The Conejo Guardian interviewed county supervisor candidate Jeff Gorell, a former state assemblyman for this area. Gorell, a longtime Ventura County resident, is running for supervisor in District 2.
Guardian: Tell us your history in the county.
Gorell: I came down in ’98, was a district attorney until 2006, and then I started my own practice, kind of a government relations, law firm type of a thing. I did that for a few years until I was elected into the state legislature in 2010. From 2010 to 2014, I served in the legislature in the assembly. I ran for Congress in 2014, so I had to leave the legislature. I ran against Julia Brownley and came closer to beating her than anyone had prior or has since.
I received a phone call shortly after that from my friend from the Navy, Eric Garcetti. We served together as counterintelligence officers in the Navy in a unit called defense intelligence agency command. … I went to work down in Los Angeles. I commuted from my house in Camarillo Springs for six and a half years, serving as Deputy Mayor of Homeland Security and Public Safety.
Guardian: Those guys are way on the other side of you [politically]. Was it a fit, or were you rubbing the wrong way with these guys?
Gorell: It was an interesting opportunity to be in charge of homeland security and public safety for the second-largest city, and that’s an opportunity to protect people. It was an operational position; it wasn’t a political position. I oversaw counterterrorism, homeland security and the police and fire departments and emergency management departments of the City of L.A. … I received a classified security briefing every Thursday morning and worked closely with all the 3-letter agencies to make sure we were all coordinating, collaborating to protect the airport, the port, critical infrastructure like water, power, et cetera. The mayor and I’ve looked at things very differently politically, but on protecting the city from terrorism and preparing the city for homeland security issues and protecting critical infrastructure, we’re pretty in step on that.
Guardian: What did you learn out of that?
Gorell: I learned that L.A., the second-largest city in America, is a giant, complicated crisis that is nearly ungovernable and has a lot of problems. And that notwithstanding, they still need good people to stand up and fill positions that have a responsibility of protecting people, and that was what I did. I enjoyed it. There were occasions where I gave my full-throttled opinion to the mayor, and sometimes he took it, sometimes he didn’t. He’s ideologically different than I am on a lot of the issues, but my role was more operational. The most important thing is, at the end of the day, I always got in my car or on a Metrolink, and I came back to my home in Ventura County where I have open space, safe neighborhoods, great schools, wonderful neighbors and have always appreciated where I live and where I call home.
Guardian: There’s been a resurgence of political activism here over the last couple years, largely because of the way county supervisors and their appointees in the health departments have run things. A lot of those people are looking at you, and I hear them say that this guy’s controlled opposition; he’s a plant. They’re waving flags on the Lynn Road overpass, and they’re wondering where you’ve been. You’ve been hanging around with Garcetti. How do you speak to that?
Gorell: All I can do is reflect back on action. Waving a sign on an overpass is not action, but being a state legislator for four years and taking thousands of votes is tangible action, and I have a vote record that is a center-right conservative vote record. The angry issues of health freedoms and things that some people are very passionate about are not by themselves going to get anyone elected and beat the Linda Parks machine. The Linda Parks machine has chewed up and spit out people who thought that their door-walking movement was going to make the day, and it never does.
My message is broader than just mandates and waving signs on overpasses. My message is about leadership around public safety. I put hundreds of people in state prison who would otherwise be out there victimizing people, as a prosecutor. I’ve fought Taliban, and I’ve fought Al Qaeda in the mountains of Afghanistan in two tours. I did two tours in Afghanistan, and I was awarded the defense meritorious service medal by the Secretary of Defense for meritorious actions in a combat zone and taking fifteen men into the mountains of Tora Bora and bringing fifteen men home. So, people like Tim McCarthy stand up there, and they use terms like, “I carried the flag,” or, “I was with the troops,” or, “I was on the front lines” — these are metaphorical. He has no idea what it’s like to be on the front lines. He has no idea what it’s like to lead troops, and he has no idea what it’s like to carry the flag.
Guardian: Are these votes you need? Or do you think your appeal is broad enough [to win without them]?
Gorell: Yeah. I’m trying to win outright in June, fifty percent plus one against Claudia Bill-de la Pena. Unfortunately, I’ll lose some votes, presumably to Tim McCarthy. I don’t think there’ll be enough to prevent me from winning in June — certainly won’t be enough to prevent me from making a run-off with her in November. It is a segment of the voters that might not be brought around to support me, but that’s okay. Democracy is uncomfortable and at times awkward. It’s supposed to be that way.
On these issues, I feel in many ways the same way that these folks feel. I feel like the events of the last two years were government overreach. I think that the shutdown of small business, the shutdown of schools, the shutdown of churches, it was unconstitutional government overreach, and I will not vote in any capacity to do that again. I have more to bring to the table than that, though. I know how to get things done around public safety. I know how things can get done to take bold steps around homelessness. I understand how we can do a better job with mental health and mental health courts and mental health as it relates to addiction and homelessness and officer-involved shootings and things that we can mitigate and remediate. I have a more well-rounded approach that high-propensity, dedicated Republican voters are going to gravitate to.
I also have the endorsements of key people that Republicans trust — elected Republicans, firefighters, deputy sheriffs, agriculture, ag community, farmers, ranchers, small business owners, regional chamber — I’ve got the support that people look to to see if the person they’re about to elect is capable of making a difference, not just in one issue but in all the issues.
