Candidates for AD51 share proposals for immigrant rights, affordable health care, LA housing crisis
On October 3, voters from several neighborhoods in Los Angeles will head to the polls to elect a new state representative in a special election for the vacant seat in the California State Assembly.
There are currently 13 individuals running who are looking to take over Assembly District 51 (AD 51), which has been vacant since June when former Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez was elected to the U.S. Congress.
With less than a month remaining, candidates are upping their efforts to attract voters from the large, urban district which boasts rich communities of color.
AD 51 encompasses northeastern Los Angeles, including Chinatown, Cypress Park, Eagle Rock, Echo Park, Edendale, Glassell Park, Highland Park, Montecito Heights, Silver Lake, El Sereno, Lincoln Heights, Monterey Hills. Parts of East Los Angeles and City Terrace are also comprised in AD51.
Although AD 51 is a majority Latino (57.1 percent), the district comprises a strong Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community (11 percent), and candidates see the value in campaigning to the district’s AAPI voters.
On Tuesday, September 5, AD 51 candidates got a chance to meet the constituents and communicate their campaign promises in an AAPI forum at the Pilipino Workers Center in Historic Filipinotown.
The key issues discussed at the forum included those closest to the AAPI community: immigration, healthcare, housing and workers’ rights.
All candidates — most of whom are running for the Democratic Party — emphasized the importance of upholding immigrant rights and vowed to protect programs like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an initiative which grants benefits to undocumented youth.
Gabriel Sandoval, a Mexican-American civil rights and education attorney who worked in the Obama administration, promised to support SB 54, a state Senate bill which would prohibit law enforcement from asking about a person’s immigration status, detaining people for their immigration status and acting as immigration agents.
“There’s a lot of fear in our community and there are a lot of concerns,” Sandoval told the crowd of more than 50 AAPI community leaders and members. “So any individual who represents this district needs to understand the policy, the law, the advocacy and the importance and power of the community. We also need to ensure that we have the resources necessary to ensure that students and others are not being discriminated against in the workplace, school or community.”
With the rising rents across the city, the housing crisis was a hot topic of debate, with candidates vowing to fight gentrification and implement more affordable housing units across the city.
LA Community College District trustee Mike Fong promised to ensure accountability for housing projects and voiced his support for SB 35, an upcoming bill that would ensure that cities follow through with their housing production goals.
“We need to hold cities and municipalities accountable on the number of housing units built when they submit their plans to the state, not the ones that are just planned,” Fong said, adding that, if elected, he would prioritize creating more affordable housing by instituting community development agencies to build more multi-generational housing.
Amid the national health care crisis, all candidates vowed to fight for more affordable healthcare and promised support to retain the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Charitable foundation adviser Alex De Ocampo, the only Filipino-American in the race, shared his experience growing up with a mother who needed long-term care, a story that resonated with many of the Filipino constituents.
“I’m going to be a fierce advocate to make sure we expand in-home support services. I also plan to lobby to make sure Medicare covers more and more of these services, so I am going to be that voice because I’m living it as we speak,” De Ocampo said, adding he promises to ensure more funding into vocational health services to breed more doctors, nurses and health care professionals.
In terms of addressing AAPI concerns specifically, De Ocampo addressed the diversity of the AAPI electorate and promised to listen to all groups under the AAPI label.
“Sometimes with the AAPI community we all get clumped together but we have to understand issues in the Vietnamese community, in the Chinese community and the Filipino community can be vastly different,” De Ocampo noted. “I’m gonna make sure I’m reaching out to you, listening to your needs and delivering what each community needs.”
If elected, De Ocampo would be the second state legislator of Filipino descent after state Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Alameda), and the first from the Los Angeles area.
The other Democratic candidates at the forum included physician Dr. Ron Birnbaum, whose platform is centered around supporting single-payer health insurance; the only female candidate Mexican-American journalist and community advocate Wendy Carrillo who promises to improve education and empower communities of color; environmental and education commissioner Mark Vargas whose platform focuses on improving public schools; and Mario Olmos, whose sole focus is fighting sexual assault against children.
The non-Democratic candidates include libertarian Andrew Aguero, a student and construction worker dedicated to lowering taxes; socialist John Prysner, a warehouse operations coordinator with a platform addressing racism and white supremacy; and Patrick Koppula, a non-party candidate looking to focus on technological innovation and gender politics.
The election will be held on Tuesday, October 3. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote that day, the two candidates with the most votes will compete in a runoff election in December.
The impact of Filipino voters
Fil-Am voters in AD 51 have a tremendous impact on the election and have notable power to sway the election. Fil-Ams comprise the largest AAPI voting group in the district with about 4.6 percent of the AAPI electorate (about 10,160 voters).
Moreover, they historically have a larger turnout at the polls with about 19 percent, whereas the largest ethnic group, Latinos, come out at about 12 percent. In turn, if the Fil-Am community can increase turnout, it can be a powerful force in this election, and in the city in general. (Klarize Medenilla/AJPress)