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Santa Maria Sun / Cover Story
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 15, Issue 14
Looking forward to November: Now that the primaries are over, candidates in the state congressional and assembly races work for the fall
BY JONO KINKADE
As of June 6, there were still some ballots to be counted here and there, but the chips had pretty much fallen where the chips were going to stay. A variety of local offices and measures came before voters for the midway mark in 2014, and, on the whole, there were few—if any—surprises.
That doesn’t mean the game is over, however.
For some of the candidates, the primary on June 3 marked only a checkpoint on the path to November, when the election will decide once and for all who stays or goes. At this point in the campaign, the Sun decided to focus on two of the larger offices: state Assembly and U.S. Congress.
In the Assembly race, Santa Barbara County voters gave incumbent Katcho Achadjian a healthy 65 percent of the vote, with challenger Heidi Harmon netting almost 34 percent.
When it came to congress, Lois Capps took a bit more than 43 percent of the vote, Dale Francisco came in second with just more than 15 percent of the vote, Chris Mitchum landed at third a bit shy of 15 percent.
As of June 6, San Luis Obispo County reported 1,934 ballots left to count, with another update expected by the end of the day June 9. There, Capps was sitting with 44 percent of the vote, while Mitchum had a hair shy of 17 percent. These are the two contenders facing off in the general election, as Francisco didn’t get enough votes from the constituency as a whole to advance.
Achadjian landed almost exactly 65 percent of the vote; Harmon took a bit less than 35 percent.
Based on these numbers, the balance is obviously tipped toward the sitting officials. The challengers, however, are using this window to muster their forces and build steam. Take a closer look at the opposing forces who want to represent you at the state and national level.
Heidi Harmon must get tired from carrying around the weight of the world. But as of press time, it’s not apparent that she’s buckling at all, which is good because she’ll be spending the next five months waging a campaign against an incumbent who by all signs has settled comfortably in his seat.
State Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, who represents the 35th District—encompassing all of San Luis Obispo County, Santa Maria, and Lompoc—has handily fended off a few challengers since taking office in 2010. In fact, since the Republican was first elected to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors after a tight race in 1998, he’s basically been out of reach. It’s only helped that both seats he’s won were in districts with a voter base that has a Republican slant by a few percentage points. Achadjian also brings in a lot of money, is well connected throughout the communities he represents, and has a general reputation of being well liked.
Democrat Harmon, his newest challenger, explained that that’s just why she’s after his seat, from which she hopes to bring attention to the business-as-usual attitude in Sacramento and shake it up.
“I think it’s time that we have leadership that puts the long-term viability of all of us over the short-term economic gains of a very few,” Harmon said.
Harmon is best known as a passionate climate-change activist—heading up and holding leadership roles for three local chapters of some of the nation’s biggest noise makers when it comes to the topic: Sierra Club, 350.org, and Citizen’s Climate Lobby—and that will probably continue to be the centerpiece of her campaign. But she has a much broader vision for society, leading her to constantly pull issues from a bouquet that includes minimum wage, reproductive health and women’s rights, immigrant rights, public health, and how best to bolster small businesses.
The climate-change angle is one that has many of Harmon’s supporters excited, after they’ve reported seeing a sluggish response from lawmakers as record temperatures continue to mount and occurrences of drought and wildfire continue to be exacerbated by dry conditions—issues she says will only bring the subject closer to its boiling point. Harmon is full of ideas of how to both buoy progress toward renewable energy and deincentivize continued fossil fuel production.
In a way, the climate-change issue is a perfect fit for this David-and-Goliath-type of race; though Achadjian will once in a while make a play favored by environmentalists, including a vote last year against hydraulic fracturing, he has both private and political ties to the oil business and has attracted thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from fossil fuel industries. That has some constituents uncomfortable, but Achadjian says his constituents still come first.
“I have and always will base every decision I make on what is best for the residents of the 35th Assembly District,” he wrote in a statement to the Sun. “I think my record has been clear that I believe our state should take responsible steps towards increasing clean energy.”
