The three candidates running for the new California District 66 Assembly seat agree on one thing: state government needs to be run better.
How Republicans Nathan Mintz and Craig Huey and Democrat Al Muratsuchi say they'll get there is another matter.
Deputy Attorney General with the California Department of Justice and Torrance Unified School District board member Muratsuchi, a Torrance resident for the past 16 years, told Patch that his proven record of working in an elected position sets him apart.
"I have a record of working with Republicans, Democrats and independents to do the right thing and get the job done," he said Wednesday. "I'd like to continue to work with people regardless of their party affiliation to get our (the state's) fiscal house in order."
Muratsuchi says he has had to make tough decisions as a school board member. "Education has been hit hard by state budget cuts," he said. "I know firsthand the consequences of all the dysfunction in Sacramento, and I'm sick and tired of partisan gridlock. The legislature is dysfunctional because people on the far left and far right are refusing to compromise. I want to be a voice in the middle."
He points to his eight years as an elected Torrance school board member and volunteer service on the city of Torrance's environmental and planning commissions as well as participation in other civic organizations as a solid foundation for understanding how government functions.
His is particularly proud of his school board tenure. "I have a record of fiscal responsibility during devastating state budget cuts to education while making sure the [school] district is fiscally solvent," he said. "I have achieved that and [student] test scores continue to rise. We [the school district] have a healthy rainy day fund."
He says environmental protection is an important cause to those who make up the newly formed 66th Assembly District, which spans much of the coast from the Palos Verdes Peninsula to Manhattan Beach, and that he is proud to be the only candidate endorsed by the Sierra Club and California League of Conservation Voters.
In addition to education and environmental concerns, he sees business as another key to California's economic recovery.
"In order to restore funding, we need to grow our economy and create jobs. I will do everything in my power to make California a business-friendly state," he told Patch.
"The key is balance. We want to make sure we're balancing the needs of the business community without sacrificing the health and safety of residents or employees and the environment."
He says that compared side by side to Mintz and Huey, he has "far and away the most extensive experience" due to his eight years of school board service and other community involvement.
"We've seen examples of people who have no experience in working with government and they talk the rhetoric that they want to run government like a business," he said.
"Arnold Schwarzenegger is an example. When he came in with no government experience and tried to run a state, he realized that government is a very different animal than running a business. Government has different motivations. A candidate has to understand how government works in order to be effective."
Muratsuchi points to endorsements from both sides of the political aisle as proof of his good work. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca supports him as do Congresswoman Janice Hahn, environmental activist Darcy Nelson, Rolling Hills Estates Mayor Susan Seamans, Rancho Palos Verdes City Council member Jim Knight, Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School Board President Barbara Lucky, Hermosa Beach Mayor Jeff Duclos, Hermosa Beach City Council member Howard Fishman, Redondo Beach City Council member Bill Brand, Manhattan Beach City Council member Amy Howorth, and Manhattan Beach Unified School District Board members Bill Fournell and Ida Vanderpoorte, among others.
"I'm a true believer in public service," he said. "I want to be of service."
Below are answers to a questionnaire Patch sent to every candidate for 66th Assembly District. Questions were chosen from those submitted by Patch editors and readers.
Patch: State your top priorities in your first 30, 60 and 90 days in office, if elected.
Al Muratsuchi: As a prosecutor with the California Department of Justice and as a Torrance School Board member, I know firsthand how the dysfunction in Sacramento is affecting our schools, our community, and our state. I will work with Democrats and Republicans to get the state's fiscal house in order and to focus on common goals for all Californians: good jobs, good schools, safe neighborhoods, and a clean and healthy environment.
Patch: Which of the tax measures on the November ballot do you support? If you want to increase taxes on the rich, what do you say to those who contend such hikes discourage entrepreneurship, investment and growth? If you do not support higher taxes or extensions, why not, and what alternative budget balancer do you support instead?
Muratsuchi: As a Torrance School Board member since 2005, and as the only local elected official among the three Assembly candidates, I have a record of being fiscally responsible. Because of state budget cuts, I have had to make many tough decisions to cut over 23 percent, or $53 million, of Torrance school district spending just in the past four years. Notwithstanding these devastating cuts, our test scores have rose consistently since 2005. Moreover, our school district has not only remained fiscally solvent, but we now have a healthy rainy day reserve fund to help get us through these difficult times. Torrance has also been recognized as one of the top school districts in the state for spending tax dollars in the classroom rather than on administration.
