BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
This election article is a bit atypical for me in that it will contain EVERYTHING, rather than being broken up into three parts: local/state/federal elections, since it’s very late in the election cycle. I plead for your patience.
The November 3, 2020 General Election in the U.S. is without a doubt the most consequential election anyone alive today has ever lived through. This applies not just to citizens of the country, but also to everyone in the world because of the central, pivotal, role the US has taken on since World War II. It should be obvious why this is: Donald Trump. The man has wrought havoc with the world through his supposed “outsider” approach to Washington, DC politics. What’s really going on? He was, and amazingly with four years on the job, still is, unprepared for the job of being “POTUS” as it has now become fashionable refer to the president of the US.
Citizens in general who voted for him did so out of the misguided belief that an “outsider” is better suited to shake things up in government. Even if that’s true, Trump was and is hardly an outsider. He is both the product and partial cause of the “swamp” he promised to drain. He came to the position as a crooked man who ripped people off to make his millions, abused laws, and generally acted in bad faith (best example- his avoidance of federal taxes through questionable tactics) with everyone outside his immediate circle. He has degraded the international standing of the country he supposedly leads. His incompetence in handling the pandemic has led to the end of the slow but persistent economic growth initiated during his predecessor’s post-Great Recession period. He has abused his high office to enrich himself covertly, and deepen the divisions of the country, all in the pursuit of self-aggrandizement. If you don’t see this, you are being dishonest with yourself, whether or not you ultimately choose to vote for Trump for other reasons you may have.
From an Armenian perspective, too, Trump is a nightmare. His financial interests in Turkey and Azerbaijan make it very obvious that he will never do the right thing. He certainly has not recognized the Genocide, just like all his post-WWII predecessors (except, briefly, Reagan). His policies towards Syria and later Turkey when it invaded Syria caused much avoidable harm to our compatriots there. His ratcheting up tensions with Iran makes life more difficult for the Republic of Armenia. I know one person who voted for Trump in 2016 hoping he would put Turkish President Erdoğan in his place, and has since regretted it.
Obviously, I recommend voting for the Biden-Harris ticket, even though I have reservations about them, too. It’s unfortunate that I had to waste so much space on such an undeserving person, but it’s so important to not-elect Trump that I had to.
Let’s move on to other elections. For state and federal level legislative endorsements (with three exceptions), please see the ANCA’s websites, (the Western Region is covered here). I’ll first cover the twelve propositions on the California ballot, since those are often the least well understood aspects of elections. Unfortunately, I can’t be of much assistance on the vote for judges, except to suggest going to the American Bar Association’s relevant website for their recommendation about the qualification of a person to be a judge. Then, it’s on to local elections in places with large Armenian populations. Remember, the more local an elective office, the greater its day-to-day impact on a citizen’s life.
One very intriguing state-level, federal-office, election is the U.S. Senate race in Maine. There, a 24-year incumbent, Susan Collins, is being challenged and is in serious jeopardy of losing her seat. While this is a big deal in the high-stakes Democrat-Republican contest over control of the Senate, it is interesting for Armenians because the challenger, Sara Gideon, is half Armenian, a child of our Providence, RI community! Collins’ ANCA grades over the years have been lackluster at best. She has a C and two C+s showing. Armenians in Maine have every reason to vote for Sara, while those of us living in other parts of the country can send her some last-minute financial support. Let’s get the first Armenian ever in the U.S. Senate!
In California, Adrin Nazarian, the 46th District’s Assemblyman certainly deserves your vote if you live in that jurisdiction. Currently, he is the only Armenian serving in the state’s legislature (something of a low point for our community relative to the recent past) and deserves to be recognized for it along with his legislative achievements. Conversely, we also have a political embarrassment to our community. You might remember that until about a decade ago, we lived through numerous elections in Glendale, CA where Armenians who had did not have appropriate credentials insisted on running for city council, hurting legitimate Armenian candidates’ chances to get elected. Now, we have a member of our community who is carpetbagging. Two years ago he ran against Adam Schiff, one of our strongest supporters, in the 28th Congressional District. Now, he’s running in the 27th, against Judy Chu, another strong supporter. This is one of the rare occasions where I am compelled to name the guilty party rather than just pointing out the problem that requires solution. Johnny Nalbandian is a political embarrassment to our community and should cease his electoral shenanigans. If he’s really serious about getting into elected office, he should work his way up the ladder as most people do, slowly earning and building his credibility.
Now, let’s address California’s 12 state-level ballot measures.
