Editorial: Katcho Achadjian is clear choice for Republicans

If Republicans want a smart, moderate, experienced candidate for Assembly on the November ballot, we believe San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Katcho Achadjian is the clear choice.

If, on the other hand, they want a dogmatic, hard-line conservative to face off against Democrat Hilda Zacarias in November, they have two options: local financial planner Matt Kokkonen or Etta Waterfield, the former planning commissioner from Santa Maria.

We believe it would be a mistake to go with either candidate, because the last thing the Legislature needs is another ideologue. That will do nothing to resolve the partisan gridlock that has made our state one of the most dysfunctional in the nation, guaranteeing a fiscal meltdown every time budget hearings roll around.

The other two candidates, Achadjian and Paso Robles Councilman Fred Strong, are moderate Republicans who should be able to reach across the aisle to foster the bipartisanship so essential to California’s economic recovery.

Both also have experience as elected officials. Of the two, however, we believe Achadjian is the stronger candidate.

In his 12 years of representing the South County on the Board of Supervisors, Achadjian, 58, has earned a reputation as a responsive, hard-working and energetic public official.

As a business owner — he’s operated gas stations in the South County for many years — Achadjian also has first-hand knowledge of the challenges facing small business.

He’s critical of regulations he finds too restrictive of business — Assembly Bill 32, the global warming initiative, is one example — and he shares the belief that California must become more business friendly if it’s to recover financially.

But he parts ways with many of his Republican colleagues on another hot-button issue — the no-new-tax pledge. While he does not support tax increases, Achadjian said he will not sign such a pledge.

“I’d rather not make promises when I don’t know what the future will be, 100 percent,” he said.

We agree completely; perhaps California would not be in the awful shape it’s in today if more politicians had that realistic point of view.

We also like Achadjian’s more moderate view on off-shore oil drilling. While he supports it in concept, he doesn’t believe drilling is appropriate for some areas of our coastline — a no-brainer, in our view, given the recent spill off the Gulf Coast.

That’s not to say we agree with all of Achadjian’s positions.

For example, he told us he does not support lowering the two-thirds super majority vote required to pass budgets in the California Legislature. Nor does he support a ballot initiative that would allow voters to pass a school parcel tax with a 55 percent majority, rather than the two-thirds currently required.

That’s disappointing. Given the devastating cuts local schools face, we believe that in some areas, a parcel tax is the best chance of securing an acceptable educational standard for our children.

We have disagreed as well with some of the positions Achadjian has taken on the state Coastal Commission and on the Board of Supervisors. That was particularly true during the previous session of the board, when Achadjian so often sided with fellow conservatives Jerry Lenthall and Harry Ovitt on planning and development issues, such as the controversial watering-down of an effort to protect the viewshed on the North Coast.

On other occasions, though, Achadjian has shown himself to be an independent decision maker who, at least in years past, often provided the pivotal swing vote on many issues. That role earned him the title “man in the middle,” and spoke well of his ability to examine issues on a case-by-case basis, rather then through a conservative lens.

If Achadjian is ultimately elected to the Assembly, we would strongly urge him to, once again, become the man in the middle who can bridge the gap between conservatives and liberals and help defuse the crippling partisanship in Sacramento.

That he has the potential to do so speaks well of his candidacy.

We strongly urge Republican voters to select Katcho Achadjian as their nominee in the 33rd District Assembly race.

On other side, Democrats have Zacarias

The winner of the Republican primary will face Hilda Zacarias, who is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination.

Zacarias, a lifelong resident of Santa Maria, has been active in local politics for many years. She currently serves on the Santa Maria City Council and before that, was a trustee on the Santa Maria Joint Union School District board.

A tax accountant and educator, Zacarias also has been active with many nonprofit organizations, and has been a leader in efforts to ensure youths have access to higher education.

She is a graduate of Cal Poly and received a master’s degree in political advocacy and leadership from John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Editor’s note: Because Democrat Hilda Zacarias is guaranteed a spot on the November ballot, The Tribune editorial board did not interview her at this time for purposes of an endorsement. We will, however, do so prior to the November election and will then make a final recommendation for the 33rd District state Assembly seat.

Election information

Race: Republican Party nomination for 33rd District Assembly seat

Area covered: All of San Luis Obispo County and parts of Santa Barbara County, including Santa Maria, Guadalupe and Lompoc

Candidates: San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Katcho Achadjian; San Luis Obispo financial planner Matt Kokkonen; Paso Robles City Councilman Fred Strong; former Santa Maria Planning Commissioner Etta Waterfield

Salary: $95,291

Term: Two years

Election Day: June 8