David Kim, 36, is an immigration attorney and former president of the MacArthur Park Neighborhood Council. Kim is challenging incumbent Jimmy Gomez to represent California’s 34th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Kim sat down for a Zoom Q&A with our Community News editors Oct. 29. We discussed his background in law, his progressive agenda, issues within the district and why voters should trust him.
Read the full Q&A transcript below. Read our Q&A with Kim’s opponent, Jimmy Gomez, here. The interviews were edited for brevity and clarity.
Matthew Reagan: I’m gonna just get us started off — beyond the job you’re vying for, there’s been a lot of turmoil and crisis going on in our world. How have you been doing these past seven months, specifically during the pandemic? Who have you relied on to help get you through this? Have you been able to find any moments of happiness through all of this?
David Kim: We had just heard that we placed second in the March 3 primary election and that we are advancing on. We had our campaign strategy, or initial idea, already planned out, ready to roll out and then that pandemic hit and then the quarantine happened. Obviously, all of us were flustered as to what to do, where to go, so our campaign actually took a pivot and we moved towards community relief efforts, mutual aid efforts.
For your question, on a personal level, at the same time, because I was switching to a group collective mode with our campaign team in the beginning, I actually wasn’t able to even recognize how I was personally. It wasn’t until later that I realized, “Oh, there’s a lot of parts of me that are reactive.” I know that our human nature in response to things that are uncertain and unfamiliar with us is to be in that fight, flight or freeze mode. I know that a lot of people experienced it, just kind of realizing, “Oh, man, I’m not the type of person to stay indoors, I’m not the type of person to do all this.” Then on top of that, now you’re worrying about your financial obligations, paying rent, putting food on the table, now your neighbors are getting oppressed and killed. With all of these things, it was hard. I connected with my family members, my brothers, my sister in law, my parents, my boyfriend, my campaign team. I think it’s very important and it helped me realize, the one thing that we actually do have is our own selves — being thankful for that, being able to connect with ourselves, being able to connect with others. So rather than it being a socially distant, it’s a more physically distant type of thing. It allowed me to rekindle conversations and go deeper on some personal friendships and relationships.
Kathy Ou: You’re a first time candidate, why should the voters of California 34th district choose you to be their new representative in Congress?
Kim: Yeah, thank you so much for asking, Kathy. We are living in very desperate urgent times where pre-COVID-19 we had masses of people — at least 70 percent of us — living paycheck to paycheck each month, not having savings, working two to three jobs to make ends meet. I myself did that two to three job hustle for most of my time in Los Angeles, working free as an attorney during the day, then driving for Lyft and Uber from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. and then not seeing light at the end of the tunnel. I’m one of the fortunate few and I’m very thankful. what about others? If you look around us, our district is one of the poorest congressional districts out of the 435 districts in the country. We are the fifth lowest in education. We have per capita incomes that are less than the average rent of a one bedroom apartment, whether that be in Boyle Heights, Koreatown, many neighborhoods of our district.
I’m running because it’s time for people to run from our communities. It’s time that we remove career politicians from office, because all they do is prioritize corporate interests and their own career goals. So my opponent, he’s been in public office for 10 years in our district. Have we seen fundamental change? No. He merely signs on to bills or co-sponsors bills when a majority of House Democrats sign on. He’s not a leader in drafting his own legislation. He’s not a visionary in framing the conversation and discussion of where our district needs to move forward. Instead, he takes corporate PAC money from private prisons, debt collectors, payday lenders, military industrial complex, pharmaceutical companies, healthcare companies. He’s claiming to fight for Medicare For All — but after being a co-sponsor of the bill, just because 100 plus other Democrats signed on to it and so it’s politically expedient to do so —what else have you done? Nothing. You’ve never championed or pushed hard for it, but during reelection time I think these corporate politicians think that it’s enough to go ahead and send out a mailer with a picture of Senator [Bernie] Sanders or a picture of Representative [Alexandria] Ocasio-Cortez to say, “Hey, I’m fighting for it.” So I’m running for office because we can’t reelect these corporately funded politicians for another two years expecting change, expecting different results because we know that’s called insanity. So I think right now it’s time for the people to wake up because the House of Representatives was intended for people like you and me to run for office, everyday people, to put a pause in their life, do service and then come back. That’s what we need to really do again and our elected officials aren’t co-governing with the people. Yes, my opponent is very reflective of the same but most of these corporately funded officials, they go legislate in Congress first, and then they come back and tell their constituents, “Oh, do you guys have any questions? Oh, yeah, sorry, we couldn’t do that, but next time. Okay, cool, Q&A is done.” That’s not called co-governance with the people. Co-governance with the people is, “Hey, these are the issues that we’re talking about in the chambers that I’m going to go vote on. What are your opinions? What are your issues? What are your concerns related to that?”
