Mark Friday, March 7, on your calendars. You can be sure that a good many Ventura County politicians already have.
That is the filing deadline for candidates to get their names on the June primary ballot, and it could be the day for a high-stakes game of cat and mouse in Ventura County. It was a chaotic day two years ago, when Rep. Elton Gallegly made the surprise announcement that he intended to retire, which prompted both former Assemblyman Tony Strickland and his wife, Assemblywoman Audra Strickland, to scramble to see whether they could meet a 5 p.m. deadline to run for Congress.
As it turned out, there was no reason for excitement. Since both Stricklands had already filed to fun for a different office, they could not legally change their minds and run for Congress. And since Gallegly had already filed his papers, he could not legally back out and have his name stricken from the ballot. It the end, Gallegly changed his mind, ran again and was easily re-elected.
This time around, there is inevitable speculation that Gallegly might follow through and actually retire — but not make an announcement ahead of time. That would force the hand of the Stricklands, who would have to file by 5 p.m. March 7 in order for Tony to run for the state Senate and for Audra to run for re-election.
The confusion in 2006 stirred the Legislature to pass what some have dubbed "Elton's law" -- a change in the Elections Code that extends the candidate-filing period for a week if an incumbent member of Congress does not file for re-election. That means that in 2008, if Gallegly chose to retire at the very last minute he would make it impossible for either of the Stricklands to run for the office. It would then be possible for a successor more to his liking to step forward and file candidacy papers the following week.
Tony Strickland will not have the luxury of waiting, because the office he is seeking -- that now held by Sen. Tom McClintock -- would not have an extended filing period. The extension does not apply in cases in which the incumbent is disqualified by term limits from seeking re-election.
The bottom line is that all three — and some other potential candidates as well -- could find themselves waiting around the county Elections Division office on March 7 waiting to see what the others will do. They would also have to have a battalion of supporters standing by to sign their candidacy papers.
Of course, Gallegly could put an end to the suspense by filing his candidacy papers early. But the congressman might relish the idea of keeping everyone else guessing.