Republican Katcho Achadjian repeatedly cited his small business experience Wednesday as he and Democratic opponent Hilda Zacarias made their pitches to South County Chamber of Commerce members in their race for state Assembly.
“I at all times wear my business hat,” Achadjian, who owns gas stations in Arroyo Grande, told a Tri-Chamber luncheon meeting at Steamers in Pismo Beach.
He and Zacarias, an accountant who, like Achadjian, has both business and government experience, are seeking to fill the 33rd District Assembly seat vacated by Sam Blakeslee last month when he was elected to the state Senate.
While the duo, both of whom are Cal Poly graduates, gave some specifics on policy, they also leaned heavily on their respective life stories, which they said shaped their views on how government should work.
Zacarias, 49, told of a troubled childhood that included mental illness and violence in the home, as well as foster care. She also lost a child to sudden infant death syndrome.
All of that helped form her values and her commitment to public service, she said, as did her degree from Harvard University, where she went on a scholarship, and her time on the Santa Maria school board and City Council, where she serves as vice mayor.
“Public policy matters,” Zacarias said, adding that she has long wanted to “have a voice when I saw something was unjust.” She described herself as “a problem-solver. I am about fixing what’s broken.”
Achadjian, 59, a San Luis Obispo County supervisor, told of working at a gas station while getting his education at Cuesta College and Cal Poly, and eventually going into small business himself.
He said he became frustrated with government overregulation when he was forced to retrofit his gasoline pumps, despite the cost. He said the government did not ask “the right question how would this affect your business.”
He said the government should seek to make California “the business-friendly state we once were,” adding that solutions to problems would flow from that. He said he asks himself “how can we serve best those who have suffered the most.”
On other issues
Proposition 21: The proposition would place an $18 surcharge on noncommercial vehicle registration, with the money going to maintain state parks, which have been threatened with shutdown.
Zacarias supports it, saying the charge — which also would give free entry to state parks — is “a small price to pay” to maintain “the beauty and the value of what we have here.”
Achadjian opposes it as a tax that would hurt car dealers. He proposed instead user fees to fix the fiscal problems of state parks. Achadjian added that there is no connection between motor vehicles and state parks.
The state budget: Achadjian said the state should be run like a business, living within its means and not raising taxes. “We don’t need to get deeper in your pocket.”
Zacarias suggested a whistle-blower program so that state employees — who she said know where spending abuses can be found — can expose them without fear of losing their jobs. She also suggested a two-year budgeting cycle, zero-based budgeting, paying down debt and creating reserves, and ferreting out overregulation and duplication.
Education: Achadjian said as the business climate improves, so will the schools, as more revenue comes in.
Zacarias agreed, but asked, “What are we doing in the meantime?” She said schools should eliminate wasteful spending such as mandatory testing of second-graders, who she said are too young. She also said there should be no more teaching to the test — the practice of teachers giving lessons strictly to help students perform well on standardized exams.
Partisan hostility and gridlock in Sacramento: “This is how you stop the gridlock,” Zacarias said as she and Achadjian embraced. The pair, while philosophically opposed on many issues, have made a point of showing that they like and respect one another. They believe it to be especially important in a national, state and local political climate that has turned venomous.