So I’m running because our government has failed. I’m running because our government is not set up to help us right now. The first thing that we need to do is clean up? Campaign finance. Until we get to overturning Citizens United, we need to keep our representatives responsible. If you go check out our website, I’m fighting for every American have a floor to stand on, because it doesn’t make sense that we toil like ants till the last day that we live and breathe. I’m fighting so that our representatives can be more held accountable to us. While we’re fighting for clean campaign finance reform and public financing, there are ways to keep them accountable. Legislating that they hold mandatory town halls, legislating that they have some sort of system to have direct communication with their representatives. I’m running because our system has failed. I gave you those examples to help illustrate that answer of, our system has failed and that’s why I’m running. For those who don’t know, I’m an immigration attorney, I defend respondents in immigration court when they receive their notice to appear. I help with getting them asylum and whatnot. So I’m putting a pause on my career, because the times are urgent right now.
MR: I would say you’re, anecdotally, winning the yard sign battle, at least in Eagle Rock in Highland Park, from what I’ve seen. Do you know how many yard signs you have out there at this point? I guess the more general question behind that is, what has the community response been to your campaign?
Kim: We’re 100 percent people-powered, for those who don’t know what that is, or ‘grassroots,’ we don’t take any corporate PAC money, no private prisons, no big pharm, nothing. We know our donors are individuals so it’s very fortunate, although we don’t have the money of the campaign like my opponent runs with, I think, 12 times the amount than we have. We have volunteers that care, that are passionate, that have lives attached, that want to see huge systemic change happen, that are sick and tired of lip service and platitudes. With our volunteers’ help, we were able to spread our yard signs out because we don’t have the ability to send a couple million mailers like my opponent does. We’ve resorted to a couple hundred yard signs instead. These are environmentally friendly, […] I just came back from sign waving, and we were on Figueroa in Cypress Park and it was great. Since you’re asking for the response right now, I remember sign waving back in January and February and I was, not all the time, but pretty much begging for honks like, “Honk! Honk! Hi!” This time when we go sign wave, every day, we have drivers leaning out, wanting us to see them saying hi. It’s like, “Oh my gosh, you’ve heard of us? That’s great!” You see this huge smile from left to right. It gives us a lot of hope. I think one of the things that we love doing is planting seeds of hope and empowerment.
KO: How would you balance your responsibility to represent your constituents when legislating on national issues?
Kim: That’s a very important question, because I believe our representatives’ responsibilities and obligations are multifold in so many different ways. It’s not just legislating within chambers, it’s not just cosponsoring, it’s leading on bills, it’s drafting bills, it’s framing discussions and conversations. That’s not just within D.C., but also back at home. I honestly really believe if the government is for and by the people, the representative should co-govern with the people. If you’re not communicating with your constituents, how in the world are you thinking you’re doing your job in D.C. — doing whatever bills you are? […] That’s why communication is so important. Given the pandemic, we understand now what our technological capabilities are in connecting and having meetings. I don’t know if any other candidate has done it, since earlier in the pandemic we’ve started constituent hours. You can go to our website, davidkim2020.com, book a constituent meeting, we have three each week and if those don’t fit your schedule you can go ahead and email us and we can reschedule a meeting with you. I’ve met so many constituents during the past several months sharing their stories about what’s not working, what their concerns and issues are, and that’s the direct connection our constituents want. […] For our district, because it’s 700,000 and it’s not a huge state, it is supposed to be more manageable. So, why don’t we have Zoom office hours with constituents that they can book? Why don’t we have monthly town halls where the constituents can know, “This is what my representative is discussing right now in committee,” or “This is what his, her or their thoughts are going to be on this legislation?”
Why don’t we have an app between representatives and the constituents? What a lot of representatives do is, when they do their town hall meetings during reelection season, they send out this blanket voicemail 16 hours before and they say, “Hey, tomorrow, join us for a town hall meeting at 3 p.m.” It’s like, “What the –? I’m working, I can’t go. Plus you only gave me 16 hours.” […] This is the reality of many districts. It’s so hard for constituents to connect to their representatives, even in town hall meetings. So we need to have an app that allows all of these recordings to be on there. “Hey, I missed it. So I’m going to go ahead and look at it anytime.” “Oh, I have a question. Let me look at the FAQ. So it’s not there. Okay, let me submit a question.” Where’s the accountability? That accountability is gone. That’s why our government is no longer working for us. So it’s important for us to do that. Whenever there’s no sessions in Washington, and there’s no need for me to be there, I will be here, with constituents, in the community. When I’m required to be in D.C. and I can’t come because of certain sessions or committees or bills, then I’ll be Zooming online like I have been with constituents now.
