8Asians Exclusive: Interview with Jay Chen for Congress

(Full disclosure: I’ve donated to Jay’s campaign and endorse his run for Congress.)

The last time I had interviewed Taiwanese American Jay Chen was back in 2012 when I first met him at the 2012 Democratic National Convention (DNC). Recently, when Jay was in town, I had a chance to do a brief interview with him (see above). We talked about his candidacy, a woman right to choice, #StopAsianHate, Michelle Steel and the state of the race.

Since 2012, a lot has happened with Jay, including him having two kids as well as serving in the Middle East and Korea. Now he is running for Congress again in a newly re-districted California Congressional District 45, running against first term Korean American Republican Michelle Steel – which makes a very rare occasion in the US mainland of an Asian American vs. Asian American Congressional race – quite a rarity (to be honest, I don’t know if that has ever happened before?) – in a district which is 37% Asian (by population, 32% of the electorate).

Additionally, this Congressional race is considered one of the top 10 swing races in the nation, and the election has implications as to which party controls the House of Representatives. The New York Times did a timely piece on the race recently:

“Dozens of Vietnamese-speaking volunteers filled a community center on a recent Wednesday to phone bank for Representative Michelle Steel, Republican of California, a Korean American lawmaker whose campaign signs and fliers in Vietnamese and English lined the walls.

A few neighborhoods down, Jay Chen, a Democrat and Navy reservist of Taiwanese descent who is challenging Ms. Steel, passed out fliers outside of Zippost, a shipping business that residents often use to send packages to relatives in Vietnam. Mr. Chen, donning a Navy hat, walked around the plaza with a Vietnamese-speaking volunteer in tow helping residents register to vote.

Mr. Chen, the Harvard-educated son of immigrants who is a member of the board of trustees of Mt. San Antonio Community College and owns a local real estate business, said he has tried to appeal to right-leaning voters with his military experience. He served stints in the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula with the Seventh Fleet, which helped evacuate refugees after the Vietnam War.

Ms. Steel, a former member of the county board of supervisors and a local business owner, is fighting to hold onto her seat in a changed political environment. She narrowly defeated Representative Harley Rouda, a Democrat, in 2020 in a district along the California Coast that leaned Republican, becoming one of the first three Korean American women to serve in Congress. But she was displaced by redistricting and opted to run in a new district that tilts slightly toward Democrats.”

The newly drawn district is +5% for Democrats (37.4% vs 32.6 Republican) in terms of voter registration. However, Steel is an incumbant with lots of name recognition due to her past elected service in the area. But in 2020, the district voted for Biden 52.1% to Trump’s 45.9%, and in the reent 2021 Gavin Newsom recall initiative, the retain vote got 53.4% vs. the recall vote ith 46.6% Steel barely won( 51.1% vs. 48.9) in her old district, which was at the time, 70% white (and in 2017 Cook Partisan Voter Index district was R+4). Steel has a much bigger hill to climb in this newly drawn district if she wants to get re-elected, and I’m betting that she won’t.

I think Jay has a really good shot of winning this race, especially with the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade. Congresswoman Michelle Steel’s stance is pretty extreme, especially in California:

“The Life at Conception Act is fewer than 300 words, but its language leaves little room for ambiguity on abortion.

The bill, introduced in the U.S. House earlier in the congressional session, seeks “equal protection for the right to life of each born and preborn human person,” specifying that it covers “all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization, cloning, or other moment at which an individual member of the human species comes into being.”

Put simply: “It would be a nationwide abortion ban,” said Mary Ziegler, a professor at UC Davis School of Law who studies reproductive rights. Even California, which has positioned itself as a haven for abortion rights, would be affected.

The legislation was co-sponsored by more than half of California’s Republican congressional delegation — including three representatives who face highly competitive races in the November midterm elections: Reps. Michelle Steel of Seal Beach, Mike Garcia of Santa Clarita and David Valadao of Hanford.

But in the two months since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling overturned Roe vs. Wade, stripping away constitutional protections for abortion, the candidates have been noticeably quiet on the issue. Nationally, Republican candidates in tight races have appeared on the defensive, releasing ads downplaying their antiabortion stances. Instead of celebrating the monumental reversal of Roe vs. Wade, the GOP is trying to turn the focus elsewhere, even as Democrats aim to keep the spotlight fixed on it.”

To have this stance in California, in my opinion, is political suicide. I remember in 2020, I knew two Californian Asian American women who had never voted in their life before, but felt they had to (even in California) to help prevent Trump from being re-elected – imagine if Steel was running in their Congressional districts. It’s no wonder that women, especially young women, are registering to vote like one pollster has never seen before. While I’m no political consultant, I believe this one issue alone could help put Jay over the top against Steel. Or course, you won’t find support for a national ban on abortion on Steel’s website. Like most Republicans running in the mid-terms, they are scrubbing anything mentioning nationwide legislation to ban abortion.

But to be honest, for me, in doing more research on Steel, what really would make me against Steel and for Jay (besides the fact that he’s a Taiwanese American Democrat), is that Steel is a big Trump supporter (from March 2018):

“Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel was the only elected official to greet President Trump when he landed at LAX this week during his first visit to California since becoming president.

Steel and her husband, Shawn Steel, a prominent GOP leader who serves on the Republican National Committee, were two of the three people who welcomed Trump on the airport tarmac around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday and spoke with the president, according to news reports.”

I mean, I know there aren’t a lot of elected Republicans in the greater Los Angeles / Southern California area, but Michelle Steel was the *only* elected official to greet Trump when he visited the area! In the latest 2022 Asian American Voter Survey (AAVS) findings, Asian Americans find Trump highly unfavorable. You highlight this fact along with Steel’s stance on women’s reproductive rights, and you’ve got a losing candidate in this district.

Personally, I think Jay is the model candidate for Congress for me – a Taiwanese American Democrat with a lovely family with two young kids, who is fluent in Mandarin and Spanish, Ivy League (Harvard) educated, served abroad in the military, a small business owner, and has served in elected public office who is involved in his community and running for a seat in an area where he was raised in and lives (unlike New Jersey resident Dr. Oz running for Senate in Pennsylvania). I mean really – what else could you ask for? (I guess Jay could have been a doctor or have a Ph.D or  be an Olympian like Michelle Kwan)?

To learn more about Jay Chen for Congress, check out: https://chenforcongress.com/

If you live in the district, I hope you vote for Jay!


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About John

I'm a Taiwanese-American and was born & raised in Western Massachusetts, went to college in upstate New York, worked in Connecticut, went to grad school in North Carolina and then moved out to the Bay Area in 1999 and have been living here ever since - love the weather and almost everything about the area (except the high cost of housing...)
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