CA Senate hopeful stresses education, environment

SAN PEDRO, Calif. — Providing career technical education and protecting the South Bay’s environment are top priorities for Warren Furutani, the former state Assembly member who is seeking the 35th state Senate District seat in the Nov. 8, 2016, general election.

The Yonsei politician has represented two-thirds of the 35th Senate District during his tenure on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, the Los Angeles Community College Board, and state Assembly, and as a Public Works Commissioner for the city of Los Angeles.

Furutani, who was born in San Pedro and grew up in Gardena, lives in the Harbor Gateway area of Los Angeles — adjacent to Gardena — with his wife Lisa. The couple has two sons and one granddaughter.

“I’ve been around a long time,” the 69-year-old activist pointed out. “My father was born in this district and my granddaughter was born in this district. We have four generations born in this district and grew up here.”

Furutani is semi-retired and works as a consultant on education-related matters. “The issues I’m going to focus on include education,” he told the Nichi Bei Weekly. “When I was in the state Assembly, I started the Career Technical Education Select Committee and the Community College Caucus. Through education, I want to build a statewide career technical system to prepare people for the jobs of the future and the careers of the future.”

The state needs to help train people, he emphasized. “If you want to go to college, that’s great, but not everybody is going to college. We need a program that prepares people for future jobs … The kind of careers you’re getting prepared for have to be related to where the jobs are in the economy. So the development of the economy is going to be very important.”

The other big issue in the 35th District is the environment, he emphasized. “We have more oil refineries in the 35th than in any other state Senate district in the state. The good news is that there are some good jobs at the refineries, but the bad news is we’re dealing with problems relative to safety for the workers and safety for the communities that surround the refineries. So, it’s something we have to be very vigilant about. I want to work to eliminate the use of modified hydrofluoric acid. The last two oil refineries in California that use it are in the 35th District — one is the Torrance Refinery and the other is in Wilmington.”

Also affecting the district’s environment is the Los Angeles World Port, Furutani noted. “We have a lot of movement of goods out of the Port. The good news is there are a lot of jobs, and the bad news is the diesel particulates and problem with air quality. We’re fighting for the environment and the issue of air quality.”

Another environmental issue is that part of the 35th District contains homes built on huge, abandoned oil fields, he stated. “Now residents living in those homes are having trouble with methane and oil bubbling up, so people are not able to live in their homes.”

To give the district an economic boost, Furutani suggested developing a piece of property formerly occupied by Toyota before they left for Texas. “It’s a great opportunity to build what I call Silicon South Bay and bring in the high-tech firms and use the area for green industries. There are a lot of good opportunities in our district because of the Port and different industries that exist in the area.”

Other issues for Furutani relate to elder care and social services for the disabled. “We cut a lot of them when we went through the recession, and we have to bring back the programs that work,” he added.

Familiar Community Activist
People should vote for him because he has “a lot of experience and I’m able to get things done,” Furutani said. “That’s shown by the track record I have, and I work real hard — I don’t know if that’s because I’m Nihonjin — I’m not worried about being a fancy elected official, I’m only worried about getting the work done.”

Furutani is a familiar figure in the Southland Japanese American community, having initiated the first Manzanar Pilgrimage in 1969 with his friend Victor Shibata. Subsequently, he and Shibata joined Sue Kunitomi Embrey in founding the Manzanar Committee, which spearheaded the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage and advocated for state and federal recognition of the World War II concentration camp site.

While serving on the Los Angeles School Board, Furutani started a program to award diplomas to Japanese American high school students who were forced to leave school and were locked up in camps during World War II. That became a statewide diploma program.

As a state legislator, he also passed a bill that conferred honorary degrees to Japanese Americans who were in community colleges, the California State University and University of California systems in 1942 but were forced out of school to be incarcerated.

Furutani also got legislation passed for the Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution, in honor of the Bay Area Nisei who resisted the forced relocation and incarceration of 120,000 persons of Japanese descent — most of whom were American citizens — during World War II. “That’s the only legislation that honors an Asian American in the state of California,” he declared.

Only 10 percent of voters in the district are of Asian Pacific Islander heritage, so it’s not going to be won with API voters alone, Furutani explained. “That has always been the case for me in the Assembly and the other places where I’ve been elected. It’s a matter of putting together a coalition of voters to be successful.”

Al Muratsuchi, who is campaigning to regain the 66th Assembly District seat that he lost in 2014, endorsed Furutani, stating that “Warren has been fighting for our community for decades.”

Furutani said the polls indicate he is in a tight race, and has “a real good chance” of winning. But he pointed out that winning against Steve Bradford may be difficult because “these days a lot of outside money gets involved. Because I’m an environmentalist, the oil companies are expending money in the campaign against me. They’re trying to support the other guy who takes money from oil companies. I don’t take any money from oil companies. I do think you need to be able to hold the oil companies accountable. I’m not trying to shut them down, but I am trying to make sure they’re safe.”

Latinos Endorse Furutani
In the primary election, Bradford got approximately 35 percent of the vote while Furutani received 24.5 percent. The polls now show Furutani and Bradford are pretty even, the Nikkei politico said. “But the third-place finisher in the primaries, Compton City Councilman Isaac Galvan, who got 22 percent, has endorsed me. He’s Latino and he’s going to help us galvanize the Latino vote.”

By the Nov. 8 election day, Latino voters are expected to make up as much as 36 percent of the electorate, making them the largest demographic group in the district, Furutani explained.

Prominent Latinos endorsing Furutani include Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, Congressmembers Tony Cardenas and Norma Torres, former state Senators Richard Alatorre, Richard Polanco and Art Torres, the Mexican-American Democratic Club, and the Mexican-American Bar Association.

Furutani also has the support of the nation’s largest farm workers union, the United Farm Workers, which is overwhelmingly Latino and endorsed his campaign in September.

In a letter to Furutani, UFW President Arturo Rodriguez stated, “As an elected official, you worked diligently to improve the lives of working families. As an organization, we greatly appreciate the tenacity and leadership you have demonstrated in your work. Your background and proven commitment ensures you will continue to advocate for the dignity and respect of working families. Your moral integrity is commendable and we are proud to endorse your candidacy,” a Furutani statement noted.

According to his Website, the prominent list of endorsers also includes Rep. Ted Lieu, California state Controller Betty Yee, California state Treasurer John Chiang, the 13,000-member Professional Engineers in California Government, Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino — his district is the largest portion of the 35th senate district — and numerous members of Congress, state legislators, local city council members, community college trustees, school board members, water board members, grassroots Democratic clubs, and many labor organizations such as the International Longshoreman’s Union and the Teamsters.

The 35th state Senate District includes the cities of Carson, Compton, Gardena, Hawthorne, Inglewood, Lawndale, Torrance, the Los Angeles communities of Harbor City, Harbor Gateway, San Pedro, Wilmington and Watts, parts of Long Beach, and the unincorporated Los Angeles County communities of Alondra Park, Athens, Del Aire, Dominguez, East Compton, El Camino Village, La Rambla, Lennox, West Athens, West Carson, West Compton and Willowbrook.

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