Focusing on state issues rather than his congressional campaign, Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian called for eliminating wasteful state spending, preserving a $6 billion budget surplus and making education and health spending a priority, among other issues, at the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Lunch on Friday.
After his speech, Achadjian told The Tribune he expects to have to raise $3 million to $5 million to campaign for the 24th District congressional seat now held by Rep. Lois Capps. Capps, a Democrat, is retiring when her term expires in 2016. The district covers all of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, and part of Ventura County.
“Right now, I’m focusing on the (state budget) May revise, and I haven’t had much time to get started on a campaign,” said Achadjian, a Republican. “I expect to really get going in July, when I’ll have more opportunities to reach out to the public and do some campaigning on the weekends.”
Achadjian said he will need to get to know constituents in Santa Barbara County in particular, where he is less familiar with voters.
That may give some other contenders an advantage, since three of the five candidates are from Santa Barbara County.
The other declared candidates are Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal and Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, both Democrats; businessman Justin Fareed, a Republican from Santa Barbara who ran for Capps’ seat in 2014; and San Luis Obispo farmer Bill Ostrander, a Democrat.
Achadjian said he thinks he will be well positioned in Congress, taking on international affairs.
Achadjian emigrated from Lebanon in the early 1970s at the age of 19 and noted Friday that he is multilingual, speaking Arabic, Armenian and English, as well as some French and Turkish.
“I think it gives me a perspective about international affairs and about other languages and other cultures,” Achadjian said.
At the luncheon, Achadjian addressed a range of topics, including the collective work of the Democrat-controlled Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown to improve the California budget as the state economy recovers from the Great Recession.
This week, the governor unveiled a $115 billion revised budget proposal for the fiscal year set to begin July 1. The budget estimates a nearly $7 billion surplus, but $3.9 billion of that surplus is mandated to go to a Rainy Day Fund and to pay down debt.
“I think the governor and all of us in the Assembly have worked hard to get us to where we need to be,” Achadjian said. “There’s still work to be done, and we have to do that together. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or Republican. A good bill is a good bill.”
Achadjian said the state must keep businesses from leaving California by easing regulations and reducing spending. For example, he presented a paper scroll that listed 520 state commissions — some with positions paying more than $120,000 and others that he said are volunteer. He believes the high-paying seats are wasteful.
Achadjian also cited the retirement package for a CEO of a public hospital district of more than $4 million in addition to a $150,000 annual pension as a focus of criticism.
“Every time we spend money, we’re digging deeper into our pocket,” Achadjian said. “So, where can we save? Where should we save?”
Achadjian didn’t name the public hospital district but may have been referring to one in Salinas, which paid Samuel Downing that amount when he retired as CEO in 2009. The retirement package was paid by the local hospital district, not the state.
Achadjian called for focusing state spending on education and health care. He said this year’s education budget funds college education better than in years past, citing a college degree as a ticket out of poverty for some, he said.
He vouched for more spending on health care to make up for past cuts and supported maintaining First 5 California funding for early childhood development of kids ages 5 and younger.
“Especially for those children whose first language isn’t English, it’s vital they have school-readiness education,” Achadjian said.
In response to a question from the audience on mandated vaccinations, Achadjian said he hoped parents will get their children vaccinated against most vaccine-preventable diseases — so their children don’t miss school.
“This is a tough one,” he said. “I understand why some parents have concerns and want a choice. But how do you handle this situation? Do you have schools with nonvaccinated children? ... The most important vaccinations are being mandated for the good of the child. Hopefully Mom and Dad will come together and educate themselves on this issue.”
Achadjian’s speech followed a May 1 State of the State chamber luncheon at which local state Sen. Bill Monning, a Democrat, addressed issues facing California, including the water crisis and ballot initiatives for statewide pension reform.