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Newly elected Republican Assemblyman Jeff Gorell is bracing for war - literally.

The 39-year-old Camarillo resident hardly will have time to take his Capitol seat before he bids goodbye to it.

Gorell announced days before Tuesday's election that he is headed to Afghanistan in March as a lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserve.

He easily won election in a district stretching through Ventura, Kern and Los Angeles counties, though Gorell will be overseas for 12 months - half of his first Assembly term.

Now what?

"I didn't anticipate this, and it's obviously a challenge," said Gorell, whose name was on the ballot from winning the June primary before he learned of his deployment.

"I'm working really hard to put together a well-thought-out plan to ensure that my district has a voice in Sacramento," he said.

One possibility is to propose legislation that would allow a temporary replacement - perhaps he could propose a fill-in Assembly member for appointment by the governor and maybe confirmation by the Senate, Gorell said.

California currently does not permit an appointed fill-in for a deployed lawmaker, but provisions of the state Military and Veterans Code ensure that Gorell can regain his seat upon return and mentions the possibility of a temporary replacement if the state opts to authorize it.

"Any vacancy created by such absence may be filled by a temporary appointment, as provided by law," the statute reads.

"I'm interested in exploring that, but I'm not advocating one way or the other," Gorell said. "I'm just doing my due diligence on behalf of my community because there are no easy solutions here."

Several states allow temporary legislative appointments, he said, and California law allows the governor to fill county supervisorial vacancies until the next general election cycle.

"It's not completely alien to what we're already doing in many circumstances," Gorell said.

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez was noncommittal when asked whether he could support legislation to permit an appointed replacement.

Pérez said Assembly seats are elected positions in which voters express their choice.

"I want to make sure that he's as successful as he can be in representing his constituents, but the notion of appointing somebody to fill that spot seems rather odd to me," Pérez said. "But I'm always happy to listen to him."

A former aide to Gov. Pete Wilson, Gorell is an attorney, part-owner of a public relations firm, and adjunct professor of public policy at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.

Gorell will be sworn into his 37th District Assembly seat on Dec. 6 and plans to introduce a full slate of bills before his deployment.

His wife, Laura, will represent him at community events, and his legislative staff can shoulder much of the workload while he is gone, Gorell said.

Legislative colleagues also have been quick to offer help.

"I've gotten a number of calls from other legislators who have said, 'Hey Jeff, look, we're with you, we're a family now, we'll look out for your bills and your constituents, we'll do whatever we can.'"

Whether a temporary appointment is made or not, Gorell said he is confident that his district will be represented ably at the Capitol.

"Frankly, my bills might get more attention, more visibility and more support than if I were here," he said.


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