Assemblymember and Calif. 34th Congressional District candidate Jimmy Gomez shares his reasons and passion in continuing to serve his constituents
On Tuesday, April 4, the special primary in California’s 34th Congressional District is one to watch, as it is considered the first congressional race since last November’s general election.
It’s a crowded field with 23 declared candidates in the running — one of whom is Southern California-native Jimmy Gomez, who has been the assemblymember for the state’s 51st District since 2012.
In the state Assembly, Gomez has worked on issues such as climate change, public health, education, domestic violence and sexual assault prevention, LGBTQ rights and affordable housing, among others. One of his landmark bills was one to increase paid family leave benefits for California’s residents. He also co-authored Assembly Bill 123, alongside Assemblymember Rob Bonta, which requires the State Board of Education to include the roles Filipino-Americans had in the farm worker labor movement.
Running towards the challenge: A conversation with Jimmy Gomez
The 34th District — which has been represented by Xavier Becerra for 24 years before he was appointed as California’s attorney general in January — covers parts of central, east and northeast Los Angeles, such as Historic Filipinotown, Downtown, Chinatown, Eagle Rock, Highland Park and Koreatown. (It is about 65 percent Hispanic and 19 percent Asian).
Along with Becerra’s support, Gomez has received backing from various groups, including the Pilipino American Los Angeles Democrats (PALAD), and other Democratic lawmakers like Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Senator Kamala Harris.
In a recent interview with the Asian Journal, Gomez shared his motivations for Congress and some of the issues he will champion if elected.
Asian Journal: At what point did you decide you wanted to run for Congress?
Jimmy Gomez: After the initial announcement that Xavier Becerra was being appointed to attorney general, [former California Assembly speaker] John Pérez had jumped in and I received a phone call from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti who said I should consider doing this. I actually starting having conversations with my wife Mary, my family, and some of my political allies like California Senate Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, and if he decided that he wasn’t going to run, then I would. I actually thought about it because I enjoy the job that I have now. I enjoy being able to get coffee in my neighborhood and walk around. I know that running for Congress would totally change my life. My wife pretty much said, ‘We need you more now in Congress than ever.’ In history, when you see those big challenges, you have a choice: you either run from it or run towards it. So I decided to run towards the challenge of a Trump administration and having a Republican-controlled Congress. It took me a few days and I gave it some thought as to what I could do differently and if I would be the best candidate.
AJ: What should the Filipino-American community know about your experience and background leading up to the election?
Gomez: Filipino-Americans should know that I’ve been a proven fighter of California’s values in the state Legislature. I’ve passed legislation to expand paid family leave and to encourage and direct more climate change dollars to disadvantaged communities and the communities that are most impacted by pollution so they can have clean air and water. They should know that I will always fight for all communities. In the legislature, I’ve worked well with Assemblymember Rob Bonta to pass Assembly Bill 123, which recognized the Filipino contributions to the farm worker movement. Most people don’t understand the close relationship Filipinos and Latinos have had over the decades, especially here in California. I haven’t forgotten that and I’m going to take that with me to Washington and it would be my honor to represent the Filipino community in Congress, as it has been in the state Legislature. My first Democratic club endorsement actually came from the Pilipino American Los Angeles Democrats (PALAD) and I’m really proud of that.
AJ: How has it been balancing your current duties as assemblymember with campaigning?
Gomez: It’s hard because as a state assemblymember, you don’t get sick or vacation days. You have to show up for your floor session and show up for the hearings, which causes me to fly back and forth a lot between LA and Sacramento. The government can never take a day off. It’s a challenge, but I’ve enjoyed it so far and that’s what you sign up for when you get elected.
AJ: While campaigning in the 34th District, which is predominately comprised of Hispanic and Asian residents, what are some of the concerns that they have brought up in conversations with you?
Gomez: Immigration is a big issue, but also you have health care, which tends to be one of the biggest issues in the community. The individuals in the 34th Congressional District have been one of the largest beneficiaries of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the expansion of Medi-Cal, so people feel, and rightly so, that if there is a rollback of the ACA, they’re going to lose their health care coverage. It’s very possible. The other issue is access to higher education for immigrants. I expanded Assembly Bill 540, which allows [undocumented] immigrants to get in-state tuition. People are concerned and we’ve actually seen that know, where you have kids that are under DACA not applying for financial aid or applying to go to schools, so there’s a real fear. There are actually 10,000 less DACA applicants this year so you’re seeing an impact. Housing and jobs are also on their minds.
