By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Political Contributor
Every four years, the campaign for the highest office of the land takes place. As candidates from the Republican Party navigated the choppy waters of the primary storm this election season, one man sailed to victory: former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Winning the party’s nomination was no easy feat and on several occasions, the media and members of his own party, were quick to write him off. However, Mitt Romney and his campaign rose to the challenge, and secured the 1,190 Republican Party Delegates necessary to clinch the nomination. No doubt, the battles he faced in the primary contest will come in handy when he goes head-to-head with President Obama.
Among these Republican Party Delegates, who are elected within their respective state party systems, were six Armenian-Americans. The States of Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan and Rhode Island were each represented by an official GOP Delegate of Armenian descent.
Harout Samra, an attorney in Miami said, “it was a privilege to attend the Republican National Convention as a delegate for Florida. Coming to the floor of the Convention hall for the first time was very exciting. Frankly, I did not expect to be as moved as I was. It was a great honor to have been selected to represent my fellow Floridians. That came home to me as I reached the floor. I genuinely enjoy interacting with people from different backgrounds. The United States is a remarkably diverse place, and I believe this diversity was represented not only in our delegation, but also in those of the other states. Florida’s delegation included first-generation Americans, such as myself, and longtime natives. It included Indian-Americans, Cuban-Americans, and even one Armenian-American.
“Governor Romney knows and understands the issues that are important to Armenian-Americans. Living in Belmont and serving as the Governor of Massachusetts, he’s had more important contacts and relationships with the Armenian-American community than any President since Ronald Reagan. He will not mislead us and pander to us to get Armenian-American votes like President Obama.
“Governor Romney is the right man for the moment. He understands how to turn around the economy at home and to ensure that America is respected abroad. Unlike President Obama, Governor Romney’s top priority will be to create an environment that leads to more jobs and spurs economic growth,” stated Samra.
Another Republican Party Delegate, Bob Semonian, State Chairman of Massachusetts Republican Party-Ethnic Outreach expressed that he was “thrilled to attend the Republican National Convention in Tampa this year. Americans want honesty in the White House and Mitt Romney is an honest man who will best represent all of America,” stated Semonian, who also serves as the Armenian-Americans for Mitt Romney Coalition Massachusetts State Chair.
From the Great Lakes State was Krista Haroutunian, who serves as the Republican Party Chair for the 13th Congressional District. She stated, “My time at the 2012 RNC was extremely important and made me proud to be American, an Armenian, and from Detroit, Michigan.” Haroutunian continued, “The first concern of an American, of whatever cultural or ethnic background, is the independence, freedom, and well-being of Americans. This allows us to be able to express concerns for Armenian issues and to assist appropriately.
“Mr. Romney knows that the founding fathers of America had great concerns about dictatorial attitudes and insisted upon a separation of powers – something Mr. Obama has side-stepped for the better part of four years. Mr. Romney wants to return to a Constitutional government through our elected Representatives. Mr. Obama wants all-pervasive government with the decision makers being unelected bureaucrats.
“The choice is clear – constitutional guarantees and responsibilities to preserve the rule of law versus arbitrary actions from a few with no guarantees of the rule of law. For all Armenians and all Americans, Mitt Romney is the best choice.”
Over the course of this year, several Armenian-Americans across the country, including the author, have been challenged on our position of supporting Governor Romney over President Obama. “What do you expect from Romney that will be different from Obama,” is the common intrigue. To put it plainly, like all Americans, we expect leadership, honesty and values from our elected officials. When it comes to Armenian issues, President Obama failed to fulfill his campaign pledge to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide as President. That calls into question his honesty. President Obama’s nomination and subsequent recess appointment of Matthew Bryza to serve as Ambassador to Azerbaijan was opposed by Senators of his own party, not to mention many Armenian-Americans. That calls into question his ability to lead. And the silence of the Obama administration on the destruction, confiscation and profiteering of Christian Armenian religious properties by the Turkish Government, as well as Azerbaijan’s completed destruction of centuries-old Armenian Khachkars at Julfa, call into question his values.
