check in on some of the familiar faces who have been out of the public eye for a few years to see what they are up to now. Whether citizen-politician or career politician, they all have a story to tell.
Pedro Nava, former state Assemblyman 2004-2010
Nava is a good example of a citizen-politician. After serving three terms in the state Assembly representing Santa Barbara and Ventura in the 35th Assembly District, Nava chose to return to his former profession instead of trying to move up the political ladder.
“I’m back to practicing law,” Nava said. He returned to the civil law firm where he had worked before running for office.
Nava said he has the freedom to represent people who otherwise would not be able to afford an attorney, such as tenants of a slumlord in Bellflower.
“I have tremendous compassion for people who are intimidated and frightened and are taken advantage of and are abused,” he said. “These people are mothers and fathers with young children and are afraid to put their kids to bed at night because of the roaches and the bedbugs. In this particular instance, the property manager was very difficult for them to deal with; his son was a gang member. When one of the tenants complained, they were told, ‘People who make trouble, get trouble.’ The next thing that happened was the gang decided that they would congregate in the laundry room.”
Nava credits his parents with his success. “It was always impressed upon me that the first and most important thing was an education,” he said. “My mother would say, ‘They can come and take away everything you own but they can never take away what you have in your head.’ ”
Getting that knowledge was not easy. “I was a mediocre student in high school,” Nava said. “I was very fortunate that California had the community college system then. It took me eight years to get my degree because I worked.”
After completing law school at UC Davis, Nava took a job in a government poverty program, the now-discontinued CETA (Comprehensive Employment and Training) job training program. “I worked with hardcore unemployed, economically disadvantaged people who didn’t even own an alarm clock because they never had to be anywhere. My job was to get them job-ready.”
Following a stint as an assistant district attorney in Fresno County and then in Santa Barbara County, Nava joined a personal injury firm where they represent the people who have been harmed.
Nava had been raised to feel obligated to use his skills to help others. In that light, he reflected on his years in the Legislature. “There is a high level of dysfunction there,” he said. “When you see how skeptical the public is of state government it is, quite frankly, heartbreaking because there are some things that can’t be done any other way. I think it is time to take that experience and knowledge and apply it in other areas. In a law firm like mine, you can spend a fair amount of your time trying to make things right for people.”
Hannah-Beth Jackson, former assemblywoman and state senator-elect
Hannah-Beth Jackson has had a tumultuous four years. After serving in the California Assembly for a decade beginning in 1998, Jackson faced a nightmare campaign against Tony Strickland in 2008. The race was so close that it took several weeks for the final tally to be announced. Strickland won by one-half of one percentage point.
But according to the state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), the campaign was not always a level playing field. In 2010, the FPPC fined Strickland $3,000 for sending out mailers without clearly identifying the sender, mailers that were negative attacks on Jackson. Strickland called the mailing a mistake but in the report the FPPC said that because he was an experienced politician, the failure to include his identity on the mailer was “at worst intentional and at best negligent.
This year, Strickland lost his bid for Congress to Democrat Julia Brownley in the newly redistricted 35th Congressional District. Audra Strickland, his wife, who was termed out as an Assemblywoman and subsequently lost her bid in 2010 for VC Supervisor, has remained well out of the spotlight. Most likely, Audra has been working with her husband, Tony, who just lost his race for Congress against Julia Brownley. As for what Tony will be doing now that he is out of office for the first time since 1998, Jackson commented, “[Tony] Strickland will be back. I don’t think we can expect him to go away.
He’s never had any other job really.”
That loss four years ago weighed heavily in Jackson’s decision to run for office this year. “It was a tough race,” she said. “I wasn’t going to run this time if I didn’t think I had a really good chance of winning. The race in 2008 was such a heartbreaker. I just wasn’t going to do it again if it looked like it was going to be that close.”
During the interim years, Jackson has been keeping her hand in public policy as a consultant, a teacher, a nonprofit director and a radio host.
“I was the executive director of two progressive nonprofit groups. I taught at Antioch, a class in California public policy, which was great fun. I also did a progressive talk radio show in Santa Barbara.”
These ventures helped Jackson prepare for her next political challenge. “All of these things were a great opportunity for me to stay very intrinsically involved with public policy and the political scene. I think it was very helpful as I got back into electoral politics.”
For Jackson, her greatest passion is having the chance to create public policy, and she has some big plans for her return to Sacramento. Her focus will be on the intersection of education, economics and the environment.
“How do we balance those interests and those needs and concerns at this point in time when, certainly, we’ve had fiscal challenges that really have put us in such difficult circumstances? The cost of education has gone through the roof and there aren’t enough jobs out there. I think we really have to do better,” she said.
One other political area is on Jackson’s agenda. “I am very concerned about the ‘war on women’ that clearly emerged in discussions, almost unabashedly, by the extreme right. We need to protect women in the future and allow people to make their own decisions and have access to quality health care.”
