Some assembly required: Four candidates run to replace Katcho Achadjian to represent the 35th District in the California Assembly



At the end of the year, Katcho Achadjian will be termed out from his seat representing the California Assembly’s 35th District. He’s reaching to higher office and gunning for another open seat representing California’s 24th Congressional District.

Now, four candidates—Jordan Cunningham, Steve LeBard, Dawn Ortiz-Legg, and Dominic Rubini—are looking to step into the Assembly to represent San Luis Obispo County and parts of Northern Santa Barbara County. Here’s a little bit about them. 

Jordan Cunningham, Republican

Born in San Luis Obispo and raised in Atascadero, Jordan Cunningham says he enters the race with the California taxpayer in mind. 

As a taxpayer advocate, his campaign centers on government accountability “on all different levels” and what he considers to be the high tax burden currently facing Californians. 

He’s also the president of the Central Coast Taxpayers Association, a position from which Cunningham said he doesn’t draw a salary and calls a “labor of love.” 

“In the Legislature I’ll be able to cast critical votes that do things like protect Proposition 13, which is under assault,” Cunningham told New Times. “And stopping ideas like extending sales tax to services, which is an idea pending in the Legislature.” 

He wants to tackle the problem of unfunded pension liabilities that he said the state is currently facing, despite the budget surplus. The easy solution, he said, would be to just pass more taxes. However, the state needs to learn to live within its means, Cunningham added. 

As a former-prosecutor-turned-defense-attorney, Cunningham is making public safety part of his campaign. He takes issue with some parts of Proposition 47, which re-categorizes some crimes as misdemeanors instead of felonies. As an assemblyman, he’d try to pass bills that would reform Proposition 47. A starting point, he said, is changing the law to make theft of a handgun worth less than $950 a felony. 

Cunningham also takes issue with state laws that he believes burden small businesses—which he considers the majority of jobs on the Central Coast. Ensuring the stability of an environment where small businesses can thrive and grow is the best thing for job creation, Cunningham said. 

A graduate of UC Berkeley’s law school, the 38-year-old currently runs a law practice along with his wife, Shauna. He’s also worked for the U.S. Department of Justice and for federal judges in Washington, D.C. 

Steve LeBard, Republican

Steve LeBard’s name might sound familiar to those in the district’s southern region. LeBard tried to erect a veteran’s memorial near the corner of Clark Avenue and Highway 135 in Old Town Orcutt. Caltrans blocked the project, citing a policy prohibiting expressions of free speech on state-sponsored monuments, noting specifically the monument’s inclusion of the American flag.

He’s a proud Vietnam veteran, having served on a U.S. Marine Corps Cobra gunship helicopter squadron. He officially announced his candidacy on March 29, National Vietnam Veterans Day. 

LeBard, 65, lives in the Santa Maria Valley and owns a computer services business with his wife. 

Crime is one of LeBard’s top issues. With Santa Maria experiencing seven homicides just in January, followed by the recent arrest of 16 suspected MS-13 gang members, LeBard would like to see more involvement from the FBI in the city’s crime reduction efforts.

Much of LeBard’s campaign centers on reforming the process for obtaining land-use permits. In addition to the trouble getting the Old Town Orcutt monument erected, LeBard’s had issues trying to build a restaurant and vineyard, spending $190,000 along the way and not being able to build anything. 

If elected, LeBard said he’d reintroduce Senate Bill 244, a bill sponsored by former Republican state Sen. Tony Strickland that would transfer the proposed memorial site’s property in Old Town Orcutt to the county, possibly allowing it to get built. 

LeBard would also like to address Diablo Canyon and desalination plants. 

“My attitude is that whatever I can do to make our community better, is better for everybody,” LeBard said.

Dawn Ortiz-Legg, Democrat

Dawn Ortiz-Legg comes to the race with a wealth of experience in the solar energy sector. Originally from a small town outside of Chicago, Ortiz-Legg called SLO County home for 24 years. She currently resides in Cambria. 

The former environmental and anti-war activist describes herself as a “meat and potatoes kind of gal,” a moderate Democrat with progressive social values but conservative economic values.

Ortiz-Legg, 56, attended Pepperdine and Johns Hopkins universities and has a background in international business.

Currently a contractor for First Solar, Ortiz-Legg has worked with several utility-scale solar power projects, including construction of Topaz Solar Farms and the California Valley Solar Ranch near Carrizo Plain.

She said that’s where she earned the tagline, “Working together. Creating jobs.”

In fact, Ortiz-Legg said many of the issues she wants to tackle as an assemblywoman, like gang violence and rising housing costs, involve a need for job creation. 

Ortiz-Legg believes that a skills-based job-training pipeline for re-entering convicts reduces prison populations and keeps people from becoming incarcerated in the first place. She draws a connection to the booming renewable energy sector and the high demand for skilled labor in the industry.

For social issues, her first concern is for families and their ability to pay for basic needs. After raising her daughter as a single mother, Ortiz-Legg said she understands the struggle of being a single parent, being self-employed, and trying to make ends meet. She’d like to tackle adequate child care on the state level.

Being self-employed for most of her life, Ortiz-Legg doesn’t believe more taxes are the answer. 

“My philosophy is that when people have economic opportunity, they are happier and more productive,” she said. “I feel the majority of people just want to do good work and contribute to society.” 

Dominic Rubini, Libertarian

At 27 years old, Dominic Rubini is the youngest candidate and the only Libertarian option in the race. An “aspiring business owner,” Rubini holds a Cal Poly degree in construction management and has worked in the construction and oil industries in the Bakersfield area. Rubini lives in Shandon.

Rubini’s campaign rests on several issues, most notably reducing over-burdensome government regulations—whether local, state, or federal—centered on business and personal freedom. 

He believes California’s carbon tax/cap-and-trade system added a large burden to working class people who work with regulated equipment, such as farmers, contractors, and truckers. 

Rubini wants to lower taxes and create more spending accountability. He also wants to lower in-state college costs and do away with exorbitant salaries for college administrators. 

He said he realizes it may not be a popular idea, but he believes that members of the Assembly ought to take a pay cut. 

As far as personal liberty, he believes the state of California can do more to stop privacy intrusions by the federal government through the National Security Agency and the use of drones.

He’s pushing for less gun regulation in the state and doesn’t think gun registration is necessary.

“The people have a right to bear arms individually, and we need to affirm that in our [state] constitution,” Rubini said. 

Cutting down on the war on drugs and reducing the prison population—which he sees as connected—are two other priorities he’d tackle as an assemblyman. 

He also said investigations of public officials, including when a police officer uses a gun, ought to be public. 

“Private personnel records need to be public when they affect the public,” Rubini said. 

Rubini’s campaign slogan is, “Lower taxes, less government, more freedom.” 

David Minsky, staff writer at New Times’ sister paper the Santa Maria Sun, can be reached at [email protected].

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