MR: What is one thing about yourself that you would look to improve upon during your potential term in office?
Kim: I’m so hungry and voracious and passionate, just to do everything and anything. The question that I sometimes get is, “What are you going to do in your hundred days?” I have 1,000 things I’m going to do, but it’s also realizing what my bandwidth is, what my ability is. I’m not downplaying our entry into Congress as with me representing our district, but I do have to also realize I am going in as a freshman representative and understanding what the realities there are, understanding that there are battles that I need to pick and choose. I think it’s just that balance where I do hope to allow my passion to keep it cool, let it go and let my judgment and discipline take the reins sometimes and be in co-control.
KO: You talked about working now as an immigration lawyer, how has your background in law prepared you for the job of a congress member?
Kim: For those who don’t know, after law school, I started working at the LA County District Attorney’s Office — this is pre-Jackie Lacey, want to make that very, very clear pre-Jackie Lacey — I was working in the Public Integrity division. In the Public Integrity division, we work on cases against corrupt public officials, so it’s prosecuting corrupt public officials. One of the cases that I was working on was a case against Robert Reed, ex manager of the city of Bell, who was convicted of embezzling taxpayer money and frivolously using it — paying his family, paying his daughter, and doing all of that. For me, I think my career track has always been led with an element of justice. Not too long after that, I started working in labor and employment on the plaintiff’s side with wage and hours, sexual harassment, different related claims to that. While working as a labor and employment attorney, there were times I worked for free, there were times that I worked 60 hours a week on $2,000 a month on a 1099. That wasn’t enough so I had to drive for Lyft and Uber.
During those times, I was able to connect with a lot of creatives in the entertainment arts industry, whether they be writers, directors, photographers, models, moving to LA to make it. When we think of actor model, we think Jennifer Aniston or Tyra Banks, but in reality in Los Angeles, when you see actor, you’re talking about somebody that has three jobs, that is working so hard that they they can’t even go to their auditions on time because they’re trying to make ends meet. So I had a lot of these friends pay these attorneys hefty retainers, whether they be huge hourly fees, plus a percentage or whatnot and get ripped off. So I started helping them with their legal work for free, even though they already had expensive attorneys on retainer because my heart cried out for them, they were paying these attorneys $1,000 an hour when they were making $10 an hour trying to make it here. That’s where I felt that we need to, although I have law school loans myself, over $200,000 in law school loans, it doesn’t make sense that just because these attorneys are taking advantage of our creatives. I opened up thehollywoodlawyer.com in October 2014 to provide very affordable legal services to creative niche industries and creatives. We provided a flat fee, you know what to expect. If you’re a writer, and you suddenly got a pilot deal, and NBC is telling you to turn it in 48 hours, instead of you calling up a very expensive attorney paying a $10,000 retainer, for us you could do a flat fee for a 48 hour turnaround for a couple hundred bucks, whether that be oral or written review. We really wanted to focus on providing affordable services and so after we, a Council for Creators also formed and other practices also formed. I also put out a book called The Film and TV Actor’s Pocket Lawyer for actors because they were being charged an arm and a leg. It shows them how to negotiate their own contracts, what to look out for. So instead of paying an attorney $1,000 an hour just pay $15 to buy this book.
After coming out of entertainment, then I moved into immigration. It really comes down to the roots of how my parents immigrated in the early 80s and how sit was so tough for them to be here and to live here as undocumented as well. It was always my goal to come back to immigration and practice that. I defend respondents in immigration court from being removed from the country. I’ve met hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of clients, hundreds of people and the most common thing that I’ve noticed during my 10 years is the financial hardship, the inability to really have boots to pull yourself up with, the inability to really thrive and pursue your dreams. I know a lot of us talk about, “Hey, what do you want to be when you grow?” I don’t think that question is something that’s being helped with. We don’t have the environments or conditions for that. During my experience, I’ve realized that this is insane, that we’re allowing our people to continue to live in more poverty, and that our government is controlling the people through poverty. Our elected officials are okay with that and say, “Oh, we did this and this, but we’re not going to deal with the poverty issue yet.” It’s like, “What the f are you serious? You as elected officials need to help us thrive, that’s your job.” My experience, whether it be kind of looking at contracts with the fine tooth. I will read the 800 page bills, 1500 page bills. If you ask me a question, I will give you an answer instead of handing it off to a legislative aide to give you the answer. I believe a lot of representatives don’t have that ownership or passion anymore. Through my years of experience as an attorney serving people throughout my life, that’s what I’ll be bringing to the table.
