Westmont Magazine A Politician in Training
Although he has worked as a financial planner in San Luis Obispo, Calif., for 30 years, Matt Kokkonen ’67 has always been interested in politics. Over the years, he has spoken in the community, written articles, expressed his views on radio talk shows, and met with elected officials.
At the urging of friends, he decided to run for office last year. When the local Republican assemblyman announced a bid for the state Senate, Matt hoped to succeed him. Then redistricting intervened. The revised Senate district won’t elect a senator until 2004, and plans changed. The assemblyman sought reelection instead, and Matt ran successfully for the San Luis Obispo County Republican Central Committee.
“I’m not running for Assembly right now, I’m jogging,” he jokes. “I’ll try again in 2003.”
Central Committees set policy, develop candidates, and promote party ideals. Matt wants his committee to be more active.
A desire to get involved in the process drew Matt into politics, not his stance on particular issues. In general, he advocates less government, limited federal jurisdiction and more control at the local level. These principles are so important to him that he sued Guardian Life over the company’s access to client files in a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Matt prevailed in a unanimous 1994 decision.
A native of Finland, Matt came to the United States by himself when he was 16 years old. He majored in philosophy and played soccer for the Warriors, gaining renown as the Flying Finn. He did graduate work in philosophy in Finland and earned master’s degrees in financial services and management at American College in Pennsylvania before settling in San Luis Obispo. His wife, Jean Byerly Kokkonen ’67, works as a property manager there. They have two children. Jana graduated from the Air Force Academy, accepted a commission as an Air Force officer, went to medical school at Georgetown University and is completing her residency in emergency medicine at Loma Linda Hospital. Dan, who survived childhood leukemia, runs his own computer company.
Matt identifies three key issues in his district. The first is the California energy debacle that resulted in higher rates and unstable supplies because the market was not truly deregulated. He thinks it should be. Expensive, limited housing in San Luis Obispo is also a concern, and he believes the development of new cities and residential housing will ease prices and supplies. Finally, he recognizes the health concerns facing senior citizens in his area and wants to make sure competitive health insurance plans are available in the county.
Not surprisingly, Matt has well-defined views on immigration. He believes in assimilation to American culture, arguing that families have the responsibility of maintaining language and culture, not the government. He took his children to live in Finland for a year so they could learn his native language and culture.
Matt says he is willing to tackle tough issues directly and has a record of acting on principle. He hopes those qualities serve him well when the race begins in 2003.
Whatever happens, his primary source of strength in life will remain God’s faithfulness — and the support of his wife, Jean.