By Charles R. Nazarian
Q. What are your immediate plans after completing your term as Governor of California?
A. The only thing I’ve decided so far is that I would like to stay in California and whatever I do, it is going to be in the private sector. I will probably be joining a law firm, but I really haven’t made any final plans. I’m anxious to see what opportunities there may be for me. Then I will consider them and make a decision, probably toward the end of this year.
Q. Would you consider running for federal office?
A. No. I’m ending 28 years in public office. Now I am looking forward to a little privacy and to just be active as a private citizen, rather then a public official.
Q. Having won international recognition as a public official with an impeccable record of honor and integrity, would you accept a federal appointment if it were offered to you?
A. Well, nothing on a full-time basis. If there were some kind of a part-time assignment that the President asked me to do, I certainly would consider it, but I’m not looking for any kind of a full-time job in the public sector.
Q. What would you say was the height of your political career, your greatest singular achievement as Governor of California?
A. I believe we have been successful in creating more opportunities for the people of California. When I took office, we had a high unemployment rate. It was over 11 percent. And we had very poor support for education. We set out to change that by creating job opportunities and improving the quality of education. In the seven and one-half years that I’ve been Governor, more than 3 million new jobs have been created in the state. Just for comparison, that’s more jobs than were created in all the nations of Western Europe combined. Our unemployment rate is 5 percent now instead of over 11 percent and our economy continues to stay ahead of the rest of America. We also have increased funding for education from kindergarten through 12th grade.
We put great emphasis on giving people the basic elements they need to help themselves – to get a good education, then once they get it, there would be jobs available to them. From that point on, in my view, they are pretty much on their own. How well they take advantage of those opportunities would determine whether or not they succeed. That was our primary objective and I feel a great deal of satisfaction in the fact that we have been able to achieve it.
Q. In which sector of the work force would you say these jobs were created?
A. Fortunately, there is a diversity of major industries in California, including defense, aerospace, agriculture, tourism and entertainment. The number of new jobs has been spread pretty well among them. Because of our large population, we developed a huge labor market which attracts investors in the high technology, electronics and computer industries. We work hard at making conditions conducive for them so that they prefer to operate in California rather than in some other state.
Q. Do you think the news media have treated you fairly?
A. The Armenian media has treated me not only fairly, they’ve been very generous and supportive. I wish the non-Armenian media had been as kind. The Armenian media has been absolutely wonderful.
Q. In a January 1987 news article you were quoted as saying you would like to visit Armenia some day. Why did you decline Prime Minister V. Markariants’ recent invitation to visit Armenia?
A. I didn’t decline in the sense that I didn’t want to go. I just haven’t been able to do so with the schedule we’ve had. As you know, there was the prolonged budget impasse. Now the State Legislature will stay in session until about mid-September and we still have a lot on the agenda before the lawmakers adjourn.
After they adjourn, they’ll leave me with several hundred bills that I’ll have to review and decide whether to sign or veto them. That carries me into October and then we have all the major campaigns that go on until the November election. So that’s the problem I’ve had in trying to find time to travel. I am not averse to going to Armenia at all.
Most of my trips overseas concerned the opening of trade offices for California. Before I took office we didn’t have any trade offices outside of California. Since I became Governor we have opened five overseas trade and investment offices. They are located in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Mexico City, London and Frankfurt.
Q. Have you considered the possibility of trade accords with the Soviet Union?
When I met President Gorbachev in San Francisco I told him that California is very interested in engaging in trade with the Soviet Union. When you consider the size of our economy, California is like a nation state. So I emphasized how much California would like to have more involvement in commerce with the Soviet Union.
Did you discuss any other subjects with Gorbachev?
A. Yes, I spoke to him on behalf of the Armenian people and I even presented him a written statement, asking for protection of our people who are the victim of violence in Karabagh and Azerbaijan. I tried to impress upon him that while the American Armenians are supportive of what he is doing nationally and internationally by changing the dictatorial atmosphere that has prevailed for so many years, we hope that he will provide for the safety and protection of Armenians in the homeland and help resolve this long-standing dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Q. President Bush has been accused of breaking his campaign promise to support the congressional resolutions to establish April 24 as a day for national observance of the 1915 Genocide. How do you feel about it?
