By Mary O’KEEFE
After six years in the California State Assembly representing the 43rd District, Mike Gatto was termed out in 2016. It had looked like the 2016 election would see Gatto running for state senate to fill out the seat by termed out senator Carol Liu; however, in 2015 he decided not to run.
“Many factors influenced my decision, but foremost was my belief that campaigning at this time would not be in my family’s best interest,” he stated at the time.
Gatto sat down with CVW in an interview before he left office to discuss why he decided not to run, bills he is most proud of being part of while in the Assembly and what the future looks like for him and his family.
Although “family” is a common reason for not running for political office, for Gatto it is a real reason to take a step back. He and wife Danielle are thinking about growing their family. They have two daughters now. He would like to spend less time traveling to and from Sacramento and attending the hundreds of events throughout his Assembly area each year.
“I had six flights in seven days,” he said of one of his busy weeks.
There is also another reason, still very much family oriented. In 2013, his father, Joe Gatto, was murdered in his Silver Lake home. The murder is still unsolved. Gatto has become a face for the victims of unsolved crimes. He has held rallies to show support and continues to follow up on information regarding his father’s murder.
“Closure has eluded my family,” he said of the unsolved crime. “There are tips and I try to track them down.”
He added that many families of victims of unsolved crimes track tips down as they come in, always looking for that one piece of information that will guide them to the truth.
He is going to take some time off but is not going to leave community service for long as he plans to run for state treasurer in 2018. Service is where he seems to thrive.
When looking back at his Assembly years he was proud of the small and large things he did while in office.
“When people emailed me, I would [personally] email them back,” he said.
He added this may seem like a small thing but it was important for his constituents to know they were reaching him, not an assistant, with their concerns and opinions.
He was the author and supporter of many bills, and was a champion of small business, which was something he learned from his father.
He began the Small Business Advisory Committee where he gathered those in local businesses to talk about their common issues and concerns. After hearing concerns about meritless lawsuits he went back to Sacramento and worked. He introduced AB 227, a bill to reform Prop. 65 to protect those small businesses, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law.
Other bills he helped shepherd that he is proud of include the Rainy Day Budget Stabilization Fund Act, the Film Tax Credit Program and AB 139, a probate reform bill that took effect last year.
Since running in 2009-10, Gatto has seen some changes in the political system.
“I ran when the state was in a bad recession,” he said. “Government seemed paralyzed and there were no fresh ideas …but I went in with my eyes wide open.”
There were some tough times for the state financially and there were partisanship issues but, he said, Sacramento has improved on both of those categories since 2010.
He was given good advice when he went into office, which included to always remember who he was and “never forget who sent you there to serve.”
He was particularly supportive of the U.S. veterans and helped Crescenta Valley vets when they were attempting to get the Two Strike Park War Memorial built.
“Once the Two Strike Memorial got rolling, Mike Gatto played an important role. He hooked us up with Home Depot who became a major donor and obtained a donation of concrete blocks for the foundation of the Two Strike Memorial. Mike has always supported veterans from his heart,” said Lynn McGinnis of the American Legion Post 288.
Fellow local vet Mike Baldwin said that after helping to secure the grant, Gatto then wrote letters to other government officials that led to more donations.
In addition to helping with the Two Strike Park War Memorial he also helped with getting a Home Depot grant to remodel the American Legion Hall for Post 288.
Gatto had a strong staff team that went into the community and learned of local needs. Susanne Dunwell, former senior field representative for Gatto, came up with the idea to help remodel the American Legion Hall. She knew of Home Depot’s commitment to helping veterans and decided to put the two together, Baldwin added.
For Gatto the time to spend with his family is precious; however, there will be some adjustments that will need to be made now that he is no longer in the Assembly.
“I will miss having my hands on the wheel,” he said.