By Nick Diamantides
Democrat Warren Furutani is the incumbent Assemblymember for the state’s 55th District. He hopes to be reelected to his second full term in that office. “I am running to finish the business I have been working on since I was first elected,” he said.
Furutani noted that his first priority is to advance career/technical education. He explained that he established a legislative committee on career technical education, and he has organized the first community college caucus in the legislature for that purpose. “I am working with all the different groups involved in career/technical education and hoping to create a comprehensive system that will help more students get that kind of education,” he said.
Furutani said career/technical education is critical to the future of the district and the entire state, but it has not been given as much attention as it deserves. “I am a firm believer in higher education, and we need to do everything we can to support and expand our colleges and universities,” he said. “But I also know that not everyone is going to college. Rather than having such a large percentage of students dropping out of high school and not learning any skills, let’s develop a career training program for our young people.”
Furutani noted that, with large numbers of Baby Boomers approaching retirement, hundreds of thousands of jobs that require skills will soon be available to young people, but most of them do not have those skills. “We also need to train our youth in the new skills related to advancements in technology and in the new trend toward green industries,” he said.
Furutani stressed that about 25 percent of all California high-school students drop out before graduating, and in the inner city high schools, the drop-out rate ranges from 33 to 50 percent. “Another issue is that students entering junior colleges are not prepared to succeed in college,” he said. “We need to better prepare high-school students who want to go to college, and we need to provide career/technical education to those who do not want to go to college.”
Furutani strongly defended his stance on career/technical education against charges that it is motivated by the unions that contribute to his campaign. “I have been a union guy my entire adult life,” he admitted. “But I am looking out for the interests of working people, whether they are in a union or not. I am not owned by the unions. You ask anybody that knows me, and they will tell you there are two adjectives that describe me: honesty and integrity.”
Furutani said his second priority is to continue working on improving the way goods are moved through the district. “On one hand, the movement of goods is critical to the economies of California and the western United States,” he said. “On the other hand, if we are moving goods, it must not be at the expense of children getting asthma, and other health problems caused by the diesel particulates that are coming from trucks and trains.” He said that he has been working with officials of the two ports to make them greener and he hopes to continue those discussions.
Furutani said he is proud of the legislation he has authored that has been signed into law. “Last year, one of my bills, AB 37, was passed,” he said. “It conferred honorary college degrees to Japanese-Americans that were forced out of colleges and forced to live in internment camps during World War II, and that helped right a past wrong.”
Other Furutani bills signed into law include: AB 1847, which strengthens existing law by allowing prosecutors to initiate income deductions from convicted criminals to ensure that victims of crime receive court-ordered restitution; and AB 2444, which makes it easier for inter-district transfer students in K–12 schools to stay in the schools to which they have transferred.
Furutani also talked about the public’s poor image of the state legislature, and he acknowledged that its failure to adopt a budget on time is one of its biggest problems. “As soon as the election is over, we need to get to work immediately on the state’s budget,” he said, explaining that legislators typically do not begin talking about the budget until mid-January and don’t start serious work on it until May. He noted that he is the chair of Budget Committee Four, which deals with state administration. “As chair, I am gong to ask all the committee members to immediately start looking at how we can be more efficient as a state government,” he said. “We need to start work on next year’s budget immediately.”
Furutani graduated from Antioch University with a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts, served on the Los Angeles Board of Education for eight years, and on the Los Angeles Community College Board for 10 years. He was elected to the Assembly in a special election in 2007 and reelected for his first full term in 2008.
“I want to thank the people of the 55th District for electing me to this office,” Furutani said. “I think they see the wisdom and experience that I have brought to this office. I commit to continue to do the best I can to serve the people of this district.”