It's December of an odd-numbered year, which means it must be time for office holiday parties, shopping for gifts, addressing Christmas cards .... and, for some, ramping up for a 2014 campaign.
As expected, the emergence of an open seat next year in the highly competitive 44th Assembly District is attracting a lot of interest among Ventura County elected officials. It's already been reported that Oxnard Harbor District Commissioner Jason Hodge has declared his intent to run and has formed a campaign committee to begin raising funds.
Two other Democratic local elected officials are also actively exploring the idea of entering the race by trying to line up possible supporters and endorsers. They are Thousand Oaks City Councilwoman Jacqui Irwin and Ventura County Community College District Trustee Bernardo Perez, a former Moorpark mayor. Of the two, I'm told that Irwin may be further along in the process.
It is interesting that both are from the eastern part of the county, which makes up the Republican base of the Assembly District (it includes Port Hueneme, Oxnard, Camarillo, Thousand Oaks and Moorpark). That could translate into a potential strength in the general election if they could win over some independents and Republicans based upon their experience and relationships they've formed during their service in nonpartisan local offices. On the other hand, it could be a disadvantage in the primary, given that Hodge's base is in the district's Democratic stronghold.
As I noted in an earlier post, decisions need to made rather quickly. With Hodge and Republican Sean Paroski already off and running, other potential candidates could find themselves in a significant hole if they wait more than another week or so to make up their minds.
For any of you who may have been reading about those tax-paid mailers on the health care law sent this week by Republican Assembly members, on such sites as CrooksandLiars.com or the Daily Kos, I tracked down some information today on the number of mail pieces sent and their costs.
In response to a public records request, the Assembly Rules Committee today reported that four GOP members combined to send out 259,757 pieces of similar mail, at a total cost of $77,496.
It also turns out that more than 80 percent of the mailers were sent by two Assembly members who represent portions of Ventura County.
For the full-story (free to subscribers), see my story on VCStar.com.
True to his word, Simi Valley businessman Rafael Dagnesses is carrying on with his campaign for the House of Representatives in the 26th Congressional District, even after Assemblyman Jeff Gorell of Camarillo jumped into the race.
Dagnesses has scheduled a campaign kickoff event for Sunday at 4 p.m. at the Westlake Village Inn. He has also secured a new high-profile supporter in Assemblyman Scott Wilk of Santa Clarita -- a colleague of Gorell's in the Assembly Republican Caucus.
In a news release announcing the kickoff, Dagnesses stresses his personal experience as a Marine Corps veteran, former Los Angeles Police Department officer and as an entrepreneur who built a successful real estate business from scratch.
"I'm not a career politician, I'm not affected by the dynamics of Washington politics," he says in the news release. "I feel I can better represent a community where I have spent most of my adult family life, and raised my children. I have committed much of my life to public service, and I feel personal freedom and holding true to our Constitution are imperative when it comes to serving the public."
Dagnesses, a Cuban immigrant, also credits his family roots for helping him develop an appreciation for American freedoms. He notes that his parents fled the "tyranny" of Fiedel Castro's Cuba. Until he became a citizen while a member of the Marine Corps, Dagnesses had lived legally in the United States under refugee status.
The news release makes no mention of Gorell, but it is clear that Dagnesses has set his sites on Gorell, as it appears the two will compete to become the Republican challenger to freshman Democratic Rep. Julia Brownley of Westlake Village next fall.
Meanwhile, Democrats are also putting a target on Gorell's back.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this week released a press release headlined, "Gorell Preps for Congress By Taking Special Interest Junket to Maui."
It notes that Gorell, for the second straight year, was among about a score of California lawmakers to attend a November conference in Maui sponsored by the Independent Voter Project, a nonprofit organization headed bv former Democratic state Sen. Steve Peace.
The Independent Voter Project paid his expenses (last year Gorell reported the value of the airfare and lodging he received at $2,383), while Gorell says he paid for his family members' expenses from his officeholder account, which is funded by political contributions. No taxpayer dollars were involved.
