By Daryl Kelley
Jeff Ketelsen, 47, a part-time entertainment park usher and occasional substitute teacher, has run for local public office nine times in the last nine years, winning once in an uncontested race for the Ojai Valley Municipal Advisory Committee.
Now Ketelsen is running again, this time as a write-in candidate for the Ventura County supervisorial seat representing the Ojai Valley on the June 3 ballot.
Incumbent Supervisor Steve Bennett is unopposed on the primary election ballot. But voters may notice a posting of Ketelsen’s write-in candidacy at polling places.
Ketelsen, who got about one-fourth of the vote against Bennett in 2004 and nearly won an Ojai school board seat in 2006, said he failed to make the ballot this time because he didn’t have the money to cover a $1,190 filing fee.
To be a write-in candidate he needed only to turn in a petition with the signatures of 20 registered voters by May 20, and he did.
Ketelsen is running a low-cost, low-key campaign, stating his platform by slipping small blue pieces of paper under residents’ doormats in a shoe-leather effort to bring his candidacy to public attention.
What makes Ketelsen, who describes himself as a former “surf bum,” run?
“Lots of my friends say, ‘Why do you do this? Why do you get involved?’” Ketelsen said in an interview. “I have a 17-year-old kid. I do have insight. I want people to know what life is like for regular, ordinary people.”
Clad in jeans, a T-shirt, heavy jacket and Vans, the stocky Ketelsen said: “I’m just an ordinary guy. I’m running because I grew up here. I can see how some people who voted for me last time would be bummed out because I didn’t save 1,000 bucks (to file). But I got 8,000 votes last time (2004) and hardly spent a dime on it.”
Ketelsen said he is running this time on a platform of “Channel Islands Harbor, La Conchita and crime.” He was apparently referring to the controversy about how to revive the financially ailing county-run harbor in Oxnard, the county’s legal disputes with residents of the beach-front La Conchita hamlet devastated by a 2005 landslide and what he sees as crime by illegal immigrants.
“I don’t try to force my beliefs on anyone,” he said. “But I personally believe machine politics are out of touch with the citizenry. Some guy rolls in with $170,000 and that buys him the office. It’s very easy for a Republicrat to think everything’s fine. Well, if you believe that, vote for him.”
Bennett, a former Nordhoff High School government teacher, has declined to discuss Ketelsen’s nominal challenge, saying only that he is confident voters will return him to the Board of Supervisors for a third term.
In March, Bennett, 56, became the first county supervisor in at least two decades to run for re-election unchallenged on the primary ballot, after county Republicans failed in a year-long attempt to recruit a serious opponent to the veteran Democratic lawmaker.
Bennett announced last June that he’d seek re-election, citing an array of powerful endorsements and a full bank account.
And Mike Gibson, the one Republican who pulled papers to challenge him, canceled his race the next day, declaring that Bennett had too much money, too many endorsements and too many community contacts in the Ojai area and Ventura to be beaten.
“It’s good to get 100 percent of my focus back on my job,” Bennett said then, “and not have to campaign.”
Ketelsen is hoping Bennett’s lack of a campaign will allow him to sneak in under the radar and present a serious challenge.
“It’s incredible no one else wants to do this when you consider how big the 1st District is,” he said.
Ketelsen’s small blue flier summarizes his campaign issues in staccato fashion: “Vote for freedom. Oak View. Keep Lake Casitas open. Preserve Midtown and the Ventura Bowling Center. Respect history. Workers rights. Save the Mallory Way cottages downtown Ojai, CA. U.S.A.”
As a writer of politically charged letters to the Ojai Valley News, Ketelsen is not an unknown. He supported the grass-roots effort to save the O-Hi Frostie last year. But, despite his frequent candidacy for offices as disparate as supervisor, school board member, community college trustee and the Casitas water board, his background has not been reported.
In an interview, he said what you see is what you get, and that he is not that complicated.
He’s lived in the same mobile home in an aging Mira Monte park for nearly 13 years, he said. He’s been married to his wife, a care-giver at an Ojai convalescent home, for two decades. They have two daughters, ages 5 and 17.
Over the last decade, Ketelsen said he returned to school, receiving an associate’s degree from Ventura College in 1999 and a bachelor’s degree in history from California State University-Northridge in 2002. He holds an emergency state teaching credential, he said, which allows him to substitute teach in public schools for up to 30 consecutive days, although he said he hasn’t had many teaching assignments lately.
Ketelsen’s principal income, about $5,300 last year, came as the lead usher at the Batman Action Theater Show at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Santa Clarita, he said.
He said he has filed “three or four” claims for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for reimbusement for flood damage to his mobile home during severe storms in 1998 and 2005. “They don’t respond,” he said.
Born in Santa Maria, the son of a Teamsters Union foreman at Vandenburg Air Force Base, Ketelsen moved to Ventura County when he was 7, he said.
A 1979 graduate of Ventura High School, he loved surfing.
“I was a surf bum. A lot of people do refer to me as a beach bum. There are those people that remember me on the beach smoking and drinking. They say what are you doing running for public office, but I did work as a bus boy for restaurants along the coast every night,” he said. “And I say that was me until 1988, when I got married.”
From 1992 until 2004, Ketelsen said he worked part-time as a flagman and laborer for the city of Oxnard’s traffic and engineering department. He also served as a canvasser for the 2000 census in Oxnard, he said.
“This is where I got my real training canvassing,” he said. “I have a lot of hands-on experience.”
One issue on which Ketelsen has spoken out recently is illegal immigration, saying illegal workers are taking jobs away from blue-collar citizens and citing the increasing number of Spanish-speaking students in local schools.
“I may have been real upset about crime problems in Ventura County,” he said explaining an e-mail in which he referred to Latino students. “Illegal immigration is a crime. For Ventura County, it’s been a disaster.”
Ketelsen said he’s back on the campaign trail because he thinks citizens should be more involved in their government.
“There is a lack of people getting involved and trying,” he said. “I’m running as just an ordinary working guy.”
By Daryl Kelley