Johnny Nalbandian

Political Outsider Johnny Nalbandian Gets Himself on CA November Ballot


By Michael Melkonian

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

LOS ANGELES — Johnny Nalbandian, a seafood industry baron and longtime supporter of President Donald Trump, is facing off against Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA-28).

Schiff has represented the district in the House since 2013.

In the June 5 open primary, in which the top two vote-getters advance regardless of party, Schiff got 72.2 percent of the vote and Nalbandian got 22.2 percent. They will go head to head this fall.

Nalbandian was born in New Jersey and raised in California by his Armenian parents who hailed from Yerevan and Russia and immigrated to the US in 1944, fleeing Stalinist purges.

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Nalbandian grew up working odd jobs from selling newspapers on street corners, to washing dishes in his parents’ restaurant, and cleaning restrooms at gas stations. Fueled by a strong drive to achieve his vision of the American dream and working nonstop, Nalbandian founded a seafood distribution and processing company at 19 named Fisherman Johnny’s and became a leader in the seafood industry, having amassed $60 million in sales at its peak.

Recently, Nalbandian has segued into politics as he has become dissatisfied with the current state of political leadership in California. As Nalbandian likes to put it, he is a “complete outsider when it comes to American politics” but he wants to impact policy change.

Getting into the top two with Schiff is something that Nalbandian said would be “unimaginable” before Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 Presidential race. “His campaign really did inspire outsiders like me to run for office to change the political atmosphere and shake things up,” Nalbandian said. His opponent, the incumbent Schiff, has been a supporter of the Armenian community for close to 20 years in office.

When pressed on what makes him different from Schiff and other political candidates on Armenian issues, Nalbandian was adamant that he would be a better supporter for the Armenian cause than any other candidate. “I will be a pit bull for the Armenian diaspora,” Nalbandian said. “I have always been involved in Armenian programs, including being the chairman of the West Coast council of the Armenian Youth Federation. I called out corrupt Armenian politicians such as Serzh Sargsyan on the steps of city hall while other politicians refused to even say his name.”

On the formal recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Congress and how he would help pass it, Nalbandian said he believes that if elected, he will be the number one supporter for the issue. “I will be at the forefront when it comes to recognizing the Armenian Genocide. Unlike other politicians, I will explain why the Genocide shouldn’t just be recognized as a human rights issue, but that it can also help improve our relations with Armenia greatly, which will be very beneficial to both the United States and Armenia. Plus, I would also want to fight for the removal of Turkey from NATO and fight for Armenia to have access to waterways for shipping goods.”

A hot-button issue in the state of California is immigration. With the number of undocumented immigrants in the state above two million, many Californians are split in what the state should do with undocumented immigrants. “My solution to the immigration crisis is to streamline our immigration system,” Nalbandian said. “The problem with our immigration system is the bureaucracy. People should be able to get green cards in six months and its cost should not exceed $2,500. For the people who are here, if they have no criminal record, they should be able to stay and go through a new streamlined immigration system. However, if they have a criminal record, they must be deported immediately.”

An issue that has come to the forefront since the enactment of President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy at the border is family separation. “I am a proponent of other Trump immigration policies such as the wall on our southern border, but I am not a proponent of family separation,” Nalbandian said. “We should keep families intact in the same detention facilities so we can send them all back together.”

The Syrian Civil War has been ongoing since March 2011. This is a hotbed topic for Armenians due to the sizable Armenian population in Syria, with many divided on supporting Assad. “I believe that Assad should be removed if there is complete and unanimous acceptance that Assad is using chemical weapons,” Nalbandian said. “However, I am not a fan of nation building, as we have done in Iraq and Libya and failed badly.”

Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian collusion with President Trump’s campaign has been continuing for over a year. Nalbandian said that although he feels that much of the American media seem to be fixated on it, he cares little for it. “I believe the Mueller investigation is a total and complete witch hunt,” Nalbandian said. “Adam Schiff goes on CNN and MSNBC every day and says he has proof of collusion, but what he fails to reveal every time is the proof.”

National issues are very important, but Nalbandian and Schiff are running to represent a constituency that encompasses Glendale, Burbank, and parts of Hollywood. When asked what he would do to make that district a better place, Nalbandian focused on the growing homeless population. “The homeless crisis in this area is a very sad situation. Over the past six years, the homeless rate has gone up by 75 percent while my competitor does nothing about it. I believe in creating a program that can help get homeless people back into working society, by providing them career paths and opportunities to make a living. These career paths will be funded not by the government, but by private sector who will gain profit just like the newly employed person. For the mentally ill homeless people who you can find all over downtown, I would ask the many businesses in that area to each contribute a small percentage of their profit for a rehabilitation center for the mentally ill to get them off the streets and to keep businesses and their employees safe”.

On what makes himself different from other Republicans, Nalbandian believes it’s his conservative roots. “I like to call myself a patriotic constitutional conservative,” Nalbandian said. “Unlike some other Republicans, I am a true conservative, both fiscally and morally, and I fight for my conservative beliefs and constitutional freedoms every day and I will absolutely do so for my constituents.”

Nalbandian’s path to victory is tough in this district, with virtually every political report stating that the district is safe for Schiff. Nalbandian remains unfazed however, as he believes he will win. “I project we’ll beat Adam Schiff by double digits,” Nalbandian said. “The people in this district hunger for change which they haven’t seen from career politician Schiff. I believe that I am the person to be that changemaker and make the 28th district awesome again.”

The general election will take place on November 6.