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Takasugi Sees Downside of Term Limits

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Before he ever won a seat in the Legislature, Nao Takasugi was a firm believer in limiting Assembly members to six years in office. Now, running for his final term, Takasugi is not so sure he was right.

“Six years is totally inadequate,” said the Oxnard Republican who is being challenged by Democrat Jess Herrera in the November election.

“I’m just getting to the point of being fully comfortable and fully efficient and ready to do some good work,” Takasugi said. “But now, I’m faced with this lame-duck session already.”

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Although he touts his legislative accomplishments, Takasugi wants more time as chairman of the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee--a position he was awarded earlier this year when the Assembly came under Republican control.

“There are some good pieces of legislation that you don’t get passed in one or two years,” he said.

Herrera, his aggressive but poorly financed challenger, says the 74-year-old lawmaker has had plenty of years faltering in the Legislature. Now, he said, it’s time for fresh legs.

He accuses Takasugi of being unresponsive to his constituents in the 37th District that covers Oxnard, Camarillo, Moorpark and Thousand Oaks.

“I really fight for what I believe in,” said Herrera, an Oxnard harbor commissioner and longshoreman at the deep-water Port of Hueneme. “That’s the difference between me and Nao Takasugi. I’m not laid back.”

Takasugi said he has anticipated such criticism from his opponent. “I’d make the same claims, if I were running against the incumbent,” Takasugi said. “I’m proud of my record and let that speak for itself.”

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Takasugi said his main accomplishment this year was holding the line on taxes as the Republican-controlled Assembly’s designated leader on tax policies.

“Not a single dime of new taxes has gotten out of my committee,” said the former grocer and mayor of Oxnard.

Moreover, he said, he is proud of the $78 million in tax breaks for businesses and a 5% reduction in bank and corporate taxes that were approved this year.

As for his plans, Takasugi said he will continue to push to streamline state government, toughen criminal laws, improve the economy and local schools.

He said he will reintroduce his bill to add 15 days to the Oxnard high schools, in a pilot program designed to make California school graduates more competitive with their counterparts in Europe and Asia. The bill died in the final moments of this year’s legislative session.

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Of all his goals, Takasugi sees his primary legislative mission as making California more friendly to business.

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Although that philosophy has brought him plaudits, it has also elicited some criticism.

Earlier this year, he was chided for voting down a new tax on oil companies after receiving $15,000 in political contributions from the petroleum industry.

He was also targeted this year by a statewide anti-smoking advertising campaign for being beholden to tobacco interests because he was one of the Legislature’s top 20 recipients of tobacco industry campaign cash.

Herrera jumped into the fray, saying, “Mr. Takasugi should become independent of tobacco support and honor his commitment to uphold California’s law.”

Takasugi bristles at the allegation that the political donations have any connection to how he casts his vote.

Large industries and small businesses contribute to his political campaigns because they like his track record, he said. “They look at my record as a businessman who has been upholding business principles.”

As for his votes, he said, “I’m not beholden to vote every time for bills that come up on any issue.”

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Takasugi also points out that his fellow legislators and other Sacramento insiders gave him the third highest rating in integrity, in a ranking of 80 members of the Assembly.

“My colleagues know that once I give my word on something, I’m good for it,” Takasugi said. “My word is my bond.”

If elected, Herrera said he would approach the job differently. The 49-year-old former longshoremen’s union leader said he would meet with local government officials and experts to develop a consensus for action on the community’s most pressing problems.

Herrera offers few specific proposals but said he is most concerned about creating jobs, reducing crime and improving local schools.

“I see my job as working with the Ventura County superintendent of schools and the school boards,” Herrera said. “We also have the teachers union. These different entities have to come together to figure out what is best in our particular area.”

Herrera said he supports putting more computers in classrooms, particularly for disadvantaged children, so they do not slip behind in the computer revolution.

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Drawing on his experience as a commissioner overseeing the Port of Hueneme, he also wants to improve roads that lead to the commercial port and revamp the public bidding process to secure more local jobs.

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Recently, he said, the port awarded the contract to build a warehouse to an Arizona company because it was the lowest bidder. He proposes that California companies receive preferential treatment for such public projects as a way to keep jobs and tax dollars in the state.

In his campaign, Herrera has been struggling to line up political donations to match those of Takasugi, who has about $80,000 in political cash and several fund-raisers planned in coming weeks.

Sen. Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the Latino Legislative Caucus, has promised to help Herrera with political mass mailings.

But most state Democratic officials in Sacramento have declined to target the race, pointing out that party registration is stacked against any Democratic challenger. Republicans dominate the district, with 44% of the registered voters, compared with the Democrat’s 39.5%.

“You would have to be a Cy Young award winner to win that district,” said one prominent Democrat in Sacramento who requested anonymity.

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Takasugi, meanwhile, said he has run hard in his previous 10 successful political campaigns and has no intention of altering his strategy now. He plans a full complement of mass mailings, phone banks and other campaign techniques to rally support in the district.

“I learned early on,” Takasugi said, “never to take any opponent for granted.”

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Candidate Profiles

Representing the 37th District for the last four years, Republican Assemblyman Nao Takasugi is seeking his last term allowed by voter-imposed term limits. He faces challenger Jess Herrera, a Democrat, in the Nov. 5 election.

Nao Takasugi

Age: 74

Occupation: Assemblyman

Residence: Oxnard

Party: Republican

Education: Master’s degree in business administration from Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania; bachelor’s degree in accounting from Temple University

Background: An Oxnard native, Takasugi ran a family market for 35 years. He was appointed to the Oxnard Planning Commission in 1974; elected to the City Council in 1976 and in the middle of his second term was elected mayor. He served as the city’s mayor for a decade. He was elected to the state Assembly in 1992 and this year was named chairman of the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee.

Issues: Takasugi promises to block any new taxes or tax hikes and pursue a cut in capital gains taxes. He wants to further reduce regulations on business and proceed with workers’ compensation reforms. He also wants to help boost California’s economy through business tax breaks and improve public schools with a pilot program to extend the scholastic year at Oxnard high schools.

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Jess Herrera

Age: 49

Occupation: Longshoreman, harbor commissioner

Residence: Oxnard

Party: Democrat

Education: Associate of arts degree, Moorpark College

Background: A lifelong Oxnard resident, Herrera has worked as a longshoreman since 1966 at the Port of Hueneme and Los Angeles Harbor. He spent eight years as executive officer of the International Longshoreman’s and Warehouseman’s Union, Local 46. In 1994, he was elected to a four-year term as an Oxnard harbor commissioner. He is a board member of the American Red Cross’ local chapter.

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Issues: Herrera vows to be accessible and accountable to his constituents, meeting with them often to reach consensus on how to fight drug abuse and crime and improve schools. He wants California contractors to get preference when bidding on public projects, so jobs remain in the state. He wants to restore cooperation in the Legislature, putting the people first, party politics second.

DISTRICT AT A GLANCE

Party Breakdown:

Republican: 44%

Democrat: 39.5%

Other: 16.5%

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Ethnic Breakdown:

White: 59%

Latino: 31%

Asian: 6%

African American: 3%

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