The Independent Voter Project will not divulge the sources of its funding or the names of individual lawmakers who attended. The blog CalNewsroom.com reported that Gorell was among this year's attendees, and Gorell confirmed that report to me this morning.
Press reports have identified some of the Independent Voter Project's financial supporters as Chevron, Altria and Southern California Edison.
The conference took place Nov. 17-21. Gorell said he did not make his decision to run for Congress until the weekend after he returned, and made his announcement the following Monday, Nov. 25.
Yesterday's decision by Assemblyman Jeff Gorell to challenge Rep. Julia Brownley next year in Ventura County's 26th Congressional District creates a rare political opportunity -- an unexpectedly open, competitive legislative seat in the 44th Assembly District. Typically, because of term limits, openings in the Legislature are anticipated years in advance, and various potential candidates begin jockeying for position years ahead of time.
The first Democrat to pounce is Jason Hodge, a member of the Oxnard Harbor District Board of Commissioners. Hodge told me today that he is definitely in. "I love Ventura County. I love where I grew up, and I feel that it's time we had a solid advocate," he said. "We need someone who can push forward our area."
Hodge, a firefighter, ran unsuccessfully in the 19th Senate District primary last year. Another 2012 candidate (in the 26th Congressional District race), Westlake Village businessman and former professional tennis player David Cruz Thayne , also informed me via text message early this evening that he "seriously considering running."
On the Republican side, Camarillo Chamber of Commerce executive Sean Paroski told me this evening that he has opened a committee and launched a campaign. Paroski, 32, was an aide to former Sen.Tony Strickland for four years before joining the chamber a year ago. He is a Ventura County native and graduated from Cal State Northridge in 2007 -- with a degree in mathematics.
Beyond that, there's a whole lot of name-dropping going on -- some of it very wrong.
For instance, blogger Scott Lay, in his "Nooner" email newsletter today, dropped the name of Democratic Supervisor John Zaragoza of Oxnard (even though Lay misspelled his name). But when I called Zaragoza this afternoon, his response was, "Absolutely not." Zaragoza said his political plans are definite: complete the remaining two years on current term as supervisor and then to seek one additional term. "We're getting things done here," he said.
Another name that I heard floated was Moorpark Councilman David Pollock, who also shot down that idea when he told me today he has no plans to enter the race. Two other Democrats whose names have been dropped, but whom I haven't reached for response, are Oxnard Federation of Teachers President Wes Davis and former schoolteacher Eileen MacEnery, the party's 2012 candidate.
On the Republican side, in addition to Paroski, one name has been mentioned by sources I deem credible. She is Port Hueneme City Councilwoman Sylvia Munoz Schnopp.
Gorell's district director Ernie Villegas, who is the assemblyman's former business partner and also a former Fillmore city councilman, would also be a logical possibility, but it is not clear at this point whether he has any interest.
The name-dropping phase won't last long. The filing deadline is March 7, and this is going to be at least a million-dollar race. Anyone who waits for more than another few days is going to find himself or herself starting from behind.
While in Simi Valley last week, I had a cup of coffee with Rafael Dagnesses, the Simi Valley businessman who expects to make a formal announcement early next month that he will be a Republican candidate for the House in the 26th Congressional District.
My impression is that Dagnesses is all-in, and his background suggests he's not the sort of fellow who does anything halfway. A Cuban immigrant who spent his first 16 years in the United States under "refugee" status before attaining citizenship status while serving in the Marine Corps, Dagnesses has a varied and interesting background. During his years in the Marines, for instance, he served for a time in an intelligence unit, specializing in interrogations and focusing on Latin America. He also worked as a Los Angeles police officer, started a failed Internet start-up company during the dot.com boom, and now owns a successful real estate company that made the bold and prophetic decision in the midst of the housing bubble to gear up to specialize in foreclosed properties.
