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Jon Fleischman

Latest ROLL CALL on Gallegly debacle

Confusion Over Gallegly Persists
Local Support May Crumble

By David M. Drucker
Roll Call Staff

March 15, 2006

With Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.) expected to announce that he will run for re-election, it was unclear late Tuesday what level of support he could expect from Republican leaders in his district as the fallout from his flip-flopping continued to reverberate.

Ventura County Republican Party Chairwoman Leslie Cornejo, who on Monday endorsed Michael Tenenbaum (R) when it appeared as though he was the only Republican on the ballot who was running, declined to withdraw that endorsement when informed that Gallegly was poised to get back in the race.

But her party’s vice chairman, Ventura County Sheriff Commander David Tennessen, said his allegiance would switch from Tenenbaum back to Gallegly, the 20-year incumbent who announced less than two hours before last Friday’s filing deadline that he was retiring after submitting papers to seek re-election back in February.

“I will look at it. But honestly I’m very likely to leave my statement where it stands,” Cornejo said Tuesday. “I’m not interested in contributing to the confusion. I’m very comfortable with the [endorsement] letter I wrote [for Tenenbaum].”

Multiple messages left with Gallegly’s office on Monday and Tuesday were not returned, but a House Republican aide reiterated Tuesday that Gallegly had in fact changed his mind and was planning to run for re-election to his 24th district seat.

Gallegly was traveling from Southern California to Washington, D.C,. on Tuesday, and was expected to attend an evening meeting of the California Republican House delegation, where he was to be presented with a letter — presumably signed by most, if not all, of the delegation — that implored him to run for another term.

“He has a good record, his colleagues want him to run again, and I’m pretty sure he will,” said this aide, who expected Gallegly to make a public announcement as early as Tuesday night.

Tennessen, in part based on a conversation he had with Gallegly’s father-in-law, also expects the Congressman to run for re-election.

Gallegly and Tennessen are close enough that the Congressman gave him an opportunity to file to run for his seat, telling the GOP official at 7:15 a.m. last Friday that he was planning to announce his retirement later that day. Tennessen declined Gallegly’s suggestion that he run for Congress, as did five other individuals the Congressman approached quietly.

Tennessen is interested in running for Congress, but feels the timing for him is four to five years away.

“I think in the end it will be Elton Gallegly representing the Republican Party in the general election,” he said.

Gallegly’s last-minute retirement announcement on Friday touched off a chain of events that were still fluid as of Tuesday.

In the 24th district, it was unknown how many of the eight key party leaders from Santa Barbara and Ventura counties who Tenenbaum had announced late Monday were endorsing him were going to stick with the 37-year-old attorney and first-time candidate. Tennessen said he had informed Tenenbaum that his backing was predicated on Gallegly not running.

Tenenbaum, in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday and today to meet with House Members and party leaders, said he would vigorously challenge Gallegly in the June 6 Republican primary if the Congressman jumped back in the race.

But he declined to discuss his strategy for challenging an entrenched incumbent with more than $1 million in the bank absent a final decision from Gallegly — although he argued that he is significantly better positioned to run against him now than he was before the Congressman’s retirement announcement.

“I’m in much stronger position than I ever imagined I would be last week,” Tenenbaum said.

In the wake of the confusion over Gallegly, a California state Senator introduced a bill Tuesday to change the law to prevent a similar scenario.

California’s filing law allows a five-day extension in the event that an incumbent for a state office chooses at the last minute not to seek re-election. But that law does not apply to federal House or Senate seats.

State Sen. Jim Battin’s (R) bill, which is supported by Secretary of State Bruce McPherson (R), would close that loophole in the future but would not apply retroactively to the Gallegly situation.

The bill would also allow incumbents to withdraw from a race after they have filed to run for re-election, something they are not currently allowed to do even if they have a medical condition, which is what Gallegly cited Friday when he announced he was going to retire.

Battin, vice chairman of the state Senate Elections Committee, specifically mentioned Gallegly as his reason for introducing this bill.

“The Legislature adopted [the current law] years ago to prevent an incumbent from basically choosing his successor,” Battin said in a statement. “It is absurd that Members of Congress do not have the same provisions.”

Gallegly announced his retirement less than two hours before last Friday’s filing deadline, blaming an “undefined” medical condition, under the impression that the filing deadline could be extended, and thinking he could pull his name off the primary ballot.

He was wrong on both counts, leaving himself and Tenenbaum, who a few days earlier had announced his intention to challenge Gallegly in the primary as the only Republicans on the ballot. At that point, Tenenbaum was the only candidate on the ballot who actually planned on running.

Other potential candidates who had ostensibly been waiting for Gallegly to retire, only to see their opportunity to run vanish, scrambled, with some threatening write-in campaigns. One California source said former state Assemblyman Tony Strickland (R) abandoned plans to sue to get on the ballot only after it became clear such a lawsuit had a small chance of succeeding and could jeopardize his campaign for state controller.

Gallegly has released statements expressing his regret with how the situation unfolded, attributing much of it to being provided faulty information while saying he was working with legal counsel and the California secretary of state’s office to arrive at an acceptable remedy.

But not everyone is backing up Gallegly’s version of events.

Ventura County Recorder-Clerk Philip Schmit confirmed that Gallegly’s attorney called his office at 11:35 a.m. Friday inquiring if the Congressman could withdraw his name from the ballot. Schmit acknowledged that he incorrectly said he could, but said he left a message with Gallegly’s attorney an hour later with the correct information — that he could not.

That doesn’t necessarily jibe with this portion of Gallegly’s statement, released Monday: “Later on Friday, when I formally asked for my name to be withdrawn, only then was I told by the county clerk that he had made a mistake.”

Also, Gallegly said in his statement that “my representatives are also working with the Secretary of State’s Office to seek legislative relief from the California Legislature.” But a secretary of state source said Tuesday that no one associated with Gallegly has been in contact with either the executive or elections divisions of McPherson’s office.

And although Gallegly had cited a medical condition as his reason for announcing his retirement, the House Republican aide said the Congressman has since been given a clean bill of health by doctors.

Gallegly himself told the Ventura County Star in an article published Tuesday that the condition was “nothing catastrophic.”