Al Muratsuchi addresses his supporters, including former Assemblymember George Nakano and current Assemblymember Warren Furutani. (Photo by J.K. Yamamoto/Rafu Shimpo)

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

South Bay Assembly candidate Al Muratsuchi addressed local Japanese American community leaders at a fundraiser held Sept. 27 in Little Tokyo.

Muratsuchi, a Democrat, is running in the 66th Assembly District against small business owner Craig Huey, who describes himself as a “Reagan conservative Republican.”

Among the Muratsuchi supporters attending the reception at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center were Assemblymember Warren Furutani, former Assemblymember George Nakano, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Paul Suzuki, and Los Angeles City Council candidate Terry Hara.

Thomas Iino, board chairman of Pacific Commerce Bank and of the U.S.-Japan Council, introduced Muratsuchi by saying, “He supports education, he supports environment, he supports community, he supports balancing the budget. I can’t think of anyone better.”

Los Angeles City Council candidate Terry Handa with Al Muratsuchi. (Photo by J.K. Yamamoto/Rafu Shimpo)

“The Japanese American community has always been my base and my rock, and I really appreciate the strong support from the Japanese American community,” Muratsuchi said. “… This district presents an excellent opportunity for the Japanese American community in particular to participate in the political process. My district includes the largest Japanese American communities not just in the state of California but probably in the entire country. It includes all of Torrance, most of Gardena, and all of the Palos Verdes Peninsula.”

Raised on U.S. military bases, Muratsuchi said his father, who worked for the Army for more than 40 years, and his mother, a schoolteacher, “inspired me to want to make a difference … to pursue a career in public service.” He graduated from UC Berkeley and earned his law degree at UCLA.

“I went to Berkeley in the mid to late 1980s,” he recalled. “It was the height of the redress movement. Of course, I was a student, not a community leader like many of you here in this room … including George Nakano and Warren Furutani, who were my heroes during my years in college for all your leadership in the community.”

Muratsuchi later worked with the San Francisco-based Asian Law Caucus, which was co-founded by attorney Dale Minami, who grew up in Gardena and was lead counsel in Fred Korematsu’s coram nobis case. “Dale inspired me to want to not only become a lawyer but to become a lawyer in the service of the public,” Muratsuchi said.

After graduating from law school, he served as regional director for JACL’s Pacific Southwest District, working with Kenneth Inouye — current PSW governor, former JACL national president, and a co-host of the reception — and becoming acquainted with the Japanese American community of Los Angeles and Southern California.

Genelle Buchert presents Toshio “Terry” Handa with birthday cupcakes. (Photo by J.K. Yamamoto/Rafu Shimpo)

“It was around that time when I was working at JACL that Sen. Daniel Inouye (of Hawaii) came to Los Angeles … to try to encourage more Japanese Americans to pursue a career in politics,” Muratsuchi said. “He was talking about how Japanese Americans were doing so well in business or in the banking industry or judicial community or non-profit or legal community, in so many different sectors of American society, but it was pretty clear that there wasn’t a new generation of Japanese Americans that were interested in stepping up to get involved in politics.

“Especially coming out of my experience being inspired by the Japanese American redress movement, where my heroes were people like then-Congressman Norm Mineta and of course Sen. Inouye, we know the critical importance of … being at the table … to make sure that our community is represented where the decisions are being made, to make sure that we have a voice.”

Muratsuchi moved to Torrance and was mentored by Nakano, who served on the City Council for many years before being elected to the Assembly. “George really took me under his wing … I became active in the Torrance Sister City Association and served as its president. George encouraged me to get involved in the city commissions, so I served on the Torrance Environmental Quality Commission and then went on to the Torrance Planning Commission before I took my first elected position, being elected to the Torrance School Board in 2005 and then being re-elected in 2009.

“At the same time I pursued my legal career in the public sector … I worked for a short time as a criminal prosecutor with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office before I went on to join the California Department of Justice as a deputy attorney general, where I’ve been serving for almost 12 years now.”

The most frequently asked question on the campaign trail, he said, is “Why would anyone in their right mind want to go to Sacramento nowadays?” His explanation:

“There are so many tremendous challenges facing the state, and I’ve experienced that first-hand. As a Torrance School Board member, with school districts throughout the state of California, we’ve suffered tremendous state budget cuts. In Torrance, for example, we’ve had to cut our budget by about 25 percent just in the past four years …

“Warren and George have worked very hard and have been fighting to make sure that we have a fiscally responsible budget in the state. For example, Warren passed one of the major legislative accomplishments of this past session, passing the pension reform, which is going to save the state of California between $40 to 50 billion over the next 30 years. So I think we’ve had leadership coming out of our community to work toward fiscally responsible budgets, to get the fiscal house in order in Sacramento.”

Muratsuchi expressed frustration with political gridlock in Sacramento, which he blamed on “people who are so caught up in party politics that they don’t seem to work more closely with legislators from the other party to focus on what I believe to be common-sense priorities that, whether you’re a Democrat or whether you’re a Republican, we should all be able to agree on.

“The importance of growing the economy, the importance of creating jobs, the importance of good schools, safe neighborhoods and a clean and healthy environment — I think those are not Democratic issues or Republican issues … I want to go to Sacramento to continue what I’ve been doing at the local level in working with everyone … to really address these challenging issues facing the state of California.”

Stating that he and his team are “feeling the momentum” in the campaign, he cited endorsements not only from Democrats like Reps. Janice Hahn and Henry Waxman, State Sen. Ted Lieu and Assemblymember Betsy Butler, but also from some Republican leaders. “I’m proud to have bipartisan support. For example, I have the endorsements and support of two Republican mayors in the South Bay, the mayor of Palos Verdes Estates (George F. Bird Jr.) and the mayor of Gardena (Paul Tanaka) … I also have Republican city councilmembers who are supporting me and our campaign coming from Torrance, Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach and many other communities in the South Bay.

“I think that is the best indication how we’re doing, that people are coming together to unite behind our campaign, and that is the kind of message … I’d like to take up to Sacramento, to work with everyone regardless of party affiliation.”

The formal program concluded with the presentation of a birthday cake to co-host Toshio “Terry” Handa, former president of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California, who turned 70 that day.

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