Race for Assembly seat vacated by Blakeslee shaping up to be lively

The battle for the 33rd Assembly District has evolved into one of the Central Coast’s most contentious elections this spring, with a quartet of Republicans elbowing each other in an effort to grasp the mantle of most conservative candidate.

Katcho Achadjian, Matt Kokkonen, Fred Strong and Etta Waterfield are the Republican candidates.

Democrat Hilda Zacarias and Libertarian Paul Polson also are on the ballot, but they are unopposed. Polson has not made his positions known.

All six are seeking to replace Sam Blakeslee, who cannot run again for the Assembly because of term limits, and who is seeking a seat in the state Senate. The Assembly district includes all of San Luis Obispo County and most of northern Santa Barbara County.

Among Republicans, all the candidates agree on certain matters — such as keeping the Williamson Act, which gives ranchers and farmers with agricultural land a tax break for not developing their property.

Similarly, all four Republican candidates favor offshore drilling. And each of them, if elected, would seek to secure a seat on an Assembly committee that deals with budgets and the economy.However, there are differences.

Kokkonen and Waterfield, in particular, are seeking to claim the right end of the political spectrum, with both fiercely attacking illegal immigration and Waterfield vowing not to compromise with other legislators if she is elected.

“I’m not going to Sacramento to ‘get along,’ ” Waterfield wrote in response to a question. Compromise, she wrote, has hurt taxpayers. “The other party will have to compromise and see things my way.”

Kokkonen was the first to support Arizona’s new immigration law, and he challenged the others to support California creating a similar measure.

None went that far, but Waterfield says she supports a “permanent, impenetrable border fence.”

Kokkonen has suggested that Waterfield is soft on illegal immigration and has helped turned Santa Maria into a magnet for illegal immigrants.

Neither Kokkonen nor Waterfield has held elected office, although Kokkonen has tried and failed twice before. That is a key difference between them and the other two candidates.

Strong and Achadjian have long histories of public service and bipartisanship, Strong as a city councilman and Achadjian as a county supervisor and state coastal commissioner. Both men say — and in this Kokkonen agrees with them — that if the perennial state budget crisis is to be solved, legislators must work with Democrats in Sacramento.

Strong writes that “there are many reasonable people on most issues. ... We are all Californians and Americans. It’s a matter of education and understanding arriving at common-sense conclusions.”

Achadjian developed a reputation as a supervisor as one who seeks compromise and for a while was known as “the man in the middle.”

Achadjian and Kokkonen also are claiming stronger business backgrounds than their opponents. Achadjian owns gas stations in Arroyo Grande, and Kokkonen is a financial planner.