Proposition 14- This ballot measure is a “continuation” of an earlier one passed by voters to fund stem cell research in the pursuit of major health benefits. It makes sense to keep going on this front. The program has had some glitches, but those are not reason enough to terminate it. What program is ever perfect? Please vote YES.
Proposition 15- HOT, HOT, HOT. This ballot measure is also a “continuation” of sorts. It closes a loophole created by another one passed more than forty years ago. Currently, huge corporations, because of the way they came to own some of their properties, get away with paying property taxes on property values from three-four decades ago. Similarly, people who inherit properties and then just use them to rent out, not live in them, also get away with paying a pittance in property taxes. By closing this loophole, such properties will be assessed at their current value, creating a fairer and more balanced tax system. It makes sense, right? If you’re making money off a property, you should be paying the right amount in taxes, especially when homeowners are doing the same on their property. Please vote YES.
Proposition 16- Yet another “continuation” measure, this one reverses another from the 1990s that eliminated the ability of governments in the state of California to correct historical injustices that have led to the exclusion or under-representation of various groups in society. By restoring this tool, we enable our elected leaders to work on remedying built-in inequities. We as Armenians should understand all too well what discrimination means and what it can lead to. Please vote YES.
Proposition 17- This one’s a no brainer. People who commit crimes and serve prison time lose their right to vote. Afterwards, having “paid their debt to society”, they should return to being full-fledged citizens. This proposition does that. Please vote YES.
Proposition 18- I like the idea undergirding this proposition. It gives the vote to some 17-year-olds. Specifically, if a person will turn 18 in time to vote in the November general election of that year, then they would be allowed to vote in the Primary Election earlier in the year. This would help engage more voters from an age group that typically has very low participation rates in elections. Please vote YES.
Proposition 19- To my mind, this measure adds flexibility to older homeowners or others who have suffered harm (e.g. wildfires) by allowing them to buy a new home and retain the same property tax assessment base as their old home, preventing a huge spike in their property tax bill. This complements Prop 15 nicely, which makes sense since both were placed on the ballot by the legislature. Please vote YES.
Proposition 20- This proposition is needlessly punitive of those who are non-violent offenders and have served time by reducing options for them to get parole. Not only is it heartless, but it also increases government costs for no good reason. Please vote NO.
Proposition 21- Another hot one! Rent control really gets people worked up, whether they are for or against it. This measure makes a sensible adjustment and allows cities to impose rent control on buildings that are 15 or more years old. Currently, the law only allows rent control on buildings erected before 1995. You see how this allows the owner to make their money back after the initial investment in purchasing or constructing it. Then, it allows local authorities to limit rent increases to protect tenants form sometimes exorbitant rent hikes. It’s a fair compromise. Please vote YES.
Proposition 22- This is a sneak attack by the likes of Uber and Lyft to exempt them from paying their drivers reasonable amounts for the work they do. It is cloaked in the misleading language of protecting drivers and giving them benefits when what it really does is eliminate much more substantive protections put in place by the legislature. Please vote NO
Proposition 23- Not only is this one another “continuation”, it is essentially a full-on rerun, proposing to limit the obscenely high fees charged by dialysis service providers. The last time this issue appeared on the ballot, these providers scared people into voting against the proposition. They’re playing the same game again. I have gotten more election mailers about Prop 23 than any other. Those mailers cost a lot of money. Why would anyone spend so much? If you really want to help those who need dialysis because their kidneys are failing, support this measure so the costs are reduced. Please vote YES.
Proposition 24- This one is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Initially, I was favorably disposed and was going to recommend supporting it. But another person, whose judgment I trust, recommended opposing it. So I looked a little deeper, and realized that while some online consumer protections would be provided, they came at a high cost – the internet behemoths get a lot more from this proposition than individual people do. Please vote NO.
Proposition 25- Economic fairness motivates this measure. It eliminates money bail. The fairness comes from the fact that if people are released before going on trial, their release would be based on the merits of their case, not whether or not they have the money to get out. Please vote YES.
Now let’s move to local elections.