From Fresno to Philadelphia, from Manchester to Miami, from Detroit to Denver, from Waukesha to Washington, DC, Armenian-Americans have expressed their frustration with President Obama, and many former Armenian supporters of his are now backing Mitt Romney for President. In fact, one prominent Armenian-American who supported President Obama in 2008, and is now backing Governor Romney, expressed as much to the author. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, she shared her frustration: “Senator Obama chose to promise, in campaign speeches and written outreach, recognition of the 1915 genocide of Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks. He fully understood the importance of that issue to the Armenian American community and indeed to all right thinking Americans. Americans deserve a President who knows his principles and makes his decisions in accordance with those principles. Americans deserve a President who has integrity. So why come November would I vote for a President who over the course of four years has delivered precious little and lied to us and other communities?”
Indeed, why would we? She then confessed, “I’ll take a chance on Romney.”
This article originally appeared in the October 13, Volume 13 Print Edition of the Armenian Mirror-Spectator.
Campaign 2012: A Look Through the Armenian-American Lens
By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Political Contributor
We are now less than a year away from the 2012 elections and the campaign trail is already heating up. The race for the white house has catapulted various GOP candidates to the top of the mountain, only to see them tumble from its peak. So far we have seen some historic debate gaffes, incredibly bold policy proposals and unorthodox candidates try to distinguish themselves from each other, all in an effort to be the anti-Romney; the presumptive GOP nominee. But this election season is going to be unlike any other. Fresh campaign tactics, new technologies, redistricting and the latest player in the political arena, the SuperPAC, are all poised to dramatically change the way Americans vote in 2012. And these factors will impact not only the presidential race. What we see in the presidential contest will be evident in congressional races as well.
So what does this all mean for the Armenian-American community? Let’s take a look.
In congressional elections, for decades Armenian-Americans have been active in raising Armenian issues and concerns, upon which politicians compete for our vote. In recent years, the small but growing Turkish-American community has followed suit. From its peak in the 110th Congress, the Congressional Armenian Caucus boasted over 160 Members of Congress. Today it stands at 135 Members strong. At the same time, the Congressional Turkish Caucus grew its ranks from just over 60 in 2006, to 126 Members today, a 200 percent growth rate.
So far this year, 17 House Democrats and 9 House Republicans have announced their retirement or will not be seeking re-election in their present seat. The number of outright retirements can be attributed in large part to the redistricting process, a once a decade phenomenon. The announced retirement of Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), a strong leader on Armenian issues, is a prime example. Additional retirement announcements can be expected in the coming weeks.
As of this writing, the Armenian Caucus is set to lose 9 Members: Representatives Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Dennis Cardoza (D-CA), Jerry Costello (D-IL), John Olver (D-MA), Barney Frank (D-MA) and Dale Kildee (D-MI) have all announced retirement. Congressman Kildee’s nephew, Dan Kildee, is a candidate for his uncle’s seat. In addition, three Armenian Caucus Members are running for other office: Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA) is running for mayor of San Diego, Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT) is running to replace Joe Lieberman (I-CT) in the Senate and Rep. Shelly Berkeley (D-NV) is also running for the Senate. As of this writing, the Congressional Turkish Caucus is set to lose 7 Members: Reps. Mike Ross (D-AR), Dan Boren (D-OK) and Geoff Davis (R-KY) are retiring outright, while Reps. Connie Mack (R-FL), Denny Rehberg (R-MT) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) are running for the Senate. Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) is running for Governor. Mack, Flake and Pence all sit on the House Foreign Affairs Committee where they voted against the Armenian Genocide resolution in 2007 and 2010.
Redistricting has resulted in some of the above retirements, but it is also putting pro-Armenian incumbents in head-to-head battles and making re-election much more difficult for others. Looking at congressional champions of Armenian issues, Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Armenian Genocide resolution sponsor Adam Schiff (D-CA) have not been adversely affected by redistricting. However, Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Ed Royce (R-CA) and Armenian Genocide resolution sponsor Robert Dold (R-IL) are not as fortunate. Redistricting has made Dold’s seat bluer, and given his narrow victory in 2010, he is a top target for Democrats in 2012. Congressman Ed Royce has also been victimized by redistricting, putting him in a dual-incumbent battle with Armenian Caucus Rep. Gary Miller (R-CA). In New Jersey, reports indicate that Armenian Caucus Member Steven Rothman (D-NJ) has decided to challenge his colleague, fellow Armenian Caucus member Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) in the redrawn 9th Congressional district, setting up a costly dual-incumbent primary.
