BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
My piece titled “Enough” which addressed the problematic nature and negative effects of Chahe Keuroghelian’s repeated candidacies elicited interesting responses. Issues have been raised that seem to require clarification because they are quite important to our community.
First, let’s establish the context in which this discussion is set. It is a political context. It entails two electoral jurisdictions—the City of Glendale and California’s 43rd Assembly District (AD). Both of these jurisdictions have a large Armenian population. In fact Armenians constitute a plurality (the largest single group) in both. The 43rd AD is a Democratic district, i.e. the person who gets elected will be a Democratic Party member, because that party evidently best represents the district’s political inclinations—this is borne out by the voter registration data and repeated election results in the district. The Democratic Party itself has factions, internally, that compete for power and position.
Other relevant considerations are:
1- Armenians are a political constituency, a community, an interest group, that have shared concerns, much like labor, anti-abortionists, or Latinos;
2- People who get elected to municipal offices sometimes succeed in getting elected to higher office based on their experience and service on the local level;
3- Any constituency has a natural, rational, interest in electing one of its own members to office because, most often, s/he can best represent that group.
With these factors in mind, let’s move on to the substantive issues.
The question of whether Armenians should or do vote as a bloc is a good place to start. Related to this are two other questions:1- can it be assumed that votes garnered by one Armenian candidate, in this case Chahe, are “transferable” to another; and 2- is there, or do we create, some kind of “moral imperative” to vote as a bloc.
We are all ultimately voting as citizens. As citizens, we are usually also part of sub-groups of society, usually, more than one sub group, and sometimes many. When we vote, we factor considerations rising from our membership in these groups. Taking my case as an example, I am, in alphabetical order, an Armenian, a Burbank and California resident, a collector, an environmentalist, a member of numerous organizations, and a public sector employee. Sometimes the interests of these groups conflict when it comes to choosing the best person to vote for. I resolve the conflict to my satisfaction and vote accordingly. At different times, different sets of concerns will trump the others.
So yes, if we care about things Armenian, then we should vote as a bloc when those things can be impacted by who gets elected. If you find it objectionable to take such an approach, I hope you find it equally objectionable when doctors, gun-rights activists, or recreational fishermen call on their own to vote a certain way. The U.S. Constitution does not predetermine on what basis freedom of assembly exists, just that it is a right of all citizens to assemble without government interference. What this means that when Armenian concerns are at stake, votes from Armenians going to an Armenian-supported candidate (whether s/he is Armenian or not doesn’t really matter) can be assumed to be transferrable. It means that there is sometimes the need for a “moral imperative” to vote with Armenian concerns in mind. But perhaps the inverse of this consideration is most important. I mean that IF someone claims to be standing up for the interests of Armenians (or any other group—lawyers, gun rights advocates, Jews—then that person HAS NOT the right to do things that are damaging to that group.
In Chahe’s case, damaging the Armenian community while pretending to want to represent the Armenian community is exactly what he does. Year after year, he addresses issues on his TV show, which reaches… only Armenians. He’s not speaking to anyone else. Even when the topic is not an “Armenian” one, he’s it addressing for, while speaking to, and in the language of, Armenians. It CANNOT be argued that he’s just a citizen exercising his constitutional rights. When the time comes to decide, he can’t “have his cake and eat it too” by running for elected office to represent Armenians when he has no chance of winning, which means all he’s doing siphoning votes off from more viable Armenian candidates and generally sowing discord within the Armenian community. Some contend that making these arguments is equivalent to denying someone the right to run for office. Not at all! Just don’t pretend to be running to represent the Armenian community and wage an election campaign exclusively within that community.
Given that this discussion centers on whether someone should or should not run for office, the question of whether it is appropriate to try to talk someone out of doing so is appropriate. Certainly, it is illegal to provide an inducement for a person to run or not run, i.e. you can’t bribe a potential candidate! One comment described “preventing” someone from running so someone else can win as “party corruption.” No one can “prevent” someone from running, but anyone can try to reason with a potential candidate, explaining why not running (or running—you’ve heard of presidential candidates being “drafted”) is more beneficial to the things that person cares about. There’s nothing wrong with this, that’s why groups of humans come together to pursue shared goals—it’s empowering. Also, this is where the factions within a party come into play. One group of people within a party may agree to support a certain candidate because s/he’s part of their group. They will then work to make that person the most electable, including by dissuading others from running or making life more difficult for other candidates.
The fact that many people believe Chahe is “paid off” also elicited commentary and concern, on both sides. The notion elicited disdain, absolute certainty, and the perception that it was just a “sore loser” or “sour grapes” reaction. In the context of internal political party or local pre-election jostling, this can easily be seen as plausible and possible by outside observers. Plus, to argue that some form of cooperation between Chahe and factions whose interests are not aligned with the Armenian community’s electoral/political interests is not to argue that Chahe’s was bribed. It simply means that Chahe assessed what he saw and decided that a set of interests other than what was best for the Armenian community are those that concern him most. Those interests could well have been strictly personal.
The “sour grapes” argument brings up a timing question. It was argued that these concerns should have been raised long before election day. They were, but perhaps in different forums than my column. In fact, I have previously addressed the disruptive nature of Chahe’s endless candidacies. But, as one person pointed out, because of timing, those cautions can easily be forgotten. Hopefully, this discussion will set off a process of growing awareness so we won’t be facing the same predicament some ten months from now, after Glendale’s next regular election.
Organizations were criticized for not being sufficiently representative or adept at mobilizing the community. In line with this critique, it’s also been suggested that it’s not Chahe’s fault if other candidates’ supporters don’t turn out to vote. There may be some truth to these concerns, but we (that’s all citizens) are fighting a pervasive apathy that resulted in a turnout of less than 24% statewide, about 16% in LA County, and under 20% in Glendale. Plus, we cannot discount the disgust factor that tends to reduce voter participation. No doubt you’ve heard complaints about the nasty attacks that candidates and others put out against one another, with some voters citing these as the reasons for their not voting. In our case, this arises from needless discord within our community which is fed by the contentiousness that Chahe brings to his regular TV appearances.
Finally, there was a criticism that my article lacked “a strong indictment against Chahe the individual and Chahe the Armenian.” My hope has been to elicit the best, most constructive, behavior from everyone, including Chahe, by addressing things rationally and explaining my points. Unfortunately, even this gentle approach has already been met with ludicrous assertions. One such point made was that I have no business addressing Glendale issues because I live in Burbank. By that logic, no one in the U.S. has the right to address issues in Armenia, China, or Germany. While harsher criticism might be fun to spew, I suspect it would engender outright hysteria in response. My aim is not pointless bickering, but progress.
Please keep your comments, opinions, and suggestions coming. We’ll find a solution to these problems together.