By GWEN MURANAKA
Rafu English Editor in Chief
With the June 5 primary rapidly approaching, Al Muratsuchi looks like a good bet to qualify for the November general election, but he’s not taking anything for granted.
“We’re walking precincts, we’ve been walking a lot of neighborhoods with a lot of Buddahheads, a lot of Japanese Americans,” said Muratsuchi, in an interview with The Rafu Shimpo.
Muratsuchi is the sole Democrat seeking to represent the newly created 66th Assembly District, which includes Gardena, Harbor Gateway, Lomita, Torrance and parts of Palos Verdes. He will face Republicans Craig Huey and Nathan Mintz, with the top two vote-getters moving ahead to November.
Democrats have a slight edge with 38 percent of the registered voters to 35 percent for Republicans. Decline-to-state voters are 22 percent. The June 5 election is the first open primary since voters in 2010 approved new statewide election rules, giving more influence to unaffiliated voters.
With two Republicans competing — Huey, a businessman who ran against Janice Hahn for Congress in 2011, and Mintz, founder of the South Bay branch of the Tea Party — a split of the Republican vote is a likely outcome. Asian Americans will also have considerable influence on the election. The 66th Assembly District is 24 percent Asian Pacific Islander, with Japanese Americans constituting the largest voting bloc.
“Gardena, Torrance, Palos Verdes — it’s the heart of the Southern California Japanese American community,” said Muratsuchi.
“The way we’re planning is for this to end up very much like a traditional election with one Democrat and one Republican facing each other in the general election.”
Muratsuchi, a state deputy attorney general, is currently in his sixth year on the Torrance Unified School District board. He said that spending cuts to schools at all levels are the reason he threw his hat into the race. He got his start in politics working on redress as a student at UC Berkeley in the 1980s and represented JACL as the Pacific Southwest regional director.
“It was my frustration with the state budget cuts in education that made me decide to run. In Torrance, in the past four years we’ve have had 23 percent of our district’s budget cut. And most of our budget is primarily from the state. So we’ve had our budget cut by over $53 million,” he stated.
“We’ve been hit hard, but we made a lot of tough decisions, tough calls, so we’re at a point where not only have we maintained our fiscal solvency, we also have a health rainy day reserve fund. As a result of that, we’re able to get through this year without having to issue any pink slips, whereas LAUSD issued 11,000 pink slips to their teachers.”
Muratsuchi has received the endorsements of top Democrats, including Rep. Hahn, Rep. Judy Chu, State Controller John Chiang and Assembly Speaker John Perez. Labor interests, including California Labor Federation, California Nurses Association, California Teachers Association and SEIU California, have also joined in support, as have Sheriff Lee Baca and Gardena Mayor Paul Tanaka.
Muratsuchi was critical of the extremes in both parties, which he says have contributed greatly to the gridlock in Sacramento.
“I want to get up there and do my best to get the state’s fiscal house in order. I think a big problem in Sacramento is that a lot of the policy discussions are being driven by people on the far left and the far right. There aren’t people in the middle willing to lead with more common sense, and that’s what I’d like to do,” said Muratsuchi.
Former Assemblymember George Nakano, who has advised Muratsuchi, agreed about the situation in the State Capitol.
“It is a difficult situation because you can’t find a middle ground for people to compromise for legislation to pass,” said Nakano.
Nakano said Muratsuchi will face a difficult battle if he makes it to the general election. Republican Meg Whitman narrowly prevailed in the district against Jerry Brown in the 2010 governor’s race. But Nakano stressed that it is vital for Japanese Americans to be represented in the Assembly. As examples, he pointed to funding he was able to secure for the Japanese American National Museum and the Go For Broke National Educational Foundation, which he now chairs.
“You have to be at the table to be heard,” said Nakano.
Muratsuchi said his experience on the Torrance school board is one he would like to take to Sacramento.
“One of my main goals is to try to work with people, reach across the aisle and work with Republicans and Democrats to do what’s best for the state,” he said.