The most prominent tete-a-tete battle to result from redistricting has put two pro-Armenian (and pro-Israel) incumbents in the same district: House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-CA) and House Foreign Affairs member Brad Sherman (D-CA), both champions on Armenian issues. Rep. Sherman has a decades-long record on Armenian issues, particularly the Armenian Genocide. Congressman Berman has a similarly strong record and as Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in 2010, ensured the successful passage of H. Res. 252, the Armenian Genocide resolution. Berman is the favorite in the race, having ratcheted up over 30 endorsements, and enjoys the backing of three SuperPACs. A product of the 2010 Citizens United vs. FEC Supreme Court ruling, SuperPACs are independent expenditure only committee’s that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money.
In addition to working with our friends in Congress, electing Armenian-Americans is long overdue. This year we saw a new face emerge, Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian who sought the Democratic nomination for the 1st Congressional district. Although unsuccessful, he was able to garner 22% of the vote in the primary, no small feat. As of this writing, only one Armenian-American has officially filed papers to run for Congress, while another is preparing to jump in: David Krikorian and Danny Tarkanian, respectively.
David Krikorian is no stranger to Armenians, having unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH) in 2008 and 2010. Schmidt, the top recipient of Turkish PAC money, filed a complaint against Krikorian with the Ohio Elections Commission (OEC) after Krikorian accused her of taking Turkish “blood money” on campaign advertisements in the 2010 race. The OEC ruled in Schmidt’s favor. However, following the election, the House Ethics Committee began an investigation into the free legal services provided to Rep. Schmidt by the Turkish American Legal Defense Fund and the Turkish Coalition of American. Although the House Ethics Committee found no wrong doing on Schmidt’s part, she was ordered to repay the $500,000 legal bill and amend her financial forms to reflect this in-kind contribution. According to a December report in Roll Call, Schmidt “has yet to amend her financial disclosures or begin repaying the debt.”
Danny Tarkanian, the son of former University of Las Vegas basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, is preparing to run in the new 4th district of Nevada. According to a December poll by the conservative Pubic Opinion Strategies, Tarkanian overwhelmingly leads his primary challenger (73% to 9%) and when matched up with the Democratic front-runner, he holds an 11-point advantage. Tarkanian has not officially filed and has stated that he will announce his intentions in January.
Turning to the presidential race, we have President Obama, whose record on Armenian issues is not unfamiliar. Obama deserves acknowledgement for his audacity to speak about the Armenian Genocide inside the Turkish Parliament, something no U.S President has ever dared, and for overseeing the signing of historic Protocols by Turkey and Armenia. However, his broken promise of employing the proper term, Armenian Genocide, in the annual April 24 statement, as well his policies toward Azerbaijan, from disproportionate military funding to Ambassador Bryza’s recess appointment, leaves many Armenian-Americans skeptical.
Looking at the GOP field today, we have two front-runners: Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. Neither can be viewed as favorable through the Armenian-American lens. During President Bill Clinton’s second term, then-Speaker Gingrich built a leadership team that consisted of Dick Armey, Robert Livingston, and Dennis Hastert; all of who went on to lobby on behalf of Turkey against U.S. reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide. Turning to Mitt Romney, it was positive to see pro-Armenian officials, such as former Senator Robert Dole (R-KS), Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) and former Congresswoman Susan Molinari (R-NY), endorse Romney for the GOP nomination. However, from a legislative standpoint, it is cause for concern that Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) is his Congressional liaison. In 2007, Blunt, then-House Republic Whip, was appointed by President Bush to the Foreign Affairs Committee the day before a vote on the Armenian Genocide resolution, in order to whip his Republican colleagues to vote against the bill. Recently, Senator Blunt won a top post, securing his position within the Republican Senate leadership, and is working to rake up Congressional support for Romney.
It’s definitely too early to say what is going to happen between now and November 6, especially in the race to the White House. While the focus is on the Republican primaries, Democrats are activating their grassroots in what is likely to become one of the nastiest and most expensive campaign seasons ever. In politics, anything is possible and there is certainly a long road ahead. In the meantime, it is critical that Armenian-Americans know where our elected officials stand, with whom they are associated, and their record in support or opposition to Armenian issues.
Taniel Koushakjian is an independent political commentator for Florida Armenians. He received his bachelor’s degree in political science from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida, and is currently enrolled at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management in Washington, D.C.
This article originally appeared in Massis Post.
*Correction: An earlier version mistakenly referenced Dan Kildee as his uncle, current Rep. Dale Kildee and misattributed Ranking Member Howard Berman’s 30 endorsements to his challenger Rep. Brad Sherman.
Updated January 9 at 6:00 pm.