Todd Royal

La Cañada resident Todd Royal is on the ballot opposing Mike Gatto for the 43rd District Assembly seat in the June 3 primary. (Courtesy of Todd Royal / May 21, 2014)

Across the nation, pollsters are identifying key races to watch in the June 3 primary. Odds are, they aren’t looking too closely at California’s 43rd Assembly District.

That’s where incumbent Rep. Mike Gatto (D- Silver Lake) is sailing toward the November election with a $1.2-million war chest, according to figures from the California secretary of state’s office current as of March.

His opponent is Todd Royal, a Pepperdine University graduate student, businessman and La Cañada resident who brings years of neighborhood governance experience and a scant $103 to the table.

As the only two contenders listed on the primary ballot in the district, both candidates will move on to the November general election.

Criticizing Gatto for not doing more as chair of the Appropriations Committee to keep large corporations like Toyota and TV and film production companies in California, Royal said he hoped to provide a fresh, business-friendly alternative for voters.

“A lot of people have gone to Democrats because we, as Republicans, haven’t communicated properly,” he said. “As different news comes in, it’s going to have people asking, ‘Is there a better way, another way, than this one we voted for?’”

Royal was encouraged to run in the primary by New Majority California, a Republican political action committee (PAC) aiming to invigorate the party by supporting candidates who focus more on economic policies and less social issues.

New Majority hopes to rebrand the party by putting forth a fresh crop of younger Republicans in the primary as part of a larger strategy to wage a numbers war against the Democratic supermajority, according to Tom Ross, political director of the PAC’s Los Angeles chapter.

“In Todd, we’ve got a younger face of the party, someone who clearly wants to engage not just in this cycle and this office, but for the long-term,” Ross said.

To help Royal’s campaign get off the ground, New Majority has set him up with free training through California Trailblazers, a recruitment, training and advisement program for legislative candidates.

While New Majority doesn’t necessarily expect to unseat big fish in true blue districts, members, believing one or two upsets could work in their favor, are closely watching some campaigns across California.

Republicans account for 30% of the state Legislature. A few wins in November could get the party to the threshold required to block Democratic-led initiatives requiring a two-thirds vote.

“There are probably half a dozen races that really have a significant impact on whether or not Republicans can get back above a one-third (threshold),” Ross said.

In a recent interview, Gatto said he hadn’t heard much about Royal. He said his own record of service will likely resonate with voters, notably his authorship of the new bipartisan Rainy Day Fund agreement, a budget stabilization plan set to appear on the November ballot.

“I think people know my record pretty well and know how hard I work for our neighborhoods,” he said. “It comes down to being responsive on every issue.”

Despite Gatto’s confidence, Royal continues to canvass Foothills communities, speaking at small gatherings and meeting the electorate.

Two years ago, he moved to La Cañada from Studio City, where he served four years on the Neighborhood Council. Now pursuing his master’s in public policy, he’s worked as a graduate research associate for Duke University’s Center for Globalization, Governance and Competitiveness, as well as the L.A. County Economic Development Corp.

He cited a terrible commute downtown and the community’s unfriendly attitude toward families as the reasons he and wife Joy settled on La Cañada. The couple have two children, 3-year-old daughter Grey and son Cole, 1.

“We came up here and really fell in love with the area,” he said.

Royal and his wife recently formed a limited liability corporation to promote an invention, an ergonomic infant car seat called CenterDivider, and before that he owned a catering company.

He said if he was elected, he’d make education a key component of his term in office.

“Don’t think of me as a Republican,” he added. “Think of me as the parent of two children about to go into the public education system. Why wouldn’t I want to be a part of this?”

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Follow Sara Cardine on Twitter: @SaraCardine.

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