Sensing the public outrage at certain pronouncements by right-wing candidates, Jackson said it created dissonance with what voters believe. “That’s in part where the extreme right wing made its error,” she said. “They just inexplicably started this whole thing about women’s rights in a way that did not reflect the way women feel. It also aroused in women, and in men, too, the notion that we are not about to let politicians tell us what we can do about reproductive decision making.”
Jackson is looking forward to being a part of California’s transition to the new health care reforms. “I think it is very exciting. Definitely an opportunity for California to again lead the nation. I want to be sure that everybody has access to quality and affordable health care.”
John Flynn, former Ventura County supervisor, retired
John Flynn was out of town and unable to participate in this article but his son, Tim Flynn, is the apple that fell directly under the tree. Tim Flynn was recently elected mayor of Oxnard, and he discussed his father’s present life and future plans.
John Flynn was a Ventura County Supervisor from 1972 to 2008, when he lost the election. Tim said that his father was instrumental in his own recent mayoral victory and, at the same time, that effort gave his father a mental boost. “It kind of brought him back to what he was used to doing for the last four decades. To then be abruptly cut off can be kind of painful.”
Tim said he wants to help his father use his many talents and connections honed during his years of public service. One idea would be to open an office where the elder Flynn could share the space and have his own office hours.
“He still gets a lot of calls from people who need his help,” Tim said. “It’s not like he dropped off the face of the earth; he still does a lot of [helping the public]. That’s what he enjoys doing.”
Tim said his father admitted to him that he needs to participate more in public life. “People asked him how he liked retirement and he said, ‘Me and retirement don’t get along very well. I’ve been a worker all my life and that’s what I like doing.’ That summarizes it.”
Still, since his defeat in 2008, John has had time to spend with his large and spread-out family, time that he never had when he was a supervisor. Some of his six children and 11 grandchildren live in Northern California, where he often visits them.
When it came to work and family, Tim said, his father found a way to do it all. “I always felt that he had a real good balance but he worked 16 hours a day. I think he would have rather gone out not having lost an election, and I wish that had been the case, too.”
Some of the former elected politicians no longer live in Ventura County. In fact, they no longer live in California. Still, they stand out for having had an impact during their tenure.
Bill Fulton, former mayor of Ventura
Bill Fulton served on the Ventura City Council from 2003 until 2009, when he was elected mayor. Fulton is a man of many talents — journalist, author, politician, professor and renowned urban planner. Fulton is also a visionary when it comes to changing the established methods of revitalizing urban areas.
But not everyone appreciated his changes. After altering the way parking in the downtown area was managed, Fulton became the target of the local Tea Party, eventually surviving a recall effort.
Fulton writes a blog and in his entry on Dec. 6, 2011, he discussed some of the achievements of his brief two years as mayor.
“We have restored positive relations with the Chamber of Commerce,” he wrote. “We helped push through the $350 million expansion of Community Memorial Hospital. We’ve cleaned up our permitting processes. And, perhaps most important, we’ve just about eradicated the decades-old idea that Ventura is anti-business.”
Fulton now works in Washington, D.C., for Smart Growth America, a national advocacy organization, as vice president and director of policy, development and implementation.
In early 2010, Fulton announced that he had been diagnosed with a progressive eye disease, retinitis pigmentosa, which eventually leads to blindness. He said he moved to Washington to be closer to family and to work in an area that did not rely so heavily on being able to drive.
In the Dec. 6 blog entry, Fulton discussed his decision not to run for re-election and to leave California.
“I’m comfortable with my decision to step down, because a successful community is not the result of one person’s actions, or even seven people’s actions (the number of city council members). It’s the result of thousands of people waking up every day and committing themselves to making a great Town. … It is important to know how to pass the baton knowledgeably, gracefully – and before you wear out your welcome.”
Elton Gallegly, U.S Representative
U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Simi Valley, has served the 24th district in Congress for the last 25 years. For the last several years, he rarely made public appearances and never participated in debates against Democratic challengers. He had solidly preserved his seat via gerrymandering as did many politicians, carving out specific territory that best suited his party. When the Citizens Redistricting Commission redrew the congressional districts, however, Gallegly announced his retirement from politics and will wrap up a prolific career serving 13 terms at the end of the year. He said that he didn’t want to run against his colleague U.S. Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, who had been serving the 25th district for nearly 20 years and was now where Gallegly’s house was located. He also didn’t want to run in the newly carved 24th district, which had a slightly Democratic edge. State Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Thousand Oaks, lost to Assemblywoman Julia Brownley for the 24th congressional seat. Gallegly is known for his staunch conservative politics, especially his determination to crack down on illegal immigration. Gallegly has said little about what he plans to do in his retirement, but visions of him and his wife riding horseback into the sunset seems very plausible.
Moving on or not
Some of the former politicians have moved forward with their lives after losing an election. Others are not content and continue to think on their loss. One intentionally stepped down in order to begin a new life in another state. And another has spent the time learning from her painful loss and then used what she learned to return to politics with a successful campaign.
As with all things in life, it is not whether there are disappointments or tragedies along the way; success is defined by the way you cope with the setbacks and, if possible, learn from them. These former politicians have shown various degrees of success in dealing with their private lives following the loss of their political careers.