Elections do have consequences.
And in the case of the First District Supervisor race in Ventura County, the consequences for business and economic development could be very large indeed.
This race did not look too complex just a few months ago when incumbent Steve Bennett was widely seen as a shoe-in to win another term.
But Bennett, who does not face term limits enacted after he was elected, abruptly announced he would not stand for re-election in order to run in the newly formed 26th Congressional District, which includes most of Ventura County except Simi Valley.
That race quickly attracted a large number of candidates including State Sen. Tony Strickland and Supervisor Linda Parks. Bennett shocked observers when he withdrew from the congressional race in order to run again for supervisor.
This is where it gets interesting. In the interim, Bennett, who had faced only token opposition in the past two elections, drew some formidable competitors. Among them: Ventura City Council members Christy Weir and Neal Andrews and retired Ventura County Fire Chief Bob Roper. Because it takes a 50 percent-plus-one-vote majority to win it all on June 5, the race is likely to become a run-off between the top two vote-getters in a November run-off.
One of the surprising things about the race is the number of elected officials and power brokers who have endorsed Roper. His co-chairs are former District Attorney Mike Bradbury and labor leader turned business advisor Hank Layaco, who will be inducted into the Business Times Hall of Fame later this month.
District Attorney Greg Totten, Sheriff Geoff Dean, his popular predecessor Bob Brooks and the mayors of Simi Valley, Oxnard and Thousand Oaks all have endorsed Roper, who has promised a pragmatic but definitely more pro-business approach to county government.
At a recent candidate forum hosted by the Ventura County Taxpayers Association and moderated by Business Times Senior Editor Stephen Nellis, there was a decided move to making the county more willing to move business and economic issues to the top of the political agenda.
There was talk of a streamlined, one-step process for permitting filming in the county, which would bring millions of dollars of payroll and other tax revenue into the area.
Candidates also supported a website that would in essence be a fast track way to get business done with the county.
The new focus on business has been driven by the Great Recession, which shattered Ventura County’s belief that it was sheltered from the vagaries of the economic cycle.
A severe downturn in housing and manufacturing has sent the unemployment rate soaring, forcing local governments to tighten their belts. Although county government has weathered the storm in decent fiscal shape, the rebound in jobs, housing and business activity has been slow.
Moreover, major employers including Power-One and Haas Automation have either relocated plants to less expensive places or said they are looking to other locations for expansion opportunities.
Roper thinks it’s time for the county to add an economic element to the general plan — something that San Luis Obispo County has spent considerable time and resources doing. In addition, Roper wants to establish a business ombudsperson in the office of the county chief executive.
One of the interesting things about Roper is that he tends to see issues on a countywide basis, not from the perspective of a single district. For example, he thinks more services that are only available at the county government center in Ventura should be available in an East County location.
Right now, the political lineup in Ventura County generally puts Bennett and Parks on the no-growth or environmental side of the argument, and Fifth District Supervisor Peter Foy in the pro-business camp, with Supervisors Kathy Long and John Zaragosa somewhere in the middle.
Replacing Bennett with a candidate who was more willing to join Foy as a supporter of business would be a sea change for Ventura County politics. Even bringing the question of business and economic development into the debate has been a game changer.
Elections do have consequences and in Ventura County’s first district supervisor race, the changes could be profound indeed.
The Business Times does not endorse candidates, but we are very interested in covering issues related to business and the regional economy. In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be taking a look at selected races that could impact business and economic development issues in the region.
• Contact Editor Henry Dubroff at [email protected]