Public education reform, job creation, and more government transparency were among the key themes highlighted by 46th Assembly District candidates during a town hall forum Wednesday night.
The event, moderated by President Tony Braswell, was held during the NCVV’s general board meeting at . Braswell challenged candidates with both prepared questions and those from the audience.
The candidates in attendance were Laurette Healey, Brian Johnson, Andrew Lachman, Adrin Nazarian and Jay Stern; Adriano Lecaros did not attend. All the candidates but Stern, a Republican, are registered as Democrats.
All the contenders said they support a strong public education system, but it was Johnson and Stern who seemed to lead on the issue, citing their backgrounds in education.
Johnson, 34, stressed his track record at Teach For America, a non-profit that recruits college graduates to teach in public schools. By supporting a strong budget plan that ensures education funding, public schools will not only be better, but will also be “the center of safe and secure neighborhoods…and make sure that we have a viable and strong 21st-century workforce,” he said.
Stern, a 66-year-old environmental consultant and chemistry teacher at Panorama High School, said he’s seen the problems within the public education system first-hand.
“The number of students who are failing…accounts for $1 billion,” and that money would better spent on vocational training, he said. His plan to develop a research project on converting organic waste into fuel would also create job opportunities “unemployables” in his communities.
Candidates repeatedly used education as an opportunity to discuss job creation.
Healey, 57, emphasized her experience in workforce training with successful programs at Pierce and Long Beach Community Colleges, which “had the highest job placement in the nation…and won a state-wide award for business projects.” The Sherman Oaks resident and former deputy state controller described herself as an “economist by training,” adding that the programs she spearheaded trained people in fields such as automotive, media and renewable energy.
Both Nazarian and Lachman focused on their leadership experience in government as the key to their successes in the Assembly.
Thirty-eight-year-old Nazarian, who currently serves as chief of staff to Council District 2 Representative Paul Krekorian, said he brings “a breadth of experience” in public service to the table with his background working in the federal, state and local levels of government. “Being (in the Legislature) is not just about passing bills or laws,” he said, but also being an advocate for constituents and the ability to lead.
Lachman, a 42-year-old law professor at Woodbury University in Burbank, said his experience in both the private and public sectors would give him the ability to navigate the system to bring reform in education, cut spending, encourage mass transit and create jobs.
Addressing concerns about how they plan to fight waste within the government, Nazarian stressed the importance of “bringing ethics…(and) allowing the public and constituency to understand how their government works.” Even people within the government are unaware of the different agencies within departments or if private interests are footing their bills, and “the state of California fails in its ability to create transparency.”
"Lachman vowed the same, pointing out that the City of Los Angeles “has seven different departments which trim trees… why aren’t we consolidating?” He said the city should merge them into one unit, then contract the work to other departments to reduce bureaucracy. (Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that Lachman called for the work to be contracted to a private company.)
Healey proposed an upgrade in technology to better track computer patterns and fight corruption, which could save $5 billion.
In typical political forum fashion, candidates took jabs at one another when questions were skirted or ignored entirely. When asked about whether parent taxpayers should earn their tax credits by being required to prove their children’s school attendance, among other rules, Healey asked moderator Tony Braswell to re-read the question after other candidates strayed off-topic.
When asked if they received special interest money, nearly all of the candidates said they were proud to be supported by local community groups. Stern said he is not accepting contributions from outside of the 46th district, nor would he take donations over $100.
Healey said she was proud to count realtors, law enforcement and the health industry as supporters, but added that “all money is special,” including the smaller contributions of $5 to $25 from individuals.
“If you’re talking about support from stagehands (and other groups) that represent thousands of working people,” Lachman said he, too, is proud to name them as supporters. “It’s about the ethics and how we do it…(It’s) not talking three different ways to three different people.”
Johnson said he’s received support from almost 800 individual donors, and “only three checks were received from inside Sacramento.” His supporters include charter school organizations, which have made significant contributions to his campaign. (* Editor's note: a previous version said the donations were from "outside" Sacramento.)
Nazarian said he’s received donations from animal rights, law enforcement and AIDS awareness groups that are all based in the San Fernando Valley.
On the issue of gay marriage, all the candidates except Stern said they support same-sex couples’ right to marry.
“It’s about time,” Nazarian said, echoing the sentiments of his fellow Democratic candidates. Healy, a “proud gay American,” said she was “horribly disappointed” when Proposition 8 was passed and vowed to fighting discrimination across the board. Johnson, also openly gay, promised to do the same.
Stern said while he doesn’t believe in discrimination, marriage should be between a man and a woman. Same-sex couples should have a similar option, “but it will never be ‘marriage,’” he said. “It has to be something else equal.”
Many of the forum's attendees included the candidates' supporters and friends.
Valley Village resident John Lincoln, a teacher at Southeast Middle School in South Gate, said he came to support Andrew Lachman, but that he wanted to learn more about Brian Johnson. Lincoln said he was displaced by charter schools and was interested in speaking with Johnson about his stance on public education.
The newly-drawn 46th Assembly District is a result of last year's redistricting process and combines parts of the old 40th, 42nd and 43rd districts. It encompasses part of Sun Valley down to a portion of the Hollywood Hills, and also includes the San Fernando Valley communities of Panorama City, Van Nuys, Sherman Oaks, Valley Village, North Hollywood, Studio City and Universal City.