As voters examine the deluge of campaign literature that is beginning to flood their mailboxes, they will see certain similarities in the candidates running for specific offices as well as attempts by the same contenders to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack.
One of the themes of corporate attorney Peter Thottam, a Democratic Party candidate for the 53rd Assembly District in the June 8th primary, is independence.
“My campaign is 100 percent anti-lobbyist and 100 percent self-financed” is a familiar Thottman refrain. His platform has the feel of a populist, and he frequently states that Sacramento has become beholden to “special interests, entrenched political machines and their well-paid lobbyists” — the latter seen by some as a veiled reference to Betsy Butler, another candidate in the race who is a fundraiser for a Sacramento lobbying organization.
“Taking back the government” is another of his campaign promises.
“I want to take our government from the special interests that advocate for corporations, high-powered unions, real estate developers and the prison-industrial complex,” he answered when asked from whom he wants to take back the government.
Thottam, a Venice resident who is now a Democrat, ran for the Assembly in 2006 as a Green Party candidate and received 3,000-plus votes, spending less than $1,000 in his attempt to unseat Assemblyman Ted Lieu.
“Then, my energy and passion was fueled by moral outrage at the war in Iraq and what was happening to the district’s economy with the militarization of the South Bay,” he began in a May 4th interview. “This time around, it’s a completely different story. I have the same passion, but I have a 15 month-old son who I want to have the same childhood that I had.”
His Web site, www.peterthottam.com/
contains his endorsements and biography.
In part due to the arrival of his son almost two years ago, Thottam, who was recently elected to the Venice Neighborhood Council, says education is also a passion that is driving him in his run for the Assembly. He is a member of the Parent Revolution, a group with a strong base in Mar Vista that advocates for charter schools.
Thottam acknowledges that many charters do not show any significant improvement over many Los Angeles Unified School District schools.
“Thirty five percent do, however,” he pointed out. “As parents, my wife and I want to send our son to public school, but class sizes are increasing and the quality of instruction is nose-diving. So my primary interest in the charter school movement is trying to figure out a more functional, forward-looking education system, where young people are given their wings to fly and to realize their hopes and dreams.”
Thottam views charter schools as a “laboratory” for testing these concepts.
“My kid and his generation need a new and better platform,” he said. “I think that charter schools have their issues just like LAUSD, but they are a vehicle to test different things.”
Thottam sees himself as a fresh and independent voice for the Assembly, much the same way that Marcy Winograd, a candidate who is competing against Rep. Jane Harman in the 36th Congressional District. Like Thottam, Winograd challenged Harman in 2006 and made her opposition to the Iraq War a staple of her campaign.
“I see myself unambiguously and in no uncertain terms, as the state-level counterpart to Marcy Winograd’s congressional campaign,” Thottam said. “My goal in running this race is to help California regain its leadership role in technology, innovation and entrepenurship with a focus on green jobs. We should have leaders who are able to come into Sacramento who are not beholden to special interests or lobbyists, who are forward thinking, who have a longer term view of creating an economic foundation for their constituents to realize their hopes and dreams.”
Thottam says he is running a self-financed campaign because he does not want the stain of influence of special interest and lobbyist money.
“That’s another major thing that differentiates me from every other candidate,” he reiterated. “There are 2,400 lobbyists today, and I think that’s one of the major problems in Sacramento today.”
He supports public financing with matching funds for candidates, as cities like Portland, Oregon and Albuquerque, New Mexico allow.
Thottam believes he has specific skill sets that will allow him to make an impression early in Sacramento.
“I’m determined to come into office with the ability to leverage my legal and business background and connections to help reinvent California,” Thottam said.
He believes his connections in venture capital circles could be an advantage in attracting businesses to the Westside and the South Bay. The Assembly contender did acknowledge that venture capital opportunities are not as prevalent as they were 12 to 15 years ago.
“But there’s still billions of dollars out there being deployed,” he added. “I’d like to see some of that come to the Westside.”
A topic that is on the minds of some constituents on the Westside is transportation, including the ongoing battles between residents who live near the Santa Monica Airport and the Federal Aviation Administration. Thottam, like all of the eight 53rd Assembly contenders, signed a “no jets” pledge not to fly in or out of the city-owned airport, which borders Mar Vista.
“I believe that the noise pollution level (at the airport) has risen to an unacceptable level,” he said. Thottam said he would meet with residents and airport officials before advocating “for a solution that is beneficial to the community.”
Some advocates of the Metro Green Line would like to see it go into Los Angeles International Airport when its connection is built instead of its planned station terminus in Westchester. Thottam is a proponent of this school of thought.
“We have to move away from this dependence on the automobile to a future-oriented society to where public transit is something that Angelenos will embrace,” he said.
The candidate says if elected, he will spend his first year listening and learning from more experienced colleagues in the Assembly.
“My plan is to go in and listen to senior legislators on all of the most important issues,” Thottam said.
The month-long oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has also captured the attention of California’s lawmakers and contenders for public office. While offshore drilling is not permitted on the Westside, Thottam said the gulf oil disaster should serve as a wakeup call for state legislators as well to protect the coast from all manner of pollution.
“My wife and I go to Venice Beach and Mother’s Beach in Marina del Rey all the time and you can see that the water’s dirty,” he lamented. “Making receptacles for trash and recycling containers for plastic easily accessible is a good step toward keeping our beaches clean.”
The Assembly candidate opposed an effort by Lieu to have Los Angeles city officials usurp the authority of the California Coastal Commission regarding the granting of permits for overnight parking districts in Venice, a long-running controversial topic along the coast.
“He was cutting into the Coastal Commission jurisdiction,” he said. “There are a lot of people who are living out of their cars because of the recession. Is this the time that we want to evict people out of Venice because of stakeholder concerns?” Thottam asked.
Thottam said that he has learned to focus on what matters to voters the second time around.
“Having my son Luke has forced me to think about the future and the type of society I want him to grow up in,” he concluded. “I think what will resonate with the voters is that I am a family man, I’ve run before and I’m running on principle.”