BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
June 5 is the date of the California Primary Election. U.S. presidential hopefuls grace the top of the ballot, so you’d think I’d start off with that race. But, not this time, since there are two races that have, in different ways, already become ugly, and, are more important for the growth of Armenian political involvement than the presidential election. One other important consideration is this— your electoral district may well have changed because of the post-Census redistricting that happens every ten years. There are newly drawn lines that, more so than in any recent redistricting, are very different from the previous ones.
The first of the important races is California’s 43rd Assembly District. There are only two candidates, so both will move on to the November General election. But the dirt has already started. The incumbent is Mike Gatto. The challenger is Greg Krikorian, someone I have known for three decades, an activist and a product of the best the Armenian community and the U.S. have to offer. Gatto’s minions (it seems to me he’s pretty good at having others do his dirty work for him) have already sunk into the mud. They have taken parts of one of Greg’s April 24th speeches, thrown up a Youtube page, and are trying to make him seem like an extremist so he loses support. That may sound really inappropriate, abusing Genocide related material, but it gets worse. There’s even a comment posted on Youtube questioning why Greg would mention his candidacy during such a speech. You’ll notice, whoever wrote that is trying to make Greg look bad to the Armenian community as well. What’s most telling is that the video’s posting date and the date that the various commenters’ Youtube accounts were opened are within a week of one another. There’s no doubt in my mind that this is NOT natural, normal, political discourse, but a pre-plotted hatchet job. The behavior is also familiar because of what I and others I know have experienced at Gatto’s hands.
It is VERY important. If you live in the 43rd Assembly district, make sure you cast your ballot, whether by mail or in person. Even if you vote in none of the other races, make sure to vote for Greg in this one. The Armenian community’s credibility, potency, and tolerance of unacceptable behavior during elections are at stake. A strong showing for Greg is important. Do you remember the hit piece that was designed to suggest that many Armenians are terrorists? That was in 2006, in the heat of the Paul Krekorian/Frank Quintero June Democratic Primary race. The same disguised forces that brought us that bit of sleaze can be expected to strike again. The Youtube situation I described could well be just the first salvo.
The other important race I mentioned is in the newly created 46th Assembly district which is located in the southern and central part of the San Fernando Valley. There are six candidates running, and the top two vote getters will move on to the General Election in November (more on this below). One of those candidates is Adrin Nazarian, another child of our community. He has amassed well over a dozen years of electioneering practice, government employment, and community service. The reason this race is important, in addition to the obvious, comes from an unexpected cause. One of the major contenders for this position is someone who is an active supporter of charter schools. This is no crime, but, unfortunately, it has led to the direct participation of at least one campaign contributor who is employed by the Magnolia Institute, one of the Gulen inspired operations that pursues contracts for charter schools and uses the schools it gets as a means of spreading what I can only describe as Turkish propaganda. So not only is Adrin the best, most competent candidate for the job, but there’s a very real threat to Armenian concerns if the Gulenjee supported candidate wins. If you live in this district, make sure you get out and vote or mail your ballot in a timely manner.
Now, regarding the presidential election, the big party races are already settled. On the Democratic side, Barack Obama is the only candidate. On the Republican side, only one of the candidates, Mitt Romney, has not pulled out of the campaign in one way or another. The Libertarian, Green, and American Independent parties still have multiple candidates. So if you belong to one of those three, make your choice. If you’re a Republican, regardless of who you vote for, it will be Mitt Romney who’ll win the nomination. For Democrats, given the repeated betrayal the Armenian community has suffered at the hands of our sitting president, I recommend simply leaving that race blank. Obama’s is the only name that appears, but nothing says you must vote for him. We can sort out the details of what to do in November, during the General Election.
Regarding state ballot measures, we’re lucky this time, there are only two to consider, Propositions 28 and 29. Both are good. Let’s start with Prop 29, since it is easier to present. It adds a five-cent-per-cigarette tax (and similar amounts to other tobacco products). The money raised will go into cancer research. This makes sense since tobacco is a killer via the cancer it causes. Those who are subjecting themselves to tobacco are thus paying for seeking a cure for their future disease. Otherwise, the cost of smokers’ addiction to tobacco is passed on to all of us through their ill health and costs created to those who employ them. Please vote yes on Prop 29.
Prop 28 is an Initiative Constitutional Amendment. It would change the term limits imposed on those who serve in the State Senate and Assembly. Now, anyone elected to the Assembly can serve three terms (six years) then move on to the State Senate and serve two terms (eight years), or vice-versa, for a total of 14 years in the state legislature. With the new system, anyone would be able to serve no more than 12 years in the Assembly, Senate, or a combination of both. The idea behind this is to allow one person to remain in the same place long enough to be effective in getting legislation passed that requires long term effort. Currently, no sooner are members of either house of the legislature elected than they have to start thinking about how to jump to some other office. It reduces the institutional memory and capacity of the legislature and allows lobbyists to become the better informed sector of the legislative process. This has proven not to yield good laws. While term limits for legislative offices are a bad idea in general, this small change might make things a little less bad in Sacramento. Please vote yes on Prop 28.
