By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
TORRANCE — Last Tuesday’s election proved to be a rough one for some Japanese American candidates, but Al Muratsuchi was one of the few who emerged with a win.
Muratsuchi, a former Democratic member of the Assembly, received 69,410 votes (53 percent) to Republican incumbent David Hadley’s 61,489 (47 percent) in the 66th Assembly District as of Wednesday morning with all precincts reporting. It was a reversal of the 2014 election in which incumbent Muratsuchi was unseated by Hadley, 49.7 percent to 50.3 percent.
“Fighting for what’s right is worth it,” Muratsuchi said in a statement on Wednesday. “We won. This was a hard-fought campaign, but in the end, we prevailed. Our hundreds of volunteers, supporters, and staff worked our butts off, and together, we won. I cannot thank everyone enough for all your support.
“But Election Night was a mix of conflicting emotions, watching what is happening to our country. Now, more than ever, we have work to do, and we must continue to fight for what’s right.”
Muratsuchi made similar remarks, without declaring victory, during his Election Night party at the Torrance DoubleTree Hotel. When he was first elected in 2012, his supporters not only celebrated his win but also watched President Obama’s victory speech. This time, the news updates showed Hillary Clinton trailing Donald Trump in electoral votes and commentators projecting Trump to be the winner.
Noting that the presidential election has left the country divided, Muratsuchi said, “When I look out at this room and look out at the crowds that have been gathering at campaign headquarters, we are the beautiful diversity of America.”
The multiethnic crowd included his family, elected officials from Torrance, Gardena, Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, and the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and students from South Bay high schools. Muratsuchi asked the students to continue their political involvement.
Muratsuchi also thanked statewide elected officials who stopped by to provide “support and love” in the last few days, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and State Treasurer John Chiang, who are both running for governor in 2018.
In his concession statement, Hadley thanked his family, supporters and endorsers.
“I was fortunate to earn the endorsement of almost 100 South Bay community leaders,” he said. “Mayors, councilmembers, school board trustees, commissioners. Democrats, Republicans and independents, from Gardena to Rolling Hills, Lomita to Manhattan Beach. For those of you who publicly supported me, I am forever grateful. I am also grateful for the endorsement of The Daily Breeze …
“I am proud of my service in the Assembly and of the two campaigns we waged. At the end of the day, our efforts fell short against a campaign funded by $4 million+ of Sacramento money and a 2016 national climate that did not favor a South Bay Republican. I congratulate my opponent on his election, and my team and I will continue to serve the South Bay diligently until my term expires next month.”
Muratsuchi described the campaign as “brutal” and full of “negativity.” Both parties as well as political action committees poured millions into mailers and commercials, many of them attack ads. Hadley accused Muratsuchi of sponsoring a bill that would have made it harder for schools to fire teachers who molest students; Muratsuchi accused Hadley of sharing Trump’s values and being hostile to women’s rights.
“This was a tough campaign for our entire family and I can’t thank you enough, each one of you, for your love, kindness, encouragement, friendship, and volunteer support,” Muratsuchi’s wife, Hiroko Higuchi, said in a message to supporters. “No more negative TV commercials!”
Unlike the last two campaigns, this time Muratsuchi faced organized opposition from within the Japanese American community, led by Jon Kaji, formerly of the Ad Hoc Committee to Save Keiro. Kaji charged that Muratsuchi, as deputy attorney general with the California Department of Justice, failed to get involved when Attorney General Kamala Harris approved the sale of Keiro’s facilities to Pacifica Companies LLC without a public hearing.
Muratsuchi responded that despite his personal feelings about the sale, he worked in a different division at the department and was not in a position to intervene.
In forming Asian Pacific Americans for Hadley, Kaji and business owner Mark Tsuneishi said, “David stood with the Asian community against the sale of Keiro … unlike his opponent.”
In the final days of the campaign, things became more heated when Nisei World War II veterans and their families expressed outrage over a mailer that showed Muratsuchi with Nisei vets, two of whom are deceased. The families sent letters to local newspapers accusing the candidate of “dishonorable conduct” and endorsed Hadley.
Muratsuchi stated that the veterans gave permission to use their photos during the 2014 campaign, but he expressed regret that the photos were used again this year without his knowledge by an independent expenditure committee.
“I meant no disrespect to any veteran or their family through any unauthorized use of their image,” Muratsuchi said in a letter to The Rafu Shimpo. “I also would like an opportunity to meet with the veterans or their surviving family members to personally make amends.”
It remains to be seen whether such a meeting will take place.