Goal of improving economic progress in California and Armenia drives ANC efforts
LOS ANGELES–Armenian Americans from across California energetically responded to the Armenian National Committee’s (ANC) call to action to help secure passage of California Senate Bill 1657. The legislation–introduced by State Senator Jack Scott (D – Pasadena)–aims to establish a regional California Regional Trade Office in Yerevan–the capital of the Republic of Armenia.
As a result of a major grassroots lobbying campaign led by the ANC–the California State Assembly Committee on Jobs–Economic Development and the Economy passed the bill by a vote of 10 – 0 on June 27–2002. Members of the Senate Committee received hundreds of phone calls from concerned constituents who registered their support for Senate Bill 1657. The ANCA-Western Region Headquarters–in coordination with over eleven local ANC chapters in California–spearheaded a pan-community effort calling for the bill’s passage after media reports that the legislation would be tabled for several years. Thankfully–Senate Bill 1657 passed unanimously in committee and will shortly be considered by the California State Assembly’s Appropriations Committee.
"The effort to pass SB 1657 and create a California Trade Office in Armenia has created a positive momentum that we hope will continue until this legislation is signed into law by Governor Davis," stated Ardashes Kassakhian–Director of Government Relations for the ANCA-WR. "I am exceptionally proud of how our local ANC Chapters helped mobilize our community–friends and elected officials in support of SB 1657 in a very brief amount of time."
If passed–Senate Bill 1657 would establish a California Trade Office in Armenia that would also serve surrounding Eastern European and Southwestern Asian nations. The aim of the proposal is for California to promote trade relations in developing areas of the world that show emerging market potential. A study of the trade office’s economic impact on trade–investment and tourism–which is mandated by the bill–would be completed by March–2005.
Prominent Republican leaders such as Senator Chuck Poochigian (R-Fresno) and Assemblymember Mike Briggs (R-Fresno)–who introduced a similar bill last year that was struck down in committee–put their full support behind SB 1657. Steve Samuelian–a long time ANC Fresno activist and the Republican nominee for the California’s 29th Assembly District met with Republican leaders in Sacramento to garner support for SB 1657. After the bill’s passage–Samuelian accompanied by ANCA-WR board member John Boghossian–personally thanked Senator Jack Scott in Sacramento for his efforts in bringing the bill this far and pledged continued ANC support for the Senator’s legislation.
"The passage of this trade office bill is a great step forward for closer US/Armenia relations. I am pleased that the Republican caucus and members of the State Assembly came out in [bi-partisan] support of this measure. I commend the grassroots efforts of the Armenian community and the ANC for leading this effort," said Samuelian.
The idea of establishing a California Trade Office in Armenia has been considered by the State Legislature for more than 3 years and contributed to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between California Governor Gray Davis and Armenia’s Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian in November of last year. The ANC and dozens of community organizations are pushing for the establishment of a trade office as the next natural step to improve trade and investment opportunities between Armenia and California.
Democratic leaders and legislators have been supportive of Senator Scott’s bill since its introduction. Senator Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles)–who serves as Senate Majority Leader–played a key role in helping the bill clear an important committee vote. On May 29–2002–SB 1657 was passed by the full Senate by a vote of 27-6. Assemblymember Dario Frommer (D-Glendale) worked with Assembly leadership and spoke to colleagues on the merits of establishing an official California Regional Trade Office in Yerevan.
"I remain hopeful that California will establish a trade office in Armenia–our state shares strong ties with Armenia and we are home to the largest population of Armenia’s outside of Armenia," said Assemblymember Frommer (D-Glendale) after learning that SB 1657 was passed by the California State Senate.
The legislative efforts coupled with the efforts the local ANCs across California spurred a unified grass-roots movement. Representatives of the Bay Area and Sacramento ANCs contributed research and testimony to the Assembly Committee designated to hear the bill. The Central California ANC played a significant role in writing and placing calls to Assemblymember Sarah Reyes (D-Fresno)–Committee chairperson who had previously indicated that she would not support legislation establishing any new trade offices. On July 10–2002–members of the Central California ANC will hold a press conference in Fresno to thank area Assemblymembers who supported the legislation and voted for it. SB 1657 will now be considered in the State Assembly Committee on Appropriations.