Before moving on to the remainder of my recommendations, I must explain a fundamental change in how California’s elections are run that goes into broad effect with this June 5 Primary election. It used to be that primary elections were held so that members of each party (American Independent, Democratic, Green, Libertarian, Natural Law, Peace and Freedom, Republican, and others that have come and gone over the years) could select who would run for a given position on their party’s behalf in the general election that followed. So, if a citizen was registered as a Green party member, then s/he would vote for whoever seemed best among the Greens running in the primary.
Now, everyone, regardless of party affiliation, can vote for any candidate from any party. That’s why the lists of candidates in the ballot books you have received are so much longer. And, instead of one winner from each party, only the top two vote-getters will advance to the November general election (this is how Armenia’s presidential elections are run, too). You can see how your vote for a candidate has the potential to have more impact. Be sure to vote!
This year, there are no other statewide items before the voters other than what I’ve mentioned above and also the Senate race. You’ll see 24 names on your ballot, but choosing is easy, vote for Diane Feinstein. Not only is she likely to win anyway, but she’s been decent on Armenian issues too.
In the most densely Armenian-inhabited areas, there are two other easy picks: Adam Schiff in the 28th Congressional District and Carol Liu in the 25th State Senatorial District, both of whom happen to be my representatives. Everyone in the Armenian community knows Adam and his pro-Armenian actions already. Unfortunately, in what I can only describe as a foolhardy decision, another member of our community seems to have joined the ranks of the perennial candidates and has chosen to run for this congressional seat. You’ll see his name on the list. I don’t even want to give him the recognition of citing his name. Of course, he has no chance, but will succeed in one thing— diluting the power of Armenian voters in the district. Sad. Carol has also been open and supportive. I’ve noticed the respectable proportion of young Armenians who work in her office, as interns or otherwise.
Now, life gets a little more difficult. Another newly and extensively reshaped district is the 30th Congressional. It has resulted in two long-time friends of the Armenian community being pitted against one another, Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, leading also to this being referred to as the “ermans race”. Both are Democrats, and given the party registration numbers in the district and the amount of money both will bring to bear on the race, it’s possible both will make it into the November runoff (remember the new primary system I explained above). And, if one of them gets knocked out in June, then the other will win in November. While I’m glad not to have to make that choice as a voter I think it’s important to make a recommendation here. An overwhelming proportion of other elected officials have endorsed Berman over Sherman. This suggests that Berman is and would be the more effective legislator, something which is very important to any elected official’s constituents. So it is probably a tough but necessary choice to recommend Berman. If you’re considering not voting for either, then all you’re doing is letting others decide for you who will move on to the November election.
Another interesting one is the newly drawn 26th Congressional District, which encompasses almost all of Ventura County, but includes parts of Los Angeles and Ventura County, and not very many Armenians. It illustrates the unusual outcomes of the citizen redistricting process. In this race, there are four Democrats, one Republican, and one “No party Preference”. Traditional political logic would indicate that the Republican and one of the Democrats will likely advance to the November election. But wait, only four of the candidates have experience in elected office, and one of those is as a harbor commissioner. Plus, the “no party preference” candidate is a former Republican whose own party worked against her reelection as county supervisor in 2010, but won nonetheless! And, she’s garnered the LATimes’ endorsement in this race. That’s Ventura county Supervisor Linda Parks. And, the Republican got his start in electoral politics because of a lucky break when he first ran, catching his main opponent on video pulling up one of his lawn signs. The opponent denied doing it, but of course the video exposed the lie, that’s State Senator Tony Strickland. How’s that for messy? Among the Democrats, the best known is Assemblymember Julia Brownley, whose current district (and therefore the people who have known her over the years) overlaps minimally with this congressional district. Then of course you have the various candidates’ positions on the issues. This is another one I’d hate to have to vote in, especially since I’ve sat in meetings with Parks for the last eight years. The two most competent candidates are Brownley and Parks. Choose accordingly.
Another State Assembly race covering areas with significant Armenian communities is the 41st. Of course this one too is brand new, and none of the candidates currently hold office in the Assembly, although two are city council members in their hometowns. Among the five candidates, I know one, Michael Cacciotti, and recommend voting for him if you’re in the district. He is a humble, energetic, and committed person who practices what he preaches.
At the Los Angeles County level, there are judges, two ballot measures, the supervisors, the various parties’ County Central committee members, and the district attorney race to consider. Unfortunately, for judge elections, this time the only suggestion I can make is to vote for Berj Parseghian for Office No. 114. I received robo-calls supporting him from George Deukmejian and Richard Riordan. Both the ballot measures, H and L, simply continue taxes— one for hotel stays and the other for landfills, nothing new, just reauthorization. Definitely vote for these. Three county supervisor seats are up. Two of the incumbents are running unopposed. The third, Michael Antonovich, who represents a huge portion of the Armenian community of the county, has an opponent. He has been reasonably good with our community and deserves our votes. It will also be his last term in office. For the party central committees, there are some Armenians running, so vote for those and others you have positive information on. Unfortunately, I don’t have sufficient data on all these candidates to make recommendations.
The tough one at the county level is for District Attorney. I have been contacted by various people supporting different candidates, and seen some wooing our community at public events. The last few DAs have not been supportive of our community’s issues, so this is sensitive. The ANCA still has no endorsements on this front either. I am going to be a wimp, at least for now, and make no recommendations.
Next week, I’ll create a compact version of all this for ease of use and as a reminder to get out and vote.