Bar none, the strangest retirement announcement by a U.S. Representative so far in ’06 has been that of Elton Gallegly, a 20-year Republican member from California’s 24th District (Ventura County).
On March 10, a month after he had filed for re-election, the 62-year-old Gallegly stunned pundits and pols on all sides by announcing he was not running again for an undisclosed health reason. What happened over the next few days is worthy of an Allen Drury political intrigue novel or a work of political satire by Christopher Buckley or Jimmy Breslin. On March 15, with less than two days to go before the close of the filing deadline in the Golden State, Gallegly appeared before reporters at Washington’s Capitol Hill Club and declared he had a clean bill of health from the congressional physician and was announcing for an 11th term.
Gallegly (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 89%) had apparently first announced his retirement believing that he could withdraw from the race after filing for the office, have his name removed from the June primary ballot, and that the filing deadline would then be automatically extended for five days. Under such a scenario, the congressman would have time to line up support for one of three prospective successors: Glen Becerra, who holds Gallegly’s former office as mayor pro tem of Simi Valley; Jeff Gorell, a Gallegly friend who ran unsuccessfully for the state Assembly two years ago; and Brian Miller, who runs Gallegly’s district office in Thousand Oaks. (Ventura County GOP Chairman Lois Cornejo told reporters that there were two other Republicans on Gallegly’s political "heir list" but declined to name them.)
There were widespread rumors in the 24th District that Gallegly’s last-minute decision was designed to shut out two Republicans with whom he is not close and whom he did not want to succeed him: State Sen. Tom McClintock, stalwart conservative and now the certain GOP nominee for lieutenant governor, and former State Assemblyman Tony Strickland, another strong conservative who is now seeking the party’s nomination for state controller. McClintock, who had supported Gallegly’s leading primary rival (the late Tony Hope, son of Bob Hope) in his first House race back in 1986, did not hint he would leave the lieutenant governor race to file for Congress. Strickland’s wife Audra, who succeeded him in the Assembly, tried to file her husband for the seat but was told he was ineligible because he had already filed for controller. Audra thereupon tried to file herself for Congress but was also told she could not because she had previously filed for re-election to her legislative seat.
The problem with Gallegly’s original assumption when he announced his retirement is that the system doesn’t work that way under state election law. As Congressional Quarterly pointed out: "The law does not allow a candidate’s name to be removed after he or she has qualified to run except in the case of death. Gallegly’s name thus will have to appear on the primary ballot. In addition, the five-day filing extension, which applies to state and local elections in which an incumbent fails to meet a filing deadline, does not apply to contests for the U.S. House and Senate."
Gallegly told reporters that he spent "five days working [and] thousands of dollars trying to find another way" to extend the filing deadline, but came up empty-handed. Accordingly, he chose to run again. Hours before he met the press on March 15, Gallegly revealed, he had a telephone message from President Bush inquiring about his health. When he called the President back, the congressman spoke to White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, who told him that Bush offered his "full support" for Gallegly’s re-election.