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Alan Nakanishi one of 2002's top newsmakers

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Posted: Tuesday, January 7, 2003 10:00 pm

His early days were spent at an internment camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II. He grew up in poverty in Sacramento and picked grapes in the Lodi area.

But Alan Nakanishi overcame all those considerable youthful obstacles, became an ophthalmologist and established a successful eye practice in Lodi, Stockton and Tracy.

But Nakanishi wanted to serve his community in more ways than with just his medical practice, so in 1998, he ran for the Assembly, but lost in the Republican primary in June. However, not being a quitter, he ran for the Lodi City Council and won a seat just five months later.

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Alan Nakanishi

In 2000, he ran for the state Senate, but lost to the Democratic contender, Linden's Mike Machado. But the third time proved the charm when he won a seat in the Assembly in last November's general election.

On Dec. 2, Nakanishi, 62, became the first Lodi resident in nearly a half-century to serve in the state's lower house.

For his service to the community, Nakanishi was named one of the Lodi News-Sentinel's five top newsmakers for 2002 by the newspaper's editors and readers.

"This is a man who never gave up," one resident said in nominating Nakanishi. "His whole purpose is to serve our city, county, state and country with truth and honor. Anyone who knows this gentleman is blessed."

Another resident wrote that Nakanishi put the good of the community over his own self-interests.

Although he had been an assemblyman for more than a month, Nakanishi didn't get the opportunity to really roll up his sleeves until Monday, when the Republican Caucus met to discuss its strategy in handling the $34.8 billion state budget deficit announced by Gov. Gray Davis.

However, Nakanishi questions whether the budget deficit is as staggering as Davis claimed.

"We think the governor's budget deficit projection is political," he said.

Nevertheless, the freshman assemblyman won't say what should be trimmed from the budget until Davis presents his own proposals Friday. In the upcoming budget struggles, Nakanishi will have particular influence on the four committees to which he was recently appointed.

He was named vice chairman of the Committee on Higher Education and was named to the Health Committee, Aging Long-Term Care Committee, and the Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security Committee.

While declining to specify his spending priorities, Nakanishi said he wants to make life easier for business by encouraging firms to remain in California by reducing workers compensation costs, reducing the cost of malpractice insurance for doctors and easing regulations on hospitals.

Nakanishi also wants to avoid tax increases as a way to solve the budget crisis.

"We're taxing the taxpayer," he said. "They don't have revenue. They can't spend."

When consumers spend money, businesses thrive, producing more jobs, Nakanishi said.

Meanwhile, Nakanishi said he's been besieged with requests to meet with various individuals, agencies, lobbyists and local governments. Monday night, he addressed the City Council-elect from Rancho Cordova, which will become a city July 1. Nakanishi introduced himself to new constituents in Rancho Cordova while offering advice to the council as a four-year Lodi City Councilman, which included one year as mayor.

Then it was off to Jackson to meet with officials there.

On Thursday, Nakanishi will speak at the League of California Cities' district meeting at the Wine & Roses Country Inn in Lodi. City officials from Galt to Los Banos are expected to attend.

Nakanishi said he wants to bring Lodi closer to the Assembly by trying to establish the main District 10 office in Lodi rather than Sacramento County, which has been the practice under two previous Assemblymen, Anthony Pescetti and Larry Bowler.

However, he has been told that moving his office from Pescetti's location just west of Rancho Cordova would be quite costly. Nakanishi and his staff are looking for a Lodi office site, either as the main office or for a smaller, less-expensive location.

Nakanishi said he also plans to continue Pescetti's practice of having monthly coffees open to the public at locations throughout the district to keep in touch with constituents. However, his first coffee meeting may not be until March.

Becoming an assemblyman will keep Nakanishi away from his medical practice. Because the Legislature typically isn't in session on Fridays, Nakanishi said he hopes to tend to his eye care practice on those mornings. If time doesn't allow, he may have to drop his participation. Delta Eye Medical Group is staffed with five other physicians.

Nakanishi's wife, Sue, said she doesn't mind her husband being away from home to tend to his duties in Sacramento.

"I think it's wonderful," she said. "He's a wonderful husband and father."

Sue Nakanishi said the most difficult part of her husband being in public life is the negative comments made about elected officials and candidates.

"It's hard on a candidate, but it's harder on your wife," Alan Nakanishi said.

However, the assemblyman has developed a thick skin to criticism.

"You can't take it personally, or you can't survive," he said.

New Lodi City Councilman John Beckman agrees that Nakanishi is ready to take the heat in Sacramento.

"Alan will be able to make the transition quickly," said Beckman, who until recently served as a legislative aide to Pescetti. "Politics is an ugly business, and Alan's been there. He's smart enough. He knows."


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