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Machado accused of ethnic bigotry

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Posted: Friday, September 1, 2000 10:00 pm

A state senator from Redding alleges Assemblyman Mike Machado spouted profanity and ethnic slurs during a heated exchange on the floor of the Assembly this week.

Sen. K. Maurice Johannessen, R-Redding, said Machado called him an "a-h-" and later asked him: "Why don't you get the f- off of this floor and go back to where you belong?"

Johannessen said Machado, D-Stockton, also disparaged Alan Nakanishi, a Lodi city councilman of Japanese descent facing Machado in the November election.

K. Maurice Johannessen
K. Maurice Johannessen

Johannessen said he told Machado that a bill Machado was sponsoring would hurt him in the election and that Machado replied: "Don't worry about that - first you have to get an opponent who speaks English."

Machado said he did not recall the exchange and chalked the accusation up to "political rhetoric."

"What Mr. Johannessen says is a fantasy," he said. "What he contends is totally out of character for me and the way I conduct myself."

Johannessen, speaking Friday from his home in Redding, said Machado's comments came Wednesday as he was lobbying against Machado's bill setting up a governing body for the CALFED program. (After long and bitter debate, the bill failed late Thursday night.)

"I worked the floor of the Senate and I also worked for the floor of the Assembly because I feel his bill would be devastating to the water rights of those in Central and Northern California," he said.

Mike Machado
Mike Machado

Machado was clearly aware that Johannessen was pressing hard against the bill, the senator said.

"He was very hostile toward me, very testy," Johannessen said.

At one point, Machado approached him on the floor of the Assembly and asked, "why are you such an a-h-?," Johannessen said.

Johannessen said he did not respond.

A short time later, Johannessen said he approached Machado and said, "Machado, get off this bill. It is damaging to your district and it will cost you problems for your election."

At that point, Johannessen said, Machado made the comment regarding Nakanishi's ability to speak English.

Machado then made the profane suggestion that Johannessen get off the floor and go back to where he belonged, Johannessen said.

Alan Nakanishi
Alan Nakanishi

"I took that as an ethnic slur," said Johannessen, who came to the U.S. at age 18 from Norway and still carries a hint of his native language in his speech. "I know we were in the heat of battle. I know that. But to me, there are certain things you just don't say."

Mike Ambrello, a leader of the Cahto tribe of California Indians based in Mendocino County, was near Johannessen and Machado on the Assembly floor when the comments were allegedly made.

"He definitely used profanity and he definitely said something about him (Johannessen) going back to where he belonged," Ambrello said. "Mike Machado needs to grow up."

Ambrello was also lobbying against Machado's bill because, he said, it did not include adequate representation of California Indians. Ambrello said he has special passes that give him access to the legislative floors. Ambrello said he did not hear anything said regarding Nakanishi and added: "It was busy and noisy and 80 people were trying to talk, so it is hard for me to get a handle on exactly what was said and who said it. But I can say that Machado was way out of control."

Machado said he did not speak to Ambrello on the Assembly floor and that Ambrello's own poor behavior has caused him to be barred from the floor of the state Senate.

Nakanishi faces Machado in the race for the state Senate, succeeding Sen. Patrick Johnston, D-Stockton, who is departing because of term limits. "I am sorry he said that," Nakanishi said Friday of Machado's statements. "Those comments are uncalled for. I am an American. My English was good enough for the U.S. Army and good enough for medical school. That's all I care to say."

Nakanishi was born in Sacramento and spent several years in an internment camp with his family during World War II. He does speak haltingly at times and said the internment camp experience may have contributed to whatever verbal complications he experiences.

Machado said he wants the campaign to focus on issues, not personal accusations.

"I have the highest respect for Mr. Nakanishi's character," Machado said. "I would say nothing disrespectful about him and have said nothing disrespectful about him. It is unfortunate that the intensity of the issue (the CALFED bill) has brought about this type of rhetoric."

Johannessen said he realizes Machado spoke during a tense time. "Professionally, I am willing to move ahead," he said. "But I am taking this personally. I did not know about Dr. Nakanishi before this happened. Now I plan to come down and help campaign for him."

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