Alan Nakanishi addresses a gathering of local Republicans. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)
Alan Nakanishi addresses a gathering of local Republicans. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

COMMERCE — Alan Nakanishi, a Republican candidate for State Senate in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta area, visited Southern California recently to introduce himself to members of the local Japanese American/Asian American community.

A fundraising dinner was held Sept. 11 at Steven’s Steakhouse in the City of Commerce, hosted by Dr. Marina Tse, Nelson Huang, Tac Phung, and Roger Minami.

Nakanishi, a physician, a member of the Lodi City Council and a former member of the State Assembly, is running against the Democratic incumbent, Cathleen Galgiani, in Senate District 5 in the November general election.

One issue that they disagree on is the state’s High-Speed Rail Project, which critics have dubbed the “train to nowhere.” Nakanishi commented, “There’s no partnership, there’s no money. There’s supposed to be federal, state, private monies coming in … They can’t complete it. My view is that you should disband it and put the money into roads.”

He also criticized the state’s plan to transport more water from the Delta to Southern California and said that farming in his area is “so regulated, it’s hard for them to do business.”

Born in Sacramento in 1940, Nakanishi was incarcerated with his family at Tule Lake during World War II. “My father owned two stores,” he recalled. “He was wealthy … He lost everything. He became a blue-collar worker, worked in a cannery.”

Nakanishi put himself through school attending Pacific Union College in Napa Valley and picking grapes and peaches in Lodi in the summertime. He earned his master’s degree in health administration from Virginia Commonwealth University and his M.D. from Loma Linda University, then completed his internship at USC Medical Center.

During the Vietnam War, Nakanishi served in the Army, becoming a major and heading a surgical unit at McDonald Army Hospital in Virginia. He established an ophthalmology practice in Stockton in 1971 with Dr. Robert Hopkins.

“His church called him to be a missionary, to teach eye surgery in India,” Nakanishi said. “I was looking for a place to practice. We got together, I assumed his practice, he went to India, and when he came back we formed the Delta Eye Medical Group with the idea that we would cover each other so we could go on missionary trips. There’s now five doctors, three offices, and we still do that.”

Nakanishi has often traveled to Baja and Monterey, Mexico, where he conducts clinics for resident physicians at hospitals.

First elected to the Lodi City Council in 1998, he noted that he was mayor when city leaders learned about the 9/11 attacks 15 years ago. “I remember that vividly.”

Nakanishi ran unsuccessfully for State Senate in 2000 and was elected to represent the 10th Assembly District in 2002, serving until he was termed out in 2008. During his tenure, he was the first Republican co-chair of the Asian Pacific Islander Joint Legislative Caucus as well as a member of the Rural Caucus and the Legislative Sporting Caucus.

Nakanishi said it was an exaggeration for some people to call him a “favorite” of then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, but acknowledged that they had a “cordial” relationship.

When the governor was trying to persuade reluctant fellow Republicans to support his budget, Nakanishi was called to his office. “He didn’t say, ‘I want this vote.’ He said, ‘Tell me about yourself.’ I said, “Well, Governor, I was interned and when I was a boy, I would go to the Capitol and sit in the top row, never dreaming I would be an assemblyman here.’ He said, ‘You know what? Same here. [As an immigrant] I never thought I’d meet the president.’ So we had a good rapport.”

Nakanishi worked for State Board of Equalization member Michelle Steel, now a member of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, and unsuccessfully ran for the Board of Equalization himself in 2010. He was elected again to the Lodi City Council that year, served as mayor again in 2012, and was re-elected in 2014. He will give up his council seat if elected to the Senate.

About five months ago, after Assemblymember Kristin Olsen (R-Riverbank) decided not to run against Galgiani, state Republican leaders asked Nakanishi to enter the race.

“I’ll tell you why this race is important or any race is important. We have 40 senators — 14 Republicans and 26 Democrats,” he explained. “The Democrats do not have a two-thirds supermajority both in the Assembly and the Senate … a supermajority that means they can do whatever they want … It’s very important, so they’re trying to get it.”

Nakanishi and his supporters met at Steven’s Steakhouse in the City of Commerce. (Courtesy Roger Minami)
Nakanishi and his supporters met at Steven’s Steakhouse in the City of Commerce. (Courtesy Roger Minami)

The GOP is targeting Senate seats that it has a good chance of winning, he said, including those of Bob Huff (R-San Dimas), who is termed out, in District 29; the late Sharon Runner (R-Lancaster) in District 21; and Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge), who is also termed out, in District 25.

The candidates are Assemblymember Ling Ling Chang (R-Diamond Bar) and Democrat Josh Newman in District 29; Assemblymember Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) and Democrat Johnathon Ervin in District 21; Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich (R) and former Assemblymember Anthony Portantino (D) in District 25.

“When you look at all the districts of the Legislature, it’s either a Democratic district or a Republican district,” Nakanishi said. “But there are some districts where the registration is such that the Republicans can take it, and I happen to be in that [kind of] district. Twenty percent are independents.”

“I’ll tell you why I said yes,” he continued. “… I don’t like where the state is going … Jobs are moving away, high taxes, crime increasing, schools are bad. Even in my city of Lodi, it used to be a peaceful city but now we have more burglaries. It’s not good for our children. And also the debt … You’re going to be paying so much taxes because we’re the worst state as far as business is concerned.”

As an example, he cited Toyota’s decision to move its corporate headquarters from Torrance to Texas and suggested that the 66th Assembly District’s Republican incumbent, David Hadley, would be “better for business” than the Democratic challenger, former Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi.

Regarding his own qualifications, Nakanishi said that party leaders “know me because I served in the Assembly, so I have a lot of friends and acquaintances who are in Congress right now, in the State Legislature. They know what I did … I have already run in that area. I’ve been a doctor for 40 years, so I have name recognition.”

One worry is that because so much attention is focused on the presidential campaign and not on local races, he still hears from some of his constituents, “I didn’t know you were running for office.”

As a veteran of several campaigns, Nakanishi cautioned young people who have political aspirations, “When you run for office, you’re not always going to win and people are going to be against you. But you can do two things — you can crawl in a hole or go forward … If you’re not chosen … you just keep going forward. What I find in life is just because you lose doesn’t mean you’re losing, it’s how you play the game. Just because you win doesn’t mean you’re a winner, it’s how you play the game.”

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