Burbank has a full slate. The ANCA has endorsed in all the races. For City Council, where two seats are up, Tim Murphy and Paul Herman made the cut. Both are aware of Armenian concerns, including the problem of a small group of locals who have targeted Armenians who want to remodel and enlarge their homes. There are three other viable candidates (out of a total ten), two of whom are being strongly promoted by one political faction, so your vote for the ANCA endorsees is particularly important. For School Board, where three seats are up (and four candidates running), Armond Aghakhanian, Steve Ferguson, and Roberta Reynolds made the cut. They are incumbents who have a long history of working with the ANCA and the Armenian community. Armond has also been an active ANCA member and brought Genocide resolutions to the Board’s agenda for the first time ever. For City Treasurer, with three candidates, Krystle Palmer made the cut. She is the appointed incumbent who took the job when her predecessor resigned. The hottest issue on the Burbank ballot is Measure RC, for “rent control”. While I am in favor of rent control in principle, this particular measure goes beyond just empowering the city to enact such legislation. It creates a separate, and very expensive, infrastructure to address landlord-tenant issues. Please vote against this measure since it is the sort of legislation that should be hashed out by a city council. The ANCA, too, is recommending a vote against it.
In the City of Los Angeles, two city council districts ended in runoff after the March Primary election. Please vote for David Ryu in District 4 (also ANCA endorsed). This district covers parts of Hollywood, a high Armenian-population area, so our participation is very important. In district 10, both candidates have strengths and weaknesses, and I’m going to call this a toss up – perhaps and organization you trust has a recommendation, the ANCA has not taken a position on this one. If you live in the Santa Monica Mountains or Hollywood Hills between I-405 and Griffith Park, please vote YES on Mountains Recreation And Conservation Authority – Measure HH. This raises funds to pay improve local fire prevention services. The funds raised can only be spent in your area and will be some of the best money you’ve ever spent.
In Pasadena, the ANCA has only endorsed in the Mayor’s race – Terry Tornek. Please vote for him if you live in the City. There are also two measures on the ballot. Please vote YES on both. Measure P authorizes the continuation of transfers of funds from the city’s utility to its general fund to help pay for various important services. Measure O will fund upgrades to schools, technology access, drinking water, facilities and equipment, repairs to bathrooms, roofs and labs, and removal of hazardous materials. Unfortunately, I do not have any insight on the three School Board races and cannot offer any recommendations.
In Montebello, Jack Hadjinian is running for reelection to the city council. An ardent ANCA activist, Jack obviously earned the organization’s endorsement. So did Joella Valdez, for the other seat on the council that is up. No ANCA endorsements were made for the City Clerk and School Board seats that also appear on the ballot. Here again, I do not have any insight and cannot offer any recommendations, sorry.
In other Los Angeles County cities: We have some Armenians on the ballot who certainly deserve your vote. In Rolling Hills Estates, Vram “Frank” Zerunyan is running for reelection to the city council. In South Pasadena, Suzie Abajian is running for reelection to the School Board. In nearby Altadena, which is not an incorporated city but does have infrastructure needs and is represented in other settings as an unincorporated area of the county, Measure Z is on the ballot. If passed, it would create a Community Facilities District to attend to the needs of Altadena’s libraries. Please vote YES on this one if you live in the area.
At the county level, the hottest race is the one for District Attorney. The incumbent, in office for two terms, had come in with high hopes for improvements which seem to have largely been unfulfilled. The challenger, George Gascon seems to have a better chance of implementing necessary reforms and is endorsed by the ANCA. Vote for him, please. One seat on the county Board of Supervisors is up, in the second district. If you live there, please vote for Holly Mitchell (also ANCA endorsed). There is also Measure J, which designates permanent funding to pay for social justice oriented programs by the county. While I support this in principle, I have read that it was prepared with some haste, last minute, and, it specifies a percentage of the county’s funds to be used for this. I am little uncomfortable with these two aspects. This one’s a tossup. Unless you have a strong opinion on this issue, flip a coin and choose accordingly – it’s better than not voting on it at all.
On a regional (but sub-county) level, there are two elections to address. If you live within the jurisdiction of the LA Community College District, please vote Andra Hoffman for Seat 1, David Vela for Seat 3, Scott Svonkin for Seat 5 (ANCA endorsed, too), and Pearlman for Seat 7. Similarly, in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) vote for Scott Schmerelson in District 3 and Patricia Castellanos in District 7. Both of these candidates fall into the camp that is wary of charter schools which is important for Armenians. Remember, the Turkish Gulen movement has made tremendous inroads within numerous school districts across the United States, including LAUSD. Excising their insidious propaganda machines that are poisoning children’s minds takes political power. The balance of power between factions will be in our favor if these two candidates get elected. Measure RR, a bond issue, is also on LAUSD voters’ ballot. Vote YES on this to fund upgrade to the district’s schools.
Remember, always VOTE, VOTE, VOTE!