The battle to represent the Central Coast in the state Assembly’s 33rd District pits two candidates with long résumés of civic and governmental involvement against a third-party candidate who says the people running the government have lost touch with the people they are supposed to represent.
Policy-wise, Democrat Hilda Zacarias and Republican Katcho Achadjian hark back to the day when you could tell a candidate’s party by his or her positions. Achadjian is an old-line, prototypical Republican — don’t raise taxes, trust in business. Zacarias believes in the power of government to help people in need.
Libertarian Paul Polson has not campaigned much, but when he has, he has held to his party’s belief in keeping government out of people’s lives. Polson, 50, is a carpenter working as a contractor in Afghanistan.
Zacarias, 49, and Achadjian, 59, have relied heavily on what political consultants call their “narratives” — the stories of their personal lives and how their life experiences will affect the way they govern. In some consultants’ — and voters’ — minds, this has become as important as a mountain of policy papers.
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Both major candidates have “personal narratives” that reflect California’s growing diversity. One is a Latina who is a fifth-generation American. The other is an Armenian-American who came here as a young man, worked his way through Cuesta and Cal Poly, and became a successful businessman, opening gas stations in Arroyo Grande before entering politics.
“I at all times wear my business hat,” Achadjian told people attending a forum in early September. His platform reflects that. He believes the state should balance its budget by reducing spending and support business. He opposes what he calls over-regulation.
Zacarias calls her journey “From Head Start to Harvard and back again.” She worked as a community organizer, also graduated from Cal Poly, went to Harvard University, then came back and became active in local government while maintaining an accounting business.
Both have extensive government involvement. Achadjian is finishing up his third term — 12 years — on the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors. He also serves on the California Coastal Commission, an appointee of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Zacarias has served on the Santa Maria school board and is currently a city councilwoman in Santa Maria.
Achadjian and Zacarias have made a point of running a civil campaign. Their effort provides a contrast to the negative politicking that has dotted the landscape this year and is an antidote in particular to the last Central Coast political race, the venomous battle for state Senate — some called it a “slimefest” — between Sam Blakeslee and John Laird.
On specific issues:
Parks: Achadjian wants to charge admission to Montaña de Oro and other state parks. Zacarias says that would harm the tourist economy and instead is promoting Proposition 21 on the November ballot, which would create an $18 vehicle registration tax that would go to state parks. Achadjian opposes the measure because it is a tax. Polson agrees with Achadjian.
Majority rule: Zacarias wants to lower the two-thirds requirement to pass a state budget to a simple majority, arguing that the two-thirds requirement “allows a minority of legislators to hold California citizens hostage for their special-interest purposes.” Achadjian says lowering the requirement “would put one political party in charge of making all the decisions to approve the state budget.” Polson sides with Achadjian.
Oil drilling: Achadjian supports oil drilling off California’s coast, arguing that today’s technology makes it safe. Zacarias says she will never support drilling off the coast and contends that the government should instead be exploring wind, solar and other renewable energy. Polson agrees with her.