LOS ANGELES — Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, defined by his supporters as a “strong, progressive voice,” squares off against lawyer and former Los Angeles Planning Commissioner Robert Lee Ahn, the son of Korean immigrants with a knack for crafting coalitions with diverse populations, in the battle to win the runoff election for the 34th Congressional District on June 6.
Both Democrats hope to fill the position vacated by former U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra, who resigned the position in January to become California’s new attorney general. Gomez already represents about half the district as the assemblyman from the 51st District.
Ahn, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Emory University in Atlanta and a law degree from USC, boasted on his campaign website of “two decades of private sector experience” working with legal firms and a real estate company owned by his family, and a record of creating jobs in multi-ethnic communities of Los Angeles.
Ahn supports the Affordable Care Act and Medicare expansion, backs reimbursements to physicians with money from additional tobacco sales taxes levied after voters approved Proposition 56 last Novemeber, and favors a transition to a single payer’s health insurance system.
“I do support single payer,” he said. “I recognize that one of the biggest challenges facing us now is the need to level the cost curve so everyone gains from Obamacare’s benefits. This means keeping intact the most popular features such as protections on pre-existing conditions, allowing children to stay enrolled on their parents’ insurance until age 26 and operating the health care exchanges.”
Additional revenue from tobacco taxes should “improve health access for low-income families,” he added. Ahn warned against Republicans’ plans to erase services for women’s family planning and contraception.
“It’s short-sighted and endangers women’s health,” Ahn pointed.
On immigration, Gomez opposes President Donald Trump’s “unconstitutional ban on religious” motives, and lambasted the administration’s approach to split families by pursuing nationwide deportations of people without criminal records and parents of children born in this country.
Gomez’ parents migrated to the United States from Aguascalientes, Mexico in 1972, and held jobs in restaurants and laundries to sponsor his education, which includes a bachelor’s degree in political science from UCLA, and a master’s degree in public policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
“I’m so proud of my parents and the challenges they overcame to give their children a better life,” Gomez said in a letter. “Their example guides me every day as a member of the state Legislature. And if I am elected to Congress, I will fight to protect hard-working immigrants from Donald Trump’s threats. I owe it to my family.”
Gomez finished first in the April 4 primary, earning 25 percent of the votes, while Ahn garnered 22 percent. They defeated a pack of 23 candidates.
On small business development, Ahn said the Small Business Administration has to ensure the flow of low-interest loans for minorities and women, and streamline the process to get them government contracts, because most are unable to bid on projects unless they are tied “with large prime contractors.”
“As a small business owner, I understand the difficulties small businesses go through fighting government red tape and getting access to capital,” Ahn said. “The SBA serves two valuable areas: guaranteeing the availability and affordability of small business loans and providing aid and assistance to entrepreneurs wanting to start their own businesses.”
He promised to open more SBA offices in the 34th Congressional District and said brochures with information should be in English and in the languages of entrepreneurs willing to start new shops and offer services.
“SBA resource guides on its website are only published in English, which seems ridiculous to me considering the wide variety of ethnicities and nationalities of immigrants opening small businesses. At the very least it should provide native language information in more languages that reflect our population,” Ahn added.
Ahn, a former Republican, switched to the Democratic Party in 2012 after he concluded the Republican Party ignores the challenges of diverse neighborhoods, such as how to encourage households that average gross incomes of about $30,000 a year to improve their incomes.
The Rev. Cecil “Chip” Murray, pastor emeritus of First AME Church in South Los Angeles, recently endorsed Ahn at a gathering of African American and Korean religious leaders, and said he is the leader the community needs in Washington, D.C.
“Robert Lee Ahn is smart and superbly qualified to be our next congressman,” said Murray, also a religious studies teacher at USC. “He’s a man of unique character and high moral fiber.
“Robert is a uniter, his history of bringing people together and commitment to our community make him the perfect choice for Congress.”
Ahn also has been endorsed by Michael Woo, the first Korean-American elected to serve on the Los Angeles City Council.
Gomez has racked endorsements from state leaders and local politicians such as Gov. Jerry Brown, Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Senate President Kevin de Leon, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar and farm worker’s organizer Dolores Huerta.
“Jimmy has led a career dedicated to the wellbeing of workers and their families,” Huerta said in a campaign mailer.
“We need Congress to return to focusing on justice and equity, and there is no one better to help lead the charge than Jimmy Gomez.”
Maria Cabildo, a contender in the primary election, said the residents “need a strong progressive voice representing the 34th Congressional District. In addition to being supported by groups that I care deeply about, Jimmy understands the importance of protecting Social Security and Medicare.”
The 34th Congressional District stretches from Northeast Los Angeles neighborhoods such as Eagle Rock and Highland Park to downtown Los Angeles and Pico Union, and from Westlake to Koreatown.