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When the Democratic lawmaker representing Burbank, Glendale, and Atwater in the lower house of the legislature, Mike Gatto, lost an internal party election early this year, he might have moved on to more important fights. It’s not as if our communities face a shortage of needs the state could help with, from water tables to tuition levels.

Mike Gatto

Instead the soon to be termed-out Assemblymember has fastened onto the defeat of a slate of delegates to the state Democratic Party convention that he supported in a January 11 vote of party activists like a hungry dog on a bone he won’t let loose. The latest twist in Gatto’s appeal of the outcome, in which a rival slate of grassroots Democrats outpolled his group, has shown the lengths some elected officials will go to seek advantage and save face, while actually putting their own credibility and reputation with voters in danger.

In March, Gatto visited the offices of the state Democratic party and demanded to inspect the records of the Jan. 11 party election. Because of a prior challenge to the results, filed by Gatto’s supporters and unanimously rejected by an appeals committee, party leaders had impounded the materials but made them available at Gatto’s insistence. Gatto emerged from his examination of the records alleging that he had found 120 voters among the more than 700 who took part in the election whose eligibility was questionable.

Let’s set aside for a second that Gatto's haphazard "review" was at best rushed and superficial and at worst driven by a pretext: to cast doubt on as many participants as possible in an election he lost.

Recall that Gatto and his associates, for whatever reason, have a track record of questioning the fitness of certain people to participate in party proceedings, mainly people who happen to be of Armenian American heritage.

And let's recall that Gatto and his associates, for whatever reason, have a track record of questioning the fitness of certain people to participate in party proceedings, mainly people who happen to be of Armenian American heritage. In 2013, he and his team made local headlines for challenging 30 Armenian American voters in the previous election of party delegates. That January, Gatto and his backers prevailed. But as a senior Democratic Party official said then with disgust of efforts by Gatto’s operatives to disqualify fellow party members from having a voice in the vote, “I have never seen anything like it.”

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Gatto's current actions harken back more than 60 years to another episode of poisonous innuendo. By using suspicion to impugn the standing of others to participate in the capital-D Democratic process, Gatto raises the specter of Senator Joseph McCarthy, waving his list of Communists and fellow travelers supposedly infesting the Truman Administration. That attack on the patriotism and ethics of public servants, not to mention common decency, was politically motivated. Gatto’s challenge is equally despicable.

By asserting his own ego and sense of entitlement above all else, Assemblymember Gatto risks inflicting lasting damage on local Democrats and their diverse coalition. Party ranks encompass millions of hyphenated Americans with identities bridging borders, languages, and continents.

If Armenian Americans, in the centennial year of commemorating the genocide of 1915, can be subject to blanket scrutiny by the likes of Mike Gatto, is any other group with ties to its immigrant heritage safe, including, for example, Italians? By Gatto’s standards, whose participation in party voting or other elections is beyond reproach, and whose isn’t? His position seems to conflict with his own party's steadfast opposition to purging and putting barriers like voter-I.D. laws before Americans seeking to cast ballots.

He also fractures the communities of his district. That our pluralistic region and democracy at the local level might be havens from intolerance and racial and ethnic disenfranchisement is a lofty ideal we have often betrayed and never fulfilled. But as the state constitution and movies like “Selma” remind us, we must never relinquish that goal. Assemblymember Gatto took an oath to that constitution, and it’s worth reminding him of its provisions regarding equality of all Californians.

Finally, Gatto hurts himself, perhaps irrevocably. There is an old saying that when you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you should do is put down the shovel. Whatever his future political aspirations might be, Mike Gatto ignores such common sense now at his peril.


Ron Kaye