Katcho Achadjian's life among Democrats

As it stands, there are 55 Democrats and 25 Republicans in the Assembly. The state Senate counts 29 Democrats and 11 Republicans.

bmorem@thetribunenews.comMay 4, 2013 

Katcho Achadjian has worn many titles in his life: immigrant, student, small business owner, Republican.

But never before has he been part of a political superminority.

That distinction came about last fall when Democrats forged their way to a supermajority in the Legislature able to reach the two-thirds requirement to pass the state budget.

Republicans lost their final ability to influence policy as a result, leaving GOP members like San Luis Obispo Achadjian seemingly adrift.

Yet, to hear Achadjian tell it, he can remain effective even if he is in the superminority.

“Despite the widespread belief that the Legislature can’t agree on anything, if you look at the votes taken in the Assembly, you will see that on a majority of bills, Republicans and Democrats agree,” Achadjian replied in an email query to questions. “In fact, almost all of the legislation that I have pushed through the process was approved with broad bipartisan, if not unanimous, support.”

As it stands, there are 55 Democrats and 25 Republicans in the Assembly. The state Senate counts 29 Democrats and 11 Republicans.

Achadjian’s latest achievement was being appointed chair of the Local Government Committee, the only Republican in the state Assembly to be named to a standing policy committee. His appointment came from the speaker of the Assembly, John A. Pérez, a Democrat.

A spokesman from the speaker’s office said that Pérez has a tradition of appointing a Republican as a committee chair so as to include the party in the legislative process. He said Achadjian was given the chairmanship because he is well respected on both sides of the aisle and has worked with Democrats in the past.

State legislative analysts called the appointment a pragmatic move, noting that the San Luis Obispo resident will cross the aisle even if other Republicans refuse to break party ranks.

Achadjian wrote that he’s “never been in a position where working with people of different political persuasions wasn’t part of the job.

“Whether it was in business or during my time on the Board of Supervisors, I have always been willing to work with people who may not agree with me on everything.”

Such equanimity may have been forged through a background that includes family members who were massacred in the Turkish genocide between 1915 and 1923.

Achadjian’s family fled, and he grew up in Lebanon, an exile from his homeland of Armenia.
His pragmatic inclinations were further honed by his parents who gave him a strong work ethic; his emigration to the U.S. in 1971 when he attended Cuesta College and later Cal Poly where he graduated with a degree in business administration.

His Horatio Alger-like drive continued when he was granted citizenship in 1982; established three businesses with about 30 employees; was named both Arroyo Grande Citizen of the Year and a Cuesta College Distinguished Alumnus; elected county supervisor for three terms, and then voted into the Assembly.

Early vote criticized
Achadjian’s first term in Sacramento was somewhat of a political seesaw: He’d taken the Grover Norquist no-tax pledge, and advocated cost cutting, both on a personal and collective basis, which included turning down a state-provided car and cellphone as well as being one of only three elected state officials who accepted no gifts from special interests.

Yet, although he’d taken the tax pledge in his first term, Los Angeles conservative radio talk show hosts John and Ken lambasted him for talking to the governor about raising taxes to help bail the state out of a $20 billion-plus hole.

Recently, he was the lone Republican assemblyman to vote for expanding state Medicaid eligibility under the federal Affordable Care Act, a vote that may have drawn more ire from ultraconservatives.

CalWatchdog.com, which calls itself an independent project of the Journalism Center at the Pacific Research Institute, recently ran a piece targeting Achadjian for traveling to Cuba in “secret.” The Pacific Research Institute is supported by right-wing foundations, such as the Koch Foundation, which denies scientific evidence of global warming, among other right-wing beliefs.

Health care: beyond partisanship
Even though such media barbs from conservatives must hurt at some level, and may earn enmity from his fellow Republicans in Sacramento, Achadjian doesn’t seem to be unduly ruffled for taking the stance.

“I understand that for some members of my party, anything to do with the Affordable Care Act is radioactive. That said, at some point we have to accept that whether we supported it or not — and I certainly was opposed to the majority of its provisions — the ACA is the law of the land. Therefore, I will do what I can to maximize the benefits for my constituents, while limiting the negative impacts.”

Further explaining his position, he added, “The expansion is one of the positive benefits. It will provide coverage to over a million hard-working Californians.

“The benefit and cost savings to California will far outweigh our small portion of the costs. Therefore, I could not in good conscience vote against the expansion.”

Optimistic outlook
As to the mood of the Assembly since Democrats have secured a supermajority, an edge that gives them the capacity to oversee and pass key legislation dealing with issues such as budgets, Achadjian is optimistic.

“I have not noticed a major difference working with a supermajority versus a simple majority.

So far, the governor and leaders in the Legislature have shown restraint and haven’t rushed to use their supermajority status to rush through any tax increases or costly mandates. Likewise, the majority party has not used its supermajority status to unfairly punish or disadvantage Republican members.

“My principles and values lead me to vote with my Republican colleagues in the majority of cases. However, when my principles differ from those of my Republican colleagues, I am not afraid to vote my conscience.”

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