Joel Anderson wants the state to be “terror free” in its public investments. The freshman Republican Assemblyman from El Cajon has introduced AB 221, which would require CalPERS and CalSTRS to divest from companies that do business with the country of Iran. The legislation is the first of its kind in the country, but it’s part of a growing movement to divest from Iran.
The bill is modeled after legislation by former Democratic Assemblyman Paul Koretz, which divested CalPERS from companies that do business in the Sudan.
The Koretz law was passed by large margins and signed by the governor at a ceremony that featured George Clooney and Don Cheadle. The move to divest from Iran might not be the star-studded slam-dunk that the Koretz bill was.
Anderson said that between CalPERS and CalSTRS, the state is investing about $24 billion in companies that do business in Iran.
“I was shocked to learn that we are invested in companies doing business in Iran,” said Anderson. “It’s not a good policy to be invested in a country that’s trying to kill us.”
Anderson said it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which escalating
tensions between lead to violence–perhaps an exchange of rocket fire and U.S. air strikes. If things go that far, Anderson warned, some of California’s investments could be under fire, too.
“Hyundai has a plant in Iran. If Hyundai loses that plant, we’re going to feel it here.”
Mehrdad Moayedzadeh, president of the Bay Area Iranian American Democrats, says he understands wanting to protect the public employees investment in an uncertain and possibly dangerous part of the world. But he says Anderson is “misguided” when he says that Iran wants to kill Americans.
“Most Iranian Americans don’t have a favorable view of the regime in Iran. Having said that, our rhetoric has increased the popularity of that regime both inside and outside of the United States.”
While Anderson’s legislation is novel, efforts to divest from Iran are becoming more common.
DaimlerChrysler decided to cut its business ties to Iran earlier this month. And last year, the state of Missouri divested its public-pension program from businesses that do business in Iran.
According to accounts in the Israeli press, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu already has talked to Governor Schwarzenegger by phone, urging him to join in the divesture from Iran campaign. And according to Time magazine, Netanyahu said earlier this month that he planned to meet with the governor in person soon, as he has with Massachusetts Democratic state Treasurer Tim Cahill. The governor’s office, however, declined to comment about any possible meetings or conversations between the two men.
To Iranian Americans, these kinds of divestment strategies don’t seem constructive.
“We have to ask whether this type of policy tool actually works,” said Shervin Boloorian, legislative director for the National Iranian American Council. “While we have pursued sanctions on Iran for over 26 years, the results have been unfavorable.”
In the meantime, Boloorian said, tension between the United States and Iran have reached “alarming levels.”
“Instead of ratcheting-up pressure, we need state and local leaders to call on Washington to step up dialogue between the two countries,” Boloorian added.
“I’m not trying to create our own state department,” Anderson said, adding he was focusing on a country already identified by the U.S. State Department as being a state sponsor of terrorism. “This was there and I couldn’t just ignore it.”
He thinks the bill will get bipartisan support. If anything, he says, the most skepticism he’s heard personally has come from members of his own party concerned about whether AB 221 interferes with free trade. “But we have a fiduciary duty here. How do I look a firefighter in the eye and say, ‘I just lost 20 percent of your pension to a Hezbollah rocket?'”
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