It's not a state secret — just about everybody knows California is broke and the Legislature is broken, and has been ever since voters took the law into their own hands and passed Proposition 13, stopping the government from jacking up taxes every time they wanted a buck.
Essentially, our Assembly and Senate representatives have been on strike for more than 30 years no matter whether the governor was a Democrat or Republican — mostly Republican — or which party was calling the shots in the Legislature, mostly Democrats.
Voters have tried everything to break the stalemate in Sacramento, from term limits to locking up money for schools in Proposition 98. A lot of people thought things would change with an open-primary system and creation of an independent citizens commission to draw districts that were fair instead of gerrymandered in a way that made almost every seat safe for far-right Republicans or far-left Democrats.
On June 5, those reforms were tested and found wanting. Every indication from the primary elections is that the same old ideologues on the fringes of the political spectrum will rant and rave at each other and none of the people's problems will be solved.
That's why the curious case of Greg Krikorian is worth taking a look at.
In the 43rd Assembly District that runs from La Cañada through Glendale and Burbank into the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Atwater Village and Silver Lake, voters have elected Democrats by 2-to-1 margins in recent years.
Yet, Krikorian, a longtime Glendale school board member who only jumped into the race against incumbent Democrat Mike Gatto at the last minute in March when no other challenger emerged, came within 12 percentage points in the primary.
He was outspent 15 to 1 — more than $4 a vote for Gatto to 35 cents a vote for Krikorian, who faces a voter registration gap of 44% to 26% and a Gatto campaign war chest of more than $700,000 versus the barely $50,000 he has.
Owner with his father, John, of a magazine publishing business that produces “Senior Living” and “Business Life,” Krikorian conceded he only has “a chance” to upset Gatto.
“The New York Giants with Eli Manning came in from nowhere and won the Super Bowl. No one thought the L.A. Kings were going to do it. No one thinks Krikorian is going to do it. But we are. I know I got a chance. We can do it.”
We chatted for more than an hour in his West Glenoaks office last week, circling around the question of how a self-described “very fiscally conservative, socially open-minded” Republican can energize his base and win votes from independents.
“Back in November, people started coming to me and saying we got to do something about Gatto, he's not doing his job,” Krikorian said.
“I started taking a hard look at Gatto, who comes from the politically loaded law firm Mayer Brown, and I thought, ‘It's about time we had a local guy, a small-business owner, a dad to represent our community.'”
A third-generation Armenian American married to an Italian American with five children, Krikorian says he has worked hard for the last 12 years as a Glendale school board member to help keep the district solvent, avoid layoffs or class-size increases, and get a bond issue passed.
Combined with his community involvement in youth sports and service clubs, he feels he has a base to build on.
So far, most of his campaign money has come from small donations, often from the Armenian community, while Gatto is getting checks from $1,000 to $5,000 from lawyers, Indian casinos, unions, bankers, healthcare interests, and giant corporations like Pepsico, Kraft foods and NBC Universal.
He will need at the least several hundred thousand dollars from the local business community and the Republican Party to even stand a chance.
“We need to take our state, our country back from special interests,” Krikorian said, adding that the kind of social issues so often raised by Republicans “are not going to get us jobs, or put gas in our tanks, or help our public schools. We need to be focused on job creation, on keeping businesses from leaving our state. We need to get back to the basics and become business-friendly again. We need some people who will work with both sides of the aisle for the good of everybody.”
I'm not saying Krikorian is the right man to represent the 43rd Assembly District, or that Gatto isn't. That's for voters in the district to decide in the coming months.
What I am saying is we need competitive elections and lively public debates about how we start solving our problems instead of making them worse. We need the public, whatever the outcome of the election, to keep the pressure on all our elected officials to balance our interests, needs and values more than we need ideologues or servants of narrow interests.
Let the games begin.
RON KAYE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Share your thoughts and stories with him.