As for his own take on climate change, the sitting assemblyman said he believes in the importance of exploring new sources of renewable and alternative energy so that we can eventually reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.
“This is critical both to combat climate change and to become more self-sufficient,” he wrote. “However, California cannot be the only state that makes this a priority. It is the responsibility of all states and all citizens to be environmentally friendly; if we are the only state doing so, it only puts our state at a disadvantage from a business perspective. In passing these laws, we must consider the efficiencies of the policies in light of the fact that the rest of the nation may not be doing the same.”
Achadjian received 65.4 percent of the vote in the June 3 primary, giving Harmon only a taste of what she’ll be up against as candidates prepare to kick it into high gear for November. In light of all things, though, Harmon has kept quite positive.
“It’s not just me running against the Assemblyman; it’s all the people that care, it’s all the people that want to get money out of politics, it’s all the people that want to restore a democracy,” she said.
A congressional chasm
Members of Congress have their hands full. Aside from managing an economic juggernaut’s budget, wrestling with hot-button and divisive issues, playing world police, and dealing with never-ending partisan gridlock, they also have to run a campaign for re-election every two years.
Congresswoman Lois Capps of California’s 24th District has seen a variety of challengers come and go while working busily on Capitol Hill. Now that the all-but-official primary election results have settled, her latest contender looks to be Chris Mitchum.
Mitchum’s ethic is twofold: Stand firm on Republican ideals, and take the battle right to his opponent. Key points in his campaign include keeping taxes low and the government in check, letting the market do its thing, maintaining a “peace through strength” posture abroad, and securing the border—by deploying military veterans.
Mitchum considers these views fundamental to what makes him a textbook conservative Republican, a description he embraces.
“That’s pretty much who I am,” he said.
“I haven’t changed.”
As for political experience, Mitchum is no stranger to the race—he’s previously run a few times for state Assembly and for U.S. Congress—but he’s never been elected to public office. He does, however, list his experience as a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) vice president.
“I kind of have the same background politically as Ronald Reagan,” Mitchum said.
Reagan served as SAG president in the 1960s before he was elected as California’s governor. Mitchum served as a VP in the late 1980s. The now-retired actor, who landed some big roles in his day, came more into the spotlight when McCarthy-era witch hunts left many performers in Hollywood blacklisted. Later, after “Liberal Hollywood” was reclaimed by the lefties, as it were, there was blowback. Mitchum said he was “blackballed” because he’d shared a screen with his friend John Wayne—a man not shy about his patriotism—and so had to resort to taking
Fast forwarding to today, the Sun asked Mitchum his thoughts on how he’d fare in one of the nation’s most contentious political arenas were he to garner enough votes.
“I’m not a politician; I’m a very upset citizen concerned with where our country is going,” he said, saying he’s “from the grassroots.”
While Capps preferred to let her record and experience speak for itself, she did say this: “I think that what I can only call his rigid approach to public service seems to come from a playbook rather than experience.”
Even though the campaign’s narrative might be that of ideological clash, Capps preferred to highlight the ways she’s handled the office in non-partisan and collaborative ways.
“I know how to work across the aisle, and to me that’s the practical way to get things done,” Capps said. “That’s not an ideological approach.”
High on Congress’ current agenda is comprehensive immigration reform, which Capps suggested has been weighed down by obstructive ideological posturing on the part of one particular party’s elected decision makers.
“If the Republican leadership would allow a vote, it would pass,” she said. “The American people, whether they are Republicans or Democrats, know that this is what we need to do for our economy.”
Mitchum characterized the Affordable Care Act as “a socialist take over.” Capps let the numbers do her explaining for her.
“In terms of just California, there are about 3 million Californians now that now have access to health care when they didn’t before that may disagree with Mr. Mitchum,” Capps said.
The particulars will be telling as Mitchum sets his sights directly on Capps, promising a fiery campaign as November approaches.
“To me, she’s the ideal candidate that I want to run against,” he said. “The distinction between us is a chasm.”
Jono Kinkade is a staff writer for New Times, the Sun’s sister paper to the north. Send comments or ideas to him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact the executive editor via email@example.com.