The 2000 gerryÂ-mandering of California’s congressional districts- the colluding fault of both Republicans and Democrats-was so effective that someone who apparently doesn’t even want his seat can win in a landslide. Such was the case in 2006, when Republican Congressmember Elton Gallegly- then ending his 10th term- announced his retirement, only to reverse his decision after a call from President George W. Bush. “If the president asks you, you don’t take that lightly,” explained Gallegly at the time, adding that it would be his last term. His opponent couldn’t snag even 40 percent of the vote.
Yet here in 2008, Gallegly’s going for it again, and all signs point to a shoo-in. Such is life for a powerful Republican incumbent, albeit one who’s criticized repeatedly for not reaching out to his own 24th Congressional District-which covers most of Ventura County and all of inland Santa Barbara County-and won’t even acknowledge repeated requests for a brief interview with The Independent.
Standing in the other corner is Democratic political neophyte Marta Jorgensen, a retired nurse, onetime ESL teacher, and former owner of a computer skills training school who’s lived in Solvang since 1996. In a Gallegly-esque turn, Jorgensen, who is 54 and cares for her 83-year-old Republican father, dropped out of the primary race back in May but then came back with two weeks to go after Santa Ynez Valley neighbors urged her to stay fighting. Though out of money and, seemingly, momentum, Jorgensen emerged victorious over the two other Democrats in June. (Support for Oxnard’s Jill Martinez and Oak Park’s Mary Pallant presumably were split between their Ventura County constituents.)
Today, the New Jersey native and California resident since 1968 realizes it’s unlikely she’ll unseat the incumbent, admitting, “He’s convinced that he doesn’t really have to make any effort at all.” She’s also annoyed that the press seems to give her only “superficial coverage.”
But Jorgensen feels that Gallegly, whom she derides as a “professional politician,” has done so much damage in his more than two decades of ignoring the district that she might have a chance. “There are places that feel underrepresented by Gallegly, and I’ve been trying to go to those places and tell them you too can be part of this election, and they like it,” she said, pointing to such smaller, forgotten spots as Casmalia, Santa Paula, Fillmore, and Piru, and claiming that she welcomes and responds to all constituent correspondence. “I’m a counterbalance to Gallegly’s lack of attention.” And being part of a “coordinated campaign” that’s linking her with Barack Obama shouldn’t hurt either.
Describing her campaign as grassroots and low-key but intensive and pervasive, Jorgensen-who speaks in a deep, monotonous voice she once employed in the Santa Ynez Valley Chorale and uses to quote Gandhi in one sentence and Al Gore the next-is offering a platform called the “E-Revolution” that’s based on five words starting with the letter “e”: energy, economy, environment, education, and engagement. “They’re all interconnected,” she explained. She’s also an advocate for healthcare reform, preferring the single-payer model, and restoring our civil liberties. If elected, she would make up for her lack of Washington, D.C., connections by creating “relationships with people who already have a similar philosophy.”
Another philosophy of hers is pushing for more citizen participation in government, an idea that’s brought her to this point. “I’ve always been involved in community organizing and environmental issues, but I decided the only real way to make a dent in the political system is to try to run for office,” she said. “I think people realize it’s important nowadays that we really take back our country, and that requires sticking your neck out, running for office, and taking the hits, and I do take my hits.”
At the very least, then, Jorgensen can be seen as inspiration for the next time around, someone ready to fight the good fight even against a seemingly immovable force named Elton Gallegly. “People really want a congressperson who’s hands-on and really is involved. They’re hungry for it,” she said. “I’m getting the truth out in a way that’s unvarnished. I’m not in anybody’s pocket. I’m really a champion for the everyday guy.”