First-time candidate seeks to transform political landscape in Calif.’s 39th District

Gil Cisneros, candidate in California’s 39th congressional district (Photo courtesy of Cisneros for Congress campaign)

Democrat Gil Cisneros says he’s ready to serve the 39th in the House of Representatives

IN the wake of the 2016 presidential election, the Democratic Party began a self-reflection period that involved taking stock of what the party truly represents in order to truly reflect its brand as a party of the people.

During the 2016 campaign, the strong showing by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a Democratic socialist, proved that liberals, especially millennials, are seeking to deviate from establishment and career politicians in favor of grassroots campaigns which are not tied to corporate interests and money.

Since then, a number of Cinderella stories have emerged throughout the country of young and/or first-time candidates launching grassroots campaigns for elected office. A record number of women and people of color are currently running on the local, state and federal levels, redefining the unvaried congregation of public office that historically favored white, straight and male career politicians.

In California’s 39th congressional district, first-time candidate Gil Cisneros plans to be a part of that change in the Democratic Party.

Cisneros, 48, served 11 years in the U.S. Navy (where he held the position of lieutenant commander) and a philanthropist who used his 2010 Mega Millions winnings to create scholarships and expand educational opportunities for young Latinos.

“Under the representation of Ed Royce, constituents had a leader who would vote against them,” Cisneros, a Latino-American, told the Asian Journal in a phone interview in July of this year. “He’d show up to events and tell people what they wanted to hear only to head back to Washington to vote against what they believe. That’s not what I’m about.”

The 39th District — which stretches from Chino Hills to Buena Park, and Hacienda Heights to Yorba Linda — Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Kamala Harris won with 51.5 percent. The 39th has, since 1993, been represented by Republican Ed Royce, who won’t be running for re-election, but Cisneros may shift the district’s partisan leadership.

Cisneros is running as a Democrat against Republican Young Kim, widely seen as a surrogate of Royce’s brand of conservatism. Though Orange County has historically been a Republican sanctum, election exit polls show that the landscape is veering blue.

“I think my opponent will be nothing more than a rubber stamp for the Republican agenda,” Cisneros said of Kim.

The son of a Vietnam War veteran, Cisneros has made universal health care a priority for his campaign. In the war, his father was exposed to the toxic defoliant Agent Orange and, consequently, developed severe health problems. His father lost his job, which meant the family lost their health insurance.

Though Cisneros’ father was able to eventually get coverage through the Dept. of Veterans’ Affairs, his mother went 16 years without health insurance before receiving Medicare.

Cisneros condemned Republicans in Congress for trying to terminate President Barack Obama’s healthcare program, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and for proposing their own version in the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which would have stripped coverage from 23 million people.

“This country is just too rich for people to struggle without good, affordable health care, and I think the thing we need to do once I get to Washington is we need to go and fix the ACA, protect the individual mandate and those with pre-existing conditions and negotiate with pharma companies to bring down the price of prescriptions for everybody,” Cisneros explained.

On Sept. 18, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti endorsed Cisneros for his charitable contributions to education and his campaign promise to bolster public schools and help make higher education affordable.

“I know that Gil Cisneros shares my passion for education and working to ensure children are given the tools they need to succeed,” Garcetti said in a statement. “Gil has a proven commitment to expanding opportunities for students, including working to make higher education more affordable and investing in our public-school systems. I am proud to give Gil my wholehearted endorsement because I trust that Gil will fight to improve our children’s future.”

(Photo courtesy of Cisneros for Congress campaign)

Cisneros denounced the Trump administration’s Dept. of Education for “taking away funding from our public schools” in favor of higher-income families who send their children to private schools. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has advocated for the expansion of school vouchers, which are essentially state-funded scholarships to send children to private school, putting public schools at risk, Cisneros said.

He’s also a proponent for expanding higher education access and opportunities to prepare younger generations for the workforce. According to Georgetown Public Policy Institute, by 2020 more than half of the jobs in the United States (65 percent) will require postsecondary education and training beyond high school.”

“We need to invest more in our teachers, and make sure they have the resources to educate our children,” Cisneros asserted. “Devos wants to divert funds from public schools to vouchers and charter schools, and in Washington, I will protect our public schools and we need to provide quality K-12 education and expand access and affordability of higher education.”

Cisneros is a proponent for responsible immigration reform, and he condemns the Trump administration’s agenda on that front, especially its mission to cut legal immigration programs like family reunification.

“I served with many members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community while in the Navy, and they should have a path to citizenship because they want immigration reform to be able bring their families into the United States,” Cisneros said, adding that, “We need comprehensive immigration reform, and we need to pass the DREAM Act,” he continued. “I think a lot of what the AAPI community wants overlaps with what the Latino community wants. We all want our voices heard and good representation and that’s what I’m going to give to them.”

The midterm elections will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 6. For information on voter registration or to find your polling location, visit (Klarize Medenilla/AJPress)

Klarize Medenilla

Klarize Medenilla is a staff writer and reporter for the Asian Journal. You can reach her at [email protected].

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