However, despite our best efforts to be fiscally responsible, I know that public schools in the South Bay and throughout the state will suffer even more devastating state budget cuts if the state does not receive additional revenues. In the short term, while the economy struggles to improve, our schools need temporary tax revenues. That is why I am supporting Governor Brown's proposal to temporarily increase taxes on those with incomes of $250,000 and above. Anyone who thinks that we can just continue to cut state spending for education does not truly understand the crisis facing our schools.
I passionately believe that funding for our schools, community colleges, and public universities is an investment in our children, our workforce, and our economy. To grow our economy and to create jobs, we need to invest in public education so that our workforce will be competitive in the global economy, and so that California can attract and retain good jobs, particularly in the areas of science, technology, and health care. As a Berkeley and UCLA graduate, I believe that we need to restore California's higher education system to its position among the best in the world.
Patch: When it comes time to balance the state budget, will you negotiate with legislators across the aisle?
Muratsuchi: Of course. As a South Bay elected official since 2005, I have always worked with everyone regardless of party affiliation to do what's right and to get the job done, and I will continue to do so as an Assemblymember.
Patch: Though Gov. Jerry Brown's most recent revised budget for the state does not include any major new cuts to public schools, he warns that if his ballot measures to increase taxes in the fall don't pass, schools will see an additional $5 billion cut. In the meantime, some school districts have passed or are considering bond measures and parcel taxes to shore up local budgets. How would you support public education?
Muratsuchi: As a Torrance School Board member since 2005, I have been fighting for education funding from both public and private sources for more than six years. In 2008, Torrance voters overwhelmingly approved two bond measures to fix and modernize our schools. The lesson I learned is that most voters are willing to pay for better schools if they can be assured that their tax dollars will be spent wisely in an accountable and transparent manner. As an Assemblymember, I will always remember this lesson and continue to fight to ensure that tax dollars are spent wisely and properly.
Patch: AES Southland officials have said they intend to apply for a permit to build a new power plant to replace its on the coast of Redondo Beach. While officials say the new plant will be smaller, run cleaner and provide power when it's not available from renewable resources, opponents say the new plant would continue to blight the area and double particulate pollution. Two citizen groups aim to put an initiative on the ballot that would rezone the land under the plant to allow a large park and some commercial and institutional usage. What is your opinion on AES' plans for a new plant and the zoning initiative?
Muratsuchi: As the only candidate endorsed by the Sierra Club and the California League of Conservation Voters, I oppose the power plant. We should not have a power plant in a high-density residential community like Redondo Beach and neighboring Hermosa Beach that emits significant particulate matter, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, ammonia, and other emissions. I am also deeply concerned about the extensive power lines running to and from the power plant, particularly as to the potential public health effects of electromagnetic fields in this high-density residential community. As an Assemblymember, I will work with the elected officials and citizens of Redondo Beach and Hermosa Beach, as well as with AES and other stakeholders, to address this issue.
Patch: California is showing signs that it’s beginning to dig out, albeit slowly, of the recession. Still, in many parts of the state, jobless rates are staggering, and most residents can’t afford mortgages, even in traditionally wealthier neighborhoods of Los Angeles. What job-creating investments do you support? How do you propose to make California more business friendly?
Muratsuchi: Fixing California's aging infrastructure would create jobs more effectively than tax cuts or deregulation. As a Torrance School Board member, I helped create thousands of good construction jobs since 2009 through the passage of the largest school repair and modernization program in the district's history. California needs to repair and upgrade its water system, transportation system, and schools.
Moreover, I will support tax credits and other incentives to create alternative energy jobs. Just as California rode the global information technology boom in the 1990s, we need to position our state as a global leader in alternative energy and green technology.
I will also invest in job training. As a board member of the Southern California Regional Occupation Center, I have supported efforts to work with the South Bay business community to identify their needs and to educate and train workers to meet these needs. We have many unemployed construction workers who need to be retrained for growing industries like health care and technology.
Overall, I will strive to make California a more business-friendly state, so that we can attract, create, and retain good jobs. To that end, I will support efforts to eliminate unnecessary regulations, reduce excessive litigation, and improve access to capital, particularly for small businesses.
Patch: On social issues, what is your position on same-sex marriage? What about abortion?
Muratsuchi: I believe two people in love with each other should be able to get married. I support a woman's right to choose.
This is the third and final article profiling candidates for California's 66th Assembly District prior to the June 5 election.
- Previously: Huey to Prioritize Job Creation, Public Education if Elected