Long-shot candidate seeks seat over incumbent

Gerry Manata, a Democratic candidate who has progressive ideals, campaigns to unseat Katcho Achadjian, who has more money and recognition

jlamb@thetribunenews.comOctober 26, 2012 

A 35-hour workweek. A ban on disposable diapers. Overtime for farmworkers. 

This progressive wish list belongs to Gerry Manata, the Paso Robles man whose run for California’s newly formed 35th Assembly District looks as improbable as his hope for a 35-hour workweek. 

The incumbent, former county Supervisor Katcho Achadjian, is expected to win handily over long-shot Democratic candidate and school bus driver Manata. Achadjian has more money, a voter registration advantage and a recognizable name. 

Odds aside, the two men in the race couldn’t be more different. Freshman Republican 

Assemblyman Achadjian, who emigrated from Lebanon in the early 1970s, started a small business and worked his way up through local politics, firmly believes in the power of the free market and thinks government gets in the way more often than not. 

His opponent, Manata, is a progressive from Chicago who got his first taste of politics in the 1960s as a member of Students for a Democratic Society, wrote two anarchist-influenced books in the early 1970s and worked for Tom Hayden’s failed 1976 bid for the Senate. Manata said government can be a force for good, from environmental regulation and labor laws to financial regulations and food safety. 

“Historically, the district has never gone to a Democratic candidate. There are more Republicans registered,” said Pat Harris, chair of the San Luis Obispo County Democratic Party. “It’s really, really unlikely that he will win that seat.” 

Money and voters

As of Sept. 7, out of the newly drawn 35th District’s 216,195 registered voters, more than 86,000 were Republicans while only 73,913 were Democrats. There were more than 43,000 voters with no party preference. 

Since January, Achadjian has spent about $130,000 and raised $170,778, which is far less than the $455,680 he spent in his first run for the Assembly two years ago. He still had $182,619.30 on hand as of Sept. 30. 

Manata hasn’t filed a campaign finance report with the state. 

Manata said that while he has no illusions about his chances in the race, he doesn’t think anyone should run unopposed. So, as a member of the Paso Robles Democratic Club, he put his name forward as an experimental candidate and was given the nod to run. With little to lose, Manata is waging a campaign that makes no apology for his beliefs.

“Your standard party-line Democrat in this area gets nowhere,” he said. “So I’m standing for my principles instead of going toward the middle.” 

He is doing little in terms of campaigning, aside from some precinct walks for Democrats in general and perhaps a mailer. The only support he was given from larger Democratic circles was a small sum from the Los Angeles County Democratic Club to file papers.

Manata says that on a long list of issues, Achadjian fails where it matters. 

“We workers, students, middle-class Americans, small-business owners, the poor and disabled have taken a real hit in the last few years. Mr. Achadjian’s solution seems to be that the same groups should suffer even more,” according to Manata’s website. 

Manata’s positions on most issues are to the left of the Democratic Party’s: 

• He advocates increased environmental regulations and cleanup. 

• He says taxes should be increased on sodas, pesticide use and gasoline.

• He advocates the creation of a state bank and a unicameral state Legislature.

• He believes plastic bags should be banned, as well as Styrofoam.

Achadjian, who describes himself as a moderate Republican and who has a track record of some bipartisanship, stands firm on a litany of conservative issues, including his stances against abortion, gay marriage, new taxes, regulation, high-speed rail and realignment; and his support for school vouchers and concealed weapons laws as they stand. 

Achadjian says he has not been in lockstep with his party. For instance, he voted for a law allowing some undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children to get driver’s licenses. Also, he was appointed by the Democratic Assembly speaker to the Little Hoover Commission, which was charged with recommending ways to reduce redundant state operations. 

Although Achadjian signed a no-tax pledge, the California Republican Assembly scorecard noted that he voted in support of its views only 63 percent of the time and, on several occasions, for fee increases. Several of these votes he defends because they are not a general tax but rather a user fee. 

According to the CRA, Achadjian voted for the following: increased user fees on boaters to fight the spread of quagga mussel; an annual $50 charge for lobbyists, PACs and campaigns to stay active; allowing counties to increase real estate filing fees by $7; and leaving some vehicle fees in place, some of which would go to support the Carl Moyer Program that helps farmers and truckers retrofit vehicles to meet clean air standards.

Achadjian said that in almost all of these cases, he voted for user fees so only the people or organizations using the services would be impacted. 

When it comes to California’s budget woes, Achadjian said, “The best way to increase revenue is to improve the state’s business climate and economy rather than raising taxes.” 

Achadjian said he is especially proud of several bills with direct impact on the county, including: 

• AB 1125, which authorized local government to access state and federal grant funds for a two-tiered rate program to offset the cost of the new sewer in Los Osos.  

• AB 2161, which added the county to a list of counties eligible for renewable energy development grants. 

Achadjian had little to say about his opponent. 

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