By ELLEN ENDO, Rafu Shimpo

(Published Nov. 1, 2016)

Al Muratsuchi, a California deputy attorney general who is seeking to reclaim his 66th District State Assembly seat, and Torrance realtor Jonathan Kaji were once cordial.

“He was a supporter and a friend,” Muratsuchi said of Kaji in an interview with The Rafu Shimpo.

Back in June 2014, Kaji accepted the Small Business of the Year Award from the California Small Business Association, saying, “On behalf of our family, employees and real estate clients, I’d like to thank Assemblyman Muratsuchi for this special recognition.”

But their camaraderie derailed somewhere along the way, and today, Kaji has launched an aggressive attack against Muratsuchi and is actively supporting the candidate’s Republican opponent, David Hadley.

Assemblymember David Hadley with some of his Asian American supporters, including Jon Kaji (right).
Assemblymember David Hadley with some of his Asian American supporters, including Jon Kaji (right).

According to Kaji’s written statements, he blames the former legislator and for failing to intervene to stop the sale last year of 55-year-old Keiro SeniorCare, a culturally sensitive group of facilities that include Keiro Nursing Home, South Bay Keiro Nursing Home, Keiro Intermediate Care Facility, and Keiro Retirement Home. Last February, despite criticism over their lack of transparency, the Keiro Board of Directors finalized the sale of its facilities and property to Pacifica Companies LLC for a reported $41 million.

The current fight to represent the South Bay in the State Assembly is a rematch of the 2014 race when, after two years in office, Muratsuchi lost his Assembly seat to Hadley by 706 votes out of a total 108,096. The 66th District includes Gardena, Hermosa Beach, Lomita, Harbor City, Harbor Gateway, Manhattan Beach, Palos Verdes Estates, Rancho Palos Verdes, Redondo Beach, Rolling Hills, Torrance and the unincorporated communities of El Camino Village and West Carson.

Muratsuchi made a comeback last summer in the district’s three-way primary, garnering 48.7 percent of the vote versus Hadley’s 44.6 percent and fellow Democrat Mike Madrigal’s 6.7 percent. Several issues separate the two lead contenders, but the controversy over the sale of Keiro to a for-profit corporation continues to loom as a heated topic, particularly among the district’s voters of Japanese ancestry.

A pro-Muratsuchi mailer cites the candidate's accomplishments as deputy attorney general.
A pro-Muratsuchi mailer cites the candidate’s accomplishments as deputy attorney general.

Kaji contends that Muratsuchi, a deputy in State Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office, failed to convince Harris to hold a hearing that would have scrutinized and perhaps suspended the sale of Keiro to Pacifica. Harris declined to hold a hearing despite requests from high-profile elected officials, including U.S. Reps. Maxine Waters (D-43rd District) and Judy Chu (D-27th District), Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, and former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta.

Hadley, who is vice chair of the State Legislature’s Aging and Long Term Care Committee, was among those supporting the hearing request.

One Japanese American voter, who identified himself as a Republican but asked to remain anonymous, lamented that the Assembly election is presenting tough choice. “I voted for him (Muratsuchi) the last time, but he didn’t support Keiro, so I’m not sure. Maybe I shouldn’t vote.”

Muratsuchi explains that he is one of 800 attorneys in the California AG’s office and is assigned to the consumer law section. It would have been improper, he told The Rafu, “for me to comment on a pending legal matter that is being handled by attorneys in another section.”

Meanwhile, Kaji’s connection to the Keiro controversy is becoming blurred. Dr. Takeshi Matsumoto has confirmed that Kaji has stepped down as president of the Koreisha Senior Care Advocacy (KSCA), a new nonprofit created to ensure the safety and welfare of the residents of the former Keiro facilities and to identify or establish new facilities that meet the growing senior care needs of the Japanese American community.

In a letter to The Rafu Shimpo published on Oct. 15, Matsumoto, writing as Koreisha president, said, “To clarify our policy as a nonprofit organization, we cannot endorse or campaign for any political candidate. Whatever the outcome of the elections, we seek the support of all political leaders to ensure the health and welfare of current and future residents at the former Keiro facilities as well as for our goal for rebuilding culture-sensitive facilities for the Nikkei community.”

As the race toward the Nov. 8 election becomes increasingly contentious, both Muratsuchi and Hadley are bombarding South Bay voters with mailers. As of Oct. 28, one Japanese American household had received no less than 50 mailers—28 from Muratsuchi and 22 Hadley, each candidate accusing the other of misrepresenting the truth.

The candidates have already spent more than $3.2 million in this race, not including independent expenditures.

The South Bay is considered a “purple” district because of the statistical breakdown—41 percent Democrat, 32 percent Republican, and 12 percent nonpartisan. The 2010 Census stated that the population of the 66th district at the time was 26.3 percent Asian American and Pacific Islanders; 46 percent white; 22 percent Latino, and 5 percent African American.

There are approximately 281,000 registered voters. Muratsuchi is hoping that the projected higher Democrat turnout will work in his favor on Election Day.

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