Guardian: What would you have done differently during this pandemic had you been in a supervisor’s seat here in Ventura County?
Gorell: If we had a majority Republican board, our approach here to the pandemic would have been a lot more similar to what you saw in Orange County and a lot less like what you saw in L.A. County, but the important thing is the recognition that there was government overreach and the fact that these closures did not affect the transmission of the virus in the end and that the data now shows to us that this was just government overreach and that any future resurgence, for example, would not be met with these kind[s] of draconian and unconstitutional responses.
Guardian: How about the public health guys because they came out of nowhere to shut local businesses down.
Gorell: They shut them down because they were empowered by the supervisors. The supervisors were dominated by Democrats. That’s what’ll be different is that the public safety officials are going to have their opinions, but it’s the responsibility of the board of supervisors to balance the imposition and the constitutionality of some decisions, and that’s what I would take seriously, saying we’re not going to gain anything by closures of schools and churches and small business. It’s not going to prevent the transmission of a virus, so we’re not going to do it.
Guardian: Do you think county supervisors have any room to say no to the state mandates?
Gorell: They could have challenged it in court. I’d have to consult with state constitutional experts or county counsel to see what our chances would be to litigate that. … There [are] a lot of things that can be done even if the governor threatens to cut off money. We don’t know that the governor would have actually done that, and if he’d done it, it could have been legally challenged.
Guardian: The CLU economic forecast came out recently, and it’s bad news. The economy is reeling, and yet Ventura County government grew by more than 12 percent last year. Does that rise to the level of a crisis in your eyes? Should it be addressed, and is it something you would do?
Gorell: Yeah, certainly. When I was in Sacramento four years, I didn’t vote once for a tax increase; I fought for fiscal responsibility at every level, including as the vice-chairman of the assembly budget committee, who stood up and poked the governor in the eye every time he introduced a budget that spent too much and grew government too much. We’re responsible to run an efficient government and not run a bloated government. That’s our fiscal responsibility to taxpayers.
At the same time, we’re also responsible to find ways to boost the kind of economy we want here in Ventura County. Of all of the sixteen counties that have agriculture in them, our county is next to the last in the financial success of our agricultural sector, and it’s because they are under the thumb of county government. [They can’t] do the kinds of things they want to do to diversify. It takes two years to erect a barn because of the county’s bureaucracy. The ag community we love so much because they’re stewards of our open space are under the thumb of county government, and we need to help them succeed if we want them to stay.
Secondly, you heard in the CLU forecast that one of our bright spots is biotech. This is the manufacturing of the future. Manufacturing has been pushed out of the state by bad decision-making out of Sacramento. So what’s left? A lot of good jobs are left at biotech, and we can set up a task force here like I’ve done before with Gold Teams California to go out and recruit and retain more biotech in an aggressive way that this county has never done before. I’m prepared to do that within the first 90 days of being in office.
Guardian: I’ve heard your critics say you changed parties a number of times. What’s your party affiliation or history?
Gorell: I have been a Republican my whole adult life except for 90 days last year, from October to January of this year. I went to “decline to state” and then reregistered Republican in January. I went to “decline to state” because I was being considered for a judgeship and was advised by other judges that that was the best way to go through that process.
I’ve always been a Republican, and I’ve never been any other party. I’ve worked for Pete Wilson; I’ve written speeches; I’ve walked door-to-door for the recalls of Republicans who wouldn’t vote for a Republican speaker. I’ve worked on the Bush/Quayle campaign; I worked for the Dan Lungren for governor campaign. I’ve helped candidates here time and time again, including Rob McCoy.
I’m running on me and what I’ve done. This isn’t the first time I’ve had other challengers in primaries. There’s a long, distinguished list of people that have tried, but what matters is a broader vision and a capability of connecting with broader voters. I can get support from “decline to states” over a broader message that includes public safety, supporting our cops and our sheriffs — but knowing how to do it, not just saying it.
No other candidates have put people in prison. I turned terrorists into puffs of pink mist as a targeting officer in southwest Afghanistan. No other candidate has [done that]. I’ve been a legislator with a conservative record, and I’ve been a champion of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, voting against every single tax increase brought up in Sacramento. No other candidate can talk about that. I believe my experience and record allow me to attract a broad base of support from veterans, from law-and-order types, from small-business folks, for people that remember me and things that I did in the legislature. I’m trying to earn their vote, which will allow me to move forward in a run-off against Claudia or win outright in June.
One of the things I came away from my experience in Los Angeles is how much we need to defend against the growth in homelessness and the increase in crime that’s rampant in many parts of Los Angeles. We need to be more supportive of our small business in ways that other communities have not been. Those are the keys areas of this election.
I went on a ride-along last week, and 60, 70 percent of the calls were homelessness-related. We need to get ahead of that right now because the federal courts and decisions and injunctions and cases like Boise mean that essentially every additional person that shows up and is living on the streets or underneath the Janss overpass will make it more difficult and more expensive for us to end homelessness. We need to get a hold of it right now. And every day that goes by is a day that we fail to end homelessness in Ventura County.
I want a working, functional, center-right majority conservative board that is willing and able to take bold steps to address homelessness. It will make positive impacts not only in the lives of people we can get off the streets but also make positive impacts in our quality of life and our public safety, and in the way our communities look and feel.