VC

Ventura County Clerk-Recorders past and present. From left: Phil Schmit, Mark Lunn and Richard Dean. 

Mark Lunn was the youngest peace officer in the United States after he joined the California State Police Department when he was just 19 years old, not long after graduating from high school in 1971.

That was possible because California had passed legislation making 18 year olds legal adults and the department lowered their entry age in response.

The law enforcement agency which later merged with the California Highway Patrol was charged with protecting the state’s constitutional officers, and Lunn was chosen for a task that would shape his future: working the security detail for California Governor Ronald Reagan. Reagan, who served in that role between 1967 and 1975, had taken notice of Lunn and asked for the young officer to help protect him.

Lunn recalled being alone with Reagan on a long drive to his Malibu ranch, which he had owned since his Hollywood movie star days. Lunn said he was nervous about talking to Gov. Reagan but tried to make small talk, so Lunn asked Reagan a question.

“I asked him why he ran for governor, because he was successful as a movie actor,” said Lunn, explaining that the response stayed with him forever and influenced his interest in public service. “He just said, ‘You know, you can’t impact the outcome of the game if you don’t join the team.’”

REAGAN YEARS

In 1979 Lunn joined the CHP and served in increasing roles of responsibility — including overseeing security for the 1996 Republican presidential convention in San Diego and the Democratic presidential convention in Los Angeles in 2000. One of his last major assignments, however, brought his career full circle: Lunn served as incident commander for Reagan’s 2004 funeral.

“In the autumn of my career, I was able to lay him to rest,” Lunn remembered. “It’s kind of interesting how years and time kind of mold the rest of your life.”

STELLAR SECOND CAREER

Lunn retired from the CHP in 2006, having achieved the rank of assistant chief. But Reagan’s inspiration led him to apply for the job of Ventura County Clerk and Recorder. That was 12 and a half years ago, in 2010, after his predecessor retired early for health reasons.

Now, at the end of his clerk-recorder run, Lunn is looking back on this second career . . . one that may have been as fulfilling as his first one. He reflected on his time in office during an interview with the Ventura County Reporter.

The office of county clerk and recorder handles several critical tasks, including issuing birth, death and marriage certificates and taking care of important government documents. The most high-profile part of the job just might be overseeing elections.

Lunn has seen significant changes in technology as well as people’s attitudes towards election security during his time in office.

“It’s pretty turbulent, that’s for sure. There’s a lot of attention on elections really stemming from the national level and then being spread by various news outlets, both left and right oriented. So there’s more distrust,” Lunn said.

As far as his best memories of running elections, Lunn said simply that he’s proud to have played an important role in the democratic process. “My favorite thing was being able to be a part of the most sacred thing that we do as Americans, and that’s to vote. And just to have my little part of democracy and to see the results and to see the power transfers, you know, without shots being fired.”

PASSING THE BATON

After Lunn completes his last term in January, the new County Clerk and Recorder, Michelle Ascencion, will take the reins of the office. She was elected in the June primary with Lunn’s support and Lunn said he’s confident in her abilities because she already works in his office and previously ran elections in Oxnard.

He said one of Ascencion’s greatest challenges will be continuing to convince voters that elections are free and fair.

“When I was a kid, there were three television networks and newspapers were always on the table at home,” the retiring clerk-recorder recalled. “That’s not the case anymore. With smartphones, you can get information fast and furious all throughout the day, 24-7. So there’s a lot of information that needs to be refuted that impacts the transparency and the validity of elections. That’s the biggest challenge she’s going to have. And, you know, she’s up to it for sure.”

“HE’S HONEST”

Ventura County Treasurer-Tax Collector Steven Hintz has been friends with Lunn since they both ran for their positions for the first time in 2010. Hintz also came from a law enforcement background, having served as a prosecutor and judge for many years, and will also be retiring from office the same day Lunn does.

When asked by the Ventura County Reporter about what he’s most impressed with about Lunn, Hintz answered with two words.

“He’s honest,” said Hintz, who went on to explain why that’s so important. “We hear so much hot air about elections. So it’s just great to have a person in there who’s honest and isn’t thinking of his own interests, is not trying to use the office for something. Mark never had any intention, as far as I know, to run for anything else. That was the job that he wanted to do. And just like me, who had no ambitions beyond this job, his entire focus was to do that job right and to serve the public. And that’s a big deal.”