He declined to be specific on any policy issues, which is probably a wise posture for someone who has not yet formally announced his candidacy. Once he does make an announcement, however, he would be well advised to be able to articulate positions, particularly on such key issues as immigration reform, the future of the Affordable Care Act and the wisdom of House Republicans' decision this fall to partially shut down the government as a negotiating strategy.
Dagnesses, whose current home is about four blocks outside the district boundary in Simi Valley, was in the process of closing escrow on a home in the Santa Rose Valley (inside the district), into which he hoped to move by the middle of December. He said he attempted to buy a home in the Santa Rosa Valley last year, but backed out at the last minute after a house inspection revealed structural flaws.
He said he's devoting about 90 percent of his time these days to preparing for his candidacy, and he made clear that has no intention of deferring to higher-profile Republicans such as Tony Strickland or Jeff Gorell, should either of them also decide to enter the race.
My hunch is that voters in Ventura County are going to be hearing a lot more about Mr. Dagnesses come spring.
I spoke with Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon this afternoon as he was preparing for Saturday's Reagan National Defense Forum at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley -- an event that will feature the largest ever gathering of national defense experts on the West Coast.
At the end of our conversation, I asked if he had set a timetable for announcing his re-election plans for next year.
McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he has been focused on organizing Saturday's forum and also on completing the Defense Authorization Bill, which the House has passed and the Senate is expected to take up next week. McKeon said he believes a final version will be approved by Congress on Dec. 12 or 13.
After that, McKeon said, "I will have some time to sit and think about my future. I will probably make an announcement sometime in January."
His decision will trigger a series of decisions by other Republicans contemplating their 2014 plans. If he decides to retire, as some anticipate, it could mean that former Sen. Tony Strickland will enter the race to fill his seat in the 25th Congressional District, creating the possibility that Assemblyman Jeff Gorell would then choose to challenge Rep. Julia Brownley in the Ventura County-based 26th Congressional District.
McKeon said he has not made up his mind, and dismissed much of the retirement speculation as premature. "My opponents and others for years now have put out lots of rumors," he said.
As a member of the Senate Rules Committee, Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, was among the four senators who unanimously voted on Tuesday to relieve scandal-tainted Sen. Ronald Calderon of all his committee assignments.
It was a somber vote because, although a sealed FBI affidavit obtained by Al Jazeera America appears to show Calderon accepting bribes during a sting operation, no charges have been filed against him -- and, of course, he has been convicted of nothing. The Rules Committee, however, asserted that its standard was to protect the Senate from the taint of potential scandal, and it therefore was not bound by the proof beyond a reasonable doubt standard used in criminal proceedings.
After the vote, Calderon issued a statement assailing the committee's action and professing his innocence. Here's part of what it said:
"While I am defending myself against false allegations and illegal acts committed by a federal agency my commitment and resolve to continue providing the best legislative representation and the best services to my constituents remain firm. Removing me from my committee assignments sends a risky and unsuitable message regarding our fundamental constitutional rights and the presumption of innocence.
"I have not been charged or convicted with any unjust doing, yet I am being treated by this committee and some media outlets as if I had. The appropriate action to take would be to allow me to continue the work I was elected to do and to allow me to remain on my committee assignments."
Despite the protestations, the Rules Committee acted quickly and decisively to strip Calderon of his committee assignments.
For Jackson, there may be something of silver lining in that action. Her biggest legislative defeat last year came in the Senate Banking and Financial Institutions Committee, where her bill to impose regulations on payday lenders failed to get out committee. Among the Democrats on the panel who didn't support it was Calderon -- a lawmaker who, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, has accepted more than $81,000 in campaign contributions from the payday loan industry over the years.
Calderon has always portrayed himself as a moderate Democrat who is friendly to business interests. The affidavit suggests he may have been a little too friendly in that regard.
Jackson will have the opportunity to try to resurrect her bill next year. And on the critical committee in which the bill sits, one of the obstacles to its passage has just been removed.