California’s Assembly District 43 race is the latest battleground that pits a popular, homegrown candidate against the interests of wealthy, out of district corporate donors intent on controlling the direction of public education throughout the state.
The assembly district stretches from Burbank and Glendale to Silver Lake and the Hollywood Hills. On May 17, community leaders, teachers and parents gathered in Glendale to express support for Ardy Kassakhian, Glendale’s current city clerk, and to publicly condemn the $1 million funneled into his opponent’s campaign by the political arm of the California Charter Schools Association.
Assembly District 43 race is the latest battleground that pits a popular, homegrown candidate against the interests of wealthy, out of district corporate donors intent on controlling the direction of public education throughout the state.
It comes as no surprise that CCSA’s political arm would target Ardy Kassakhian in the June 7 primary with false and misleading attacks on his accomplishments as city clerk. His continued support for increasing funding for public schools—he grew up in Glendale and graduated from Glendale High School in 1994—puts Kassakhian squarely in the cross hairs of the charter school network of wealthy funders, lobbyists and public relations firms that are “hell-bent on expanding a parallel, privatized education system that reflects corporate values and is not publicly accountable to parents and communities,” reports AlterNet. “This effort exacerbates income inequality as it drains funds from public school districts and undermines their success.”
The AD 43 race follows a disturbing pattern. “There are outside interest groups attempting to outright buy Assembly, Senate and local school board seats,” LAUSD Board President Steve Zimmer, a Kassakhian supporter, told the group of community leaders. Financial disclosures show that more than $1 million has been spent by out-of-district special interest groups to influence the outcome of the election by smearing Kassakhian’s record and promoting his chief opponent, Glendale City Councilwoman Laura Friedman.
A 2013 state investigation into the charter school advocacy network revealed dozens of previously hidden donors, including billionaire investor Charles Schwab, philanthropist Eli Broad and the Fisher family, owners of Gap, Inc.
With deep roots in the community and a proven track record of efficiency and transparency, Kassakhian has been widely praised for his community service, reduction in government waste spending, sound environmental practices and improving elections as city clerk of Glendale. He is endorsed in the Assembly 43 race by Mayor Eric Garcetti, the California Teachers Association, the AFL-CIO, California Labor Federation and United Teachers of L.A.
In its 2013 endorsement of Kassakhian for his second term, the Glendale News Press praised him for “continually working to make his office more efficient, transparent and responsive.” During his tenure, Glendale was considered on the “leading edge” of improving city elections and for “running an efficient, accurate and modern elections system.”
Prior to the infusion of special interest money into her campaign, Laura Friedman was considered a long shot largely because of her council absences and controversial spending on travel and perks at taxpayer’s expense. Two months after she voted to slash police protection and cut after- school programs, Friedman voted to raise her own salary by nearly 20 percent, one of the largest increases in Glendale history. Friedman spent $37,000, more than the other Glendale City Council members combined, in taxpayer money for travel and dining expenses. She spent another 25 days touring China and Tibet in 2012 and 2014, missing in that time 38 city council votes. Despite pleas from Glendale residents, Friedman, a Democrat, voted with Republicans to raise utility rates by 29 percent, rejecting a more moderate increase that would have protected seniors on fixed incomes and people living in poverty.
The sudden glut of outside special interest money aimed at selling Friedman to voters indicates “she has become complicit in the private profiteers’ goal to divert resources from our public schools precisely at the time when we need to be investing in them most,” says Hans Johnson, president of East Area Progressive Democrats. Progressive supporters of public education throughout the area are equally concerned. “This is a very important race in which Ardy Kassakhian is the only candidate we trust to stand up for public schools and to fight the billionaires trying to privatize our public school system for their profit,” said Frank Higginbotham, of the Glendale Teachers Association.
Mary A. Fischer is an established media professional with 20 years experience writing and editing for national magazines, eBooks and web blogs. She contributes to The Atlantic, Pacific Standard magazine, AARP, Men’s Journal and Scotusblog. Other credits include: GQ, New York, Rolling Stone, Los Angeles Times, O-Oprah and Los Angeles Magazine, among others.