A. I was disappointed that the Administration was officially opposing that. The State Department, and in particular, Brent Scowcroft, his national security advisor, were opposed to those resolutions with the same reasoning they have had for a number of years now – that Turkey is a NATO ally of the United States and would be offended – and Turkey, as you well know, puts great pressure on Congress and the Administration to oppose such resolutions.
However, I also had many conversations both with John Sununu, President Bush’s chief of staff, and with the President directly on this issue, which eventually led to Bush issuing a personal statement with respect to the observance of Martyrs Day, the national day of remembrance for Armenians and expressing his personal feelings about it. But that is distinguished from the official position of the government – if you will – because of this relationship that Turkey has with the United States in the NATO alliance.
Q. Is it almost to the point of blackmail, without basis?
A. Yes, we all know Turkey spends millions, much of it given to them by America, in a huge public relations effort to deny there was a Genocide and to oppose the adoption of such resolutions.
Q. Would you encourage young American-Armenians to seek a career in government?
A. Yes, I certainly hope had I have helped to break a little ground and proved that there are opportunities if they’re interested in public service. I also would like to say to the Armenian community in California, as well as in the United States, that when they helped me to become Governor, it enabled me to bring a great many people from the Armenian community into government positions. Some of them are full-time posts, while others serve on important state boards and commissions.
If the Armenian community now says: “Well, Governor Deukmejian has left, so we’re not going to do anything else,” then we will lose a great deal of what we have gained during my term of office. I urge them to remain involved by either supporting American candidates or – if there doesn’t happen to be any-at least support candidates who will help the Armenian community continue to be involved in government positions.
This is a message I expect to be discussing during the current campaign. I don’t want them to say: “Well, George is gone and we don’t have anyone to support.” We’ll lose a lot of what we have gained if they take that attitude.
Q. Approximately how many Armenians have you appointed or nominated to office?
A. You know, people have asked me, “why aren’t you running again?” and in just, I’ve replied: “Well, I’ve run out of Americans to appoint.” Seriously, though, I don’t know the exact number, but it’s in the hundreds.
Q. Would it be between 200 to 300?
A. Yes, so I get kidded a lot by non-Armenians about that, but all of my appointees are extremely qualified individuals and are doing a superb job.
Q. What happens to your appointees when your tern ends. Do they lose their position when a new administration takes over?
A. It all depends. Some of them are appointed to a two-year of four-year term. They serve their term, then the next governor decides whether to renew the appointment or give the post to someone of his choice. So, it’s hard to say. When I became Governor, I brought my own people because I always felt that my appointees are more apt to carry out my policies. As for the other people, who do not hold a term of office, then it’s up to the pleasure of my successor. I would expect that the next governor would bring in as many of his own people for the reasons I have started.
Q. Was Mrs. Deukmejian supportive of your decision to withdraw from public office?
A. Yes. She was supportive when I entered public office and she is supportive of my leaving. She has been tremendous. She’s been absolutely wonderful, very supportive and very helpful.
Q. What was the most valuable advice your parents, or an elder member of your family, gave you that you can still remember?
A. Rather than give me advice, my parents set a good example for me, The principles by which they lived taught me three things: First, the value of a good education; second, being honest with myself and in dealing with others; and their third axiom was hard work. I saw all of these virtues in them and in all of our friends and relatives. I have followed their example and it has served me well.
Q. What would you advise Armenian newcomers to the U.S.?
A. I would describe the advantages and opportunities this country offers to them, but emphasize that they would have to work for them. They also must realize the need a good education in this age of high technology. Unskilled workers with very little education are going to be stuck at the bottom rung of the ladder. There are many opportunities for small business. In Armenian communities we have seen many examples of very successful Armenian entrepreneurs.