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Guest Opinion | Dr. Peter Dreier: Anthony Portantino for State Senate

Published on Sunday, October 9, 2016 | 7:10 pm
Dr. Peter Dreier

On Election Day, the choice in the 25th Senate District is one of the easiest to make. Republican Mike Antonovich — who has been in office since 1969 — is an extreme conservative on every mainstream issue that matters to this district, and he has the record to prove it. His Democratic opponent, Anthony Portantino, is a likable and sensible local leader, and an effective problem-solver, who combines progressive values, independence, and good judgment.

Antonovich is extremely anti-choice, even going so far as to help organize a funeral for aborted fetuses. He’s a long-time homophobe who supported Proposition 8 (the 2008 ballot measure against same-sex marriage) and attacked the judges who rightly overturned it.

His views on immigration are to the right of Donald Trump and even drew rebukes from the Catholic Church during his unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate in 1986. According to the Los Angeles Times, Cardinal Roger Mahony, “publicly scolded Supervisor Mike Antonovich for his political advertisements on the problem of illegal aliens.”

Recently, Antonovich came out in support of Donald Trump for President.

Frankly, that’s enough to make the case that Antonovich is an out-of-touch conservative, but there’s so much more to be concerned about.

Antonovich lead the opposition to the Los Angeles County Tax Measures R & J. Measure R helped fund the Gold Line through the San Gabriel Valley and other transportation and infrastructure projects that created jobs and stimulated the economy in the 25th District.

As a Supervisor, Antonovich led the effort to move the high-speed rail route away from Santa Clarita and Acton to Shadow Hills, Big Tujunga Wash and the Angeles Crest National Forrest. But now that he’s running for State Senate, Antonovich opposes his own idea. In contrast, Portantino stands firm with Sunland Tujunga, Shadow Hills and the environmentalists who opposed Antonovich’s E2 route through the forest.

Despite the epidemic of gun violence, Antonovich has opposed sensible gun control for decades. He even opposed the ban of “Saturday Night Specials.” In contrast, as a state Assembly Member, Portantino authored and passed sensible gun control. He is endorsed by the Brady Campaign, the nation’s leading gun control advocacy group.

Last year, Antonovich unsuccessfully lead the opposition to a law to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour in the unincorporated areas of LA County, like Altadena. He wasted $50,000 of taxpayers money by hiring a public relations front group for the restaurant industry to conduct a bogus “study” of the minimum wage. But the voters and his fellow County Supervisors saw through Antonovich’s shilling for the business lobby. Now employees in the County’s unincorporated areas will get a living wage, similar to the laws adopted in Pasadena, Los Angeles, Long Beach, and other cities.

Antonovich has been in office since 1969, when he was elected to the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees. In 1972, he was elected to the California State Assembly. He’s served on the County Board of Supervisors since 1980. He even served as chairman of the state Republican Party.

As a student of American history, I judge politicians on how they act during periods of crisis, before and during their time in office. That tells you something about their character, their principles, and their courage.

When we examine Antonovich’s record during the two of the most important historical turning points in modern times — the struggle for civil rights and the AIDS crisis — we see an extremist who should not be elected to the State Senate.

The civil rights movement tested Americans’ conscience. At its height, Americans were taking sides. There were people who joined the marches and stood shoulder to shoulder with Martin Luther King and other fighters for freedom. And there were people who held the fire hoses against civil rights activists and sought to deny African Americans their basic rights.

In 1970, when he served on the LA Community College board, Antonovich took the side of hatred and racism when he opposed recognizing Martin Luther King’s birthday at the eight Los Angeles Community College campuses. At the time of his vote, he amazingly justified his actions by actually comparing Dr. King to the Ku Klux Klan, Nazis and Sirhan Sirhan. The local newspaper reported that Antonovich objected to “dignifying a man who advocates civil disobedience.”

Given the controversy that might surround this factual reference in Antonovich’s racist record, it best to quote directly from the January 22, 1970 account of the hearing in question in the Van Nuys News. Readers can judge for themselves the level of racism in his words:

“Antonovich raised tempers by stating that to dignify Dr. King would be to lend support to ‘lawbreaking’ by the Klu Klux Klan. He went on to compare Dr. King with Sirhan Sirhan, convicted assassin of the late Robert F. Kennedy.”

The newspaper account went on to explain:

“Antonovich, a teacher in a Los Angeles high school, responded to the various charges in his prepared statement, which in part read: ‘By condoning the advocates of civil disobedience, we are sowing the seeds of disorderly society, a society in which no one’s rights can be guaranteed.’ He omitted any reference to various statements by speakers regarding the Nobel Peace Prize awarded Dr. King and presidential commendations he received.

Instead Antonovich said he is ‘concerned over the anti Semitism manifested by the black and white militants.’ He said, ‘We are fooling ourselves if we believe that the praising of a man who advocated civil disobedience will bring progress. Look at the results of the Russian, Cuban and Nazi revolutions — violence and terror — the loss of individual freedom!!'”

At the time, the student body demanded Antonovich resign from office. Today, we have the opportunity to send him into retirement.

During the AIDS crisis in the1980s, Antonovich had a simple solution. According the San Diego Union Tribune and Los Angeles Times, he suggested the solution to the AIDS crisis was for gay people to become straight. Hard to believe? He later tried to amend his comment by stating that his earlier statement was “incomplete.” He said what he meant to say was that only healthy gays should consider going straight and that others should think of celibacy or monogamy as a way to stop the spread of AIDS.

We certainly don’t want Antonovich’s voice representing our district in Sacramento.

Anthony Portantino is the clear choice in the 25th Senate District, which includes the whole cities and communities of Pasadena, Glendale, Sunland-Tujunga, Altadena, Atwater Village, La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Montrose, South Pasadena, San Marino, Sierra Madre, Monrovia, Duarte, Glendora, San Dimas, La Verne, Claremont, San Antonio Heights, and Upland, plus most of Burbank.

Everyone who knows Anthony knows that he’s hardworking, friendly, and accessible. He supports sensible gun control, a woman’s right to choose and he opposed Prop 8. He’s been endorsed by Planned Parenthood Advocates, the Sierra Club, and Equality California. He’s a practical reformer with a positive record on progressive issues.

I’m proudly voting for Anthony Portantino on November 8th. Please join me.


Peter Dreier has lived in Pasadena since 1993, is professor of politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College, and is author of The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame and The Next Los Angeles: The Struggle for a Livable City.

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