BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
This week in our election series, let’s take another quick look at someone who is probably the most reprehensible person to have walked the halls of the California legislature in many years, Mike Gatto. As a reminder, the reason it is so important to know about this elected official’s poor behavior is that he represents the largest concentration of Armenians in any electoral-political jurisdiction in the United States. His current opponent is Greg Krikorian, someone who has represented his school district constituency far better than Mike has represented his Assembly district. Greg is also someone who can do a far more sincere job of representing Armenian concerns in Sacramento than Mike, you’ll see why below.
Until a few weeks ago, Mike was part of the “leadership” of the Democratic side of the aisle in the California State Assembly. Since the Democrats are the majority party in Sacramento, that carries a lot of weight. It means a lot of power and responsibility. So what happened? Why did Mike move out of that position? I was surprised to learn that he had been appointed chair of the Assembly Appropriations Committee. That seemed like a “demotion”. Had he misbehaved in the eyes of the power structure? Something didn’t make sense. Then I remembered that Appropriations is a VERY powerful committee. When a bill involves costs, it has to go through this committee. So whoever is the head honcho of that committee, has a lot of leverage over other members of the Assembly. So I did some asking, and my suspicions were confirmed by Sacramento-scuttlebutt— Mike took this on so he could extract concessions from his peers. Lovely, isn’t it?
Now let’s move on to an example of how Gatto has been busy taking advantage of (and in the process exacerbating) divisions in the Armenian community. You’ll remember that back when Mike first ran for Assembly, it was a four-way race- Sunder Ramani, Mike Gatto, Chahe Keuroghlian, and Nayiri Nahabedian. Many of us remain convinced that Chahe participated in that election strictly to divide the Armenian community’s vote and CAUSE Nayiri to lose. This allowed Mike to win. It was the only way he could win. So he had an interest in dividing the Armenian vote. In this scenario, the Hnchags in our community, through their Armenian Council of America PAC enthusiastically supported Mike BY SUPPORTING CHAHE. Of course, they had to get a payoff, their thirty pieces of silver. This came in the form of “behested payments” *(see below for explanation) secured by Mike Gatto for two Hunchag affiliated organizations, Armenian Education Benevolent Fund and Nor Serount Cultural Association, from the AXA Settlement Claim Fund (yes, the same fund that is now mired in recriminations between the two factions of lawyers on that case). You can see for yourself at http://www.fppc.ca.gov/cosponsor/2011-Assembly.xls. The way to tell this is a “thirty pieces of silver” situation is that these organizations, while totally legitimate, are not much of a presence in the 43rd Assembly district that Mike Gatto supposedly represents. If he really wanted to support the Armenian community in his jurisdiction, there are many other organizations that do much more to serve this community, which he could have helped to fund.
You can see what I meant by Greg Krikorian’s ability to represent his constituents sincerely, whereas with Mike Gatto, it’s all about cynical political calculations, no matter who is involved.
Would you vote for such a conniving person to represent you in the legislature?
A “behested payment” describes this situation: a member of the California State Assembly asks a potential donor to give a charitable organization a donation. The Assemblymember must then report this action if/when the donation is made.