MR: Your main policy priorities are couched within this plan that you call, “A Floor to Stand On.” One of the main policy priorities is universal basic income (UBI) of $1,000 a month to every adult American. Direct payments to Americans have become a reality during the pandemic. Why is it important to formalize direct payments in the form of UBI and expand it beyond states of crisis?
Kim: Even before this pandemic, I’ve been championing UBI as part of our platform, along with many other intersectional policies like Medicare For All, Green New Deal, a Homes Guarantee and it’s definitely something that presidential candidate Andrew Yang brought on to the recent discussion and national roundtable discussion of issues talked about. He also recognizes and realizes the inequalities that 35 plus year income wage stagnation that we have and the increasing widening wealth gap that we have. He also talks about how we need it because of automation and and how our jobs are being taken away — how retail outlets and malls are closing down, how the truck driving industry will be affected, how our service industries are already being affected. Even the legal industry that I’m in, I know that the cofounders of LegalZoom are creating something else, and more jobs will be disappearing from the legal market too. I understand that he brought that up for those reasons, too but even pre-COVID-19, 70 percent of us were living paycheck to paycheck. The norm is having two to three jobs. We’re in this 35 plus year income wage stagnation — people need help. If we continue on, this route will become like those dystopian movies of Hollywood, reflection of the subconscious.
UBI would directly pull people out of poverty. What is poverty? It’s the lack of having money and finances below a certain income threshold. So what do you do if you give money directly to the people? What happens? They’re lifted up. This is not something novel that Andrew Yang just brought up, other leaders have championed it before. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1967, before he was assassinated, in his last book, Where Do We Go From Here, he talks about, “We need to directly abolish poverty.” We try all of these things to do it but when it comes to the final implementation of it all, we’ve already expended our resources and our energy. When it comes to solving poverty itself, we have nothing. That’s what it’s been like, on and on with our government and with different administrations. This was passed in the House in 1970 and ‘71 in the U.S., House of Representatives under [President Richard] Nixon. It was championed by one of our founding leaders of the country, Thomas Paine, who believed that land being owned was absurd, because before any people, there was land. He championed the idea of the land endowment tax fund into which landowners would pay a tax and that would be distributed as UBI. If a government is supposed to be one that’s of, for, and by the people — and if we don’t have jobs with living wages yet — then while we push for that. While we’re pushing for a Green New Deal and other ways to increase jobs with living wages, we still need to help our people. A basic income is the way to do it. No bureaucracy, less administrative expenses, and we would be saving in costs and creating a trickle up economy. So it’s a win-win situation that needs to happen. Unfortunately, a lot of our leaders didn’t realize that until the pandemic started and thought, what Andrew Yang was talking about actually might need to apply right now. You have senators like Senator Mitt Romney on the other side, and other senators and representatives talking about it so we definitely need recurring monthly cash relief, during these times right now so it’s very important to to start leveling the playing field and so that’s part of our “floor to stand on” platform.
MR: I know you’ve, in a small way, been implementing that in the district through a trial of UBI with 25 families. Is there any feedback you can share with us on how that trial has gone and what the impact has been for those families?
Kim: For those who aren’t aware, there are many other cities and other countries that already have basic income pilots and programs in place or just completed and there’s other countries talking about really passing it in their countries. There’s other countries that have done it in emergency form during the pandemic. In Los Angeles, we’ve never had a basic income program. We were actually privileged and excited and very thankful that we got to start Los Angeles’s first basic income program. We partnered up with Steady, and they’re a company that allows and helps people increase their financial savings, find jobs and be able to be well educated in taking care of their finances. We were able to select 25 individual or family recipients to receive $840 a month for three months. How they qualified was their income had to have dropped. […]
Although we would want to make it universal, because it was a limited fund of money, we did have to choose which applicants to receive. Our criteria was, since there’s a lot of people affected by not having a job right now, and not being able to pay for rent, let’s get those who’ve had a drop of at least 33 to 50 percent or more in income. We had the applicants’ salaries, their incomes from November, December and January, the average of that was compared to May, June and July — that’s how that was done. They just had to fill out a survey. If they filled out the survey, then they were eligible. Some people have tweeted, realizing, “I didn’t realize that David’s team chose us,” and they’re just tweeting, “Oh, my gosh, thank you.” So like, there was no disclosure, it was all after the fact. They didn’t even realize until after they received it. They