SHOWDOWN WITH THE SHERIFF'S DEPUTIES...
It's no secret that ever since they lost their effort to win the coveted perk that would have allowed a deputy as young as 50 to retire and then collect a pension worth 75 percent or more of his or her salary for life, that the Ventura County Deputy Sheriff's Association has been eager to change the makeup of the Board of Supervisors. Two years ago, the union tried to go after incumbent Judy Mikels of Simi Valley, and lost, and also backed an opponent of Linda Parks of Thousand Oaks and lost.
This year the union is putting it all on the line, taking a $200,000 war chest and using it to try to take out incumbents Kathy Long of Camarillo and John Flynn of Oxnard. Mailers from the union went out last week that darkly depict a rising threat of gang violence in Ventura County and blame Long for casting votes that have forced Sheriff Bob Brooks to cut back his department's gang-suppression efforts.
Brooks has jumped into the fray, writing an op-ed piece in the Ventura County Star spelling out his reasons why he wants to see voters dump Long.
Now, in a bold strategy, Long is fighting back by confronting the criticism head on, explaining to voters that she is the target of the sheriff's and the union's attacks merely because she had the courage to say no to the demands of a special-interest group.
In mailers that went out Friday, Long writes: "This election will decide who sets budget policy in Ventura County. Either supervisors will act independently in the interest of residents and taxpayers — or budget decisions will be dictated by the powerful deputy sheriffs' union. I'm a strong supporter of law enforcement. And in the past, I've had the support of the deputy sheriffs. But in recent years I've had to say NO to demands that could bankrupt the county...
"I want our county to avoid the mistakes that created the mess in Sacramento."
Much rides on the outcome. If Long wins, the sheriff will have spent a huge amount of political capital and be left vulnerable — not only in his future dealings with the Board of Supervisors, but even to what has long been the unthinkable: a political challenge to his own job in two years. If Long wins, it will mean that in the eyes of many voters the deputy sheriffs' association has become just another special-interest union.
One footnote: The association's hit pieces against Long speak of a "rising crime rate." The latest figures from the Attorney General's Office show that crime did indeed go up in 2003 in the three large cities that have their own police departments -- Oxnard, Simi Valley and Ventura. But in the one large city that is patrolled by the Sheriff's Department, Thousand Oaks, the California Crime Index fell 1.2 percent. It continues to have the fewest crimes of any city in California with a population of more than 100,000. In second place: Simi Valley.