American Matti runs for Congress
By Jussi Pullinen
In 1956 Matti Kokkonen, then aged 10, stood with an enchanted look on his face as Walt Disney put an arm on his shoulder.
Together with Ritva Piiparinen, the boy from Helsinki had won a trip to Disneyland in California in a competition arranged by Aku Ankka*, the Finnish edition of the weekly Donald Duck comic strip magazine.
During the trip, the young Matti began to harbour thoughts of moving permanently to the large and exciting United States of America.
At the age of thirteen, Matti took his mother to apply for a visa from the US Embassy in Helsinki.
Three years later, he got his visa, and at 16 he flew to the States, by himself.
Kokkonen later took a master’s degree in financial services and management, married, and settled in the city of San Luis Obispo, midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Matti became Matt.
He took US citizenship at the end of the 1960s, and established an agency providing financial and investment advice, which is still active today.
Now Matt Kokkonen, 62, is a Republican Party candidate for California’s 23rd Congressional District. Elections to the House of Representatives take place on the same day, November 4th, and on the same ballot papers as the election for the new U.S. President.
“I have lived here my entire adult life. I’m an American”, said Kokkonen by telephone.
On his web pages - www.mattforcongress.com - Kokkonen calls for a tough line on illegal immigration and securing the border.
He wants to reduce taxes and also to drill for oil offshore, for instance in the Santa Barbara Channel, where environmentalists have opposed such moves.
He supports the 2nd Amendment right to gun ownership, and he takes a negative view on abortion rights, saying America “should cherish and celebrate life, not destroy it”.
In Matti Korhonen’s view the U.S. financial crisis was an example of the failure of the political system rather than the economic.
He opposed the bail-out package for the banks passed by Congress. “I am a capitalist, not a socialist.”
Kokkonen would keep U.S. troops in Iraq. His daughter is a medical officer serving with the U.S. Army in Germany.
In Finland, Kokkonen’s views would probably be regarded as pretty radical.
He barely follows what is going on in the political life of the land of his birth.
“I do know that people in Finland are more critical of the United States than they used to be.”
Kokkonen stood for election to the California State Assembly in 2004, but was narrowly beaten in the Republican primary by the man who went on to take the seat.
Now he is attempting to win a seat in the House of Representatives - one of 53 seats allocated to California.
He faces a stiff test from his Democrat opponent Lois Capps, 70, who has been the incumbent in the 23rd District since 1998.
Capps has trounced the Republican nominees on four separate occasions, and within the district it is believed that the Republicans are no longer seriously trying to unseat her, but rather they are waiting for her to retire.
Nonetheless, Kokkonen believes in his own chances of victory and those of the party’s choice for President, John McCain. “It’s our goal. Sisu will get us there.”
Maybe Kokkonen’s election website can help.
Almost the first thing you bump into there is the most important: a sepia-toned image from 52 years ago of little Matti and Walt.
*Note: Aku Ankka remains an immensely popular product in Northern Europe, and a great deal more widely-read in Finland than in the United States, where people are more interested in the Disney cartoons and movies than the comics. In fact the weekly magazine also sells well in Sweden (Kalle Anka) and in Norway (Donald Duck & Co. ), and the illustrators - for instance Don Rosa or the late Carl Barks - enjoy almost iconic status. See the links for details.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 19.10.2008
Previously in HS International Edition:
Donald Duck holds his own in the north (11.4.2007)
CQ Politics: US House, California, 23rd District
Aku Ankka (Wikipedia)
JUSSI PULLINEN / Helsingin Sanomat