AJ: In terms of health care, specifically because a lot of Filipino Americans do work in the industry or benefit from government programs, what ideas would you bring to Congress?
Gomez: Health care is a really important issue for me because I grew up without health insurance. I know what it’s like when kids get sick and the parents have to decide whether to take them to the doctor/emergency room and pay a bill or do they wait to see if they get better. Often times, they wait too long and the kid gets even sicker. That’s what happened to me when I was about 7 years old and got sick with pneumonia. Health care has always been a personal issue for me and it’s actually why I worked with the United Nurses Association of California to teach nurses how to be the best advocates they can be for their patients and themselves and I’ve liked working with the nurses, especially the Filipino ones. They’re a big part of our health care delivery system, so I’m thankful that they’re here.
Here in California, we’re not going to wait until the ACA is repealed. We introduced a bill to create a single-payer system or a public option that allows people to go through the state for their health insurance. We have to figure out how to pay for it but we think that if some of the taxes that are in the ACA are repealed, we can capture some of those revenues. Another thing we’re looking at, for me, is how do you expand paid family leave? It’s an issue that I care about in our state. Paid family leave is that workers get six weeks off, either to take care of a sick family member or a newborn child. We’ve expanded it here in California to actually make it work for low-income individuals and that’s an issue that most people can relate to, Republicans and Democrats. There has been some talk on the national level through Ivanka Trump, actually, about the issue of paid family leave. There’s some opportunity there, but it’s really to defend the line on the ACA, which is my biggest objective once I get elected.
AJ: If elected, what do you think immigration legislation should look like?
Gomez: In an ideal world, we need to go back to comprehensive immigration reform, where you do have a pathway to citizenship for the individuals who have been here for a while. At the same time, it would have the appropriate workforce and worker targets because one of the biggest criticisms of the immigration system we have now is that it doesn’t leave enough slots for skilled and unskilled labor to come to the United States. That’s one of the things we should look at.
AJ: Coming from a family of immigrants, what’s your message to other immigrant communities about the rhetoric and orders from the Trump administration?
Gomez: First, they definitely need to know their rights and understand that they don’t have to open up for an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent without a court order.That’s one of the first things we need to make sure that undocumented immigrant communities knows and understands—they do have rights even if they’re not citizens. Second, we have to make sure that we start—which we are in the state of California—taking the steps to ensure that the local and state governments’ resources are not being used in coordination with ICE raids. Third, one of the things I think we need to push is that Trump is not just going after undocumented immigrants. He’s actually going after legal permanent residents (LPRs) as well. We have to encourage them to become citizens because that’s the only way they will feel secure and that their rights will be completely intact for the foreseeable future. In LA County alone, there are about 700,000 LPRs that are eligible to apply for citizenship.
AJ: What are some of your priorities and big events leading up to April?
Gomez: What we’re doing is we’re starting to have community walks out of my campaign office, phone banking and community coffees throughout the district. We’ll have them in Historic Filipinotown, Koreatown, Chinatown, Boyle Heights, Downtown, and Northeast LA. They’ll be small gatherings where we’ll talk to individuals about the issues that they care about and they can pretty much ask me anything.
AJ: In addition to protesting and engaging with elected officials, how can Fil-Ams and residents of CD34 continue to be civically involved and why should they vote in the election?
Gomez: We definitely have to stay involved and call out any Trump executive order, regulation or piece of legislation that tries to normalize bigotry, xenophobia and hate. If we don’t speak up when they actually do it, then people are going to think it’s acceptable, so that’s the first thing we have to do. After that, we have to make sure that 1) if people are not citizens, they become citizens, 2) they register to vote and 3) they actually turn out to vote. In this country, the only time you really have a voice is if you vote at the ballot box.
This special election is the first congressional election since Donald Trump was elected president. We have to send a strong message that people are not going to be apathetic. We’re going to stand up for our values and we’re going to send somebody who’s going to do that in Congress so that’s why it’s important to turn out because people are looking at this district — since we are a minority-majority district — to see how we respond. If we show up in strong numbers, it’s going to send a strong message that we’re, as they said in the Obama days, fired up and ready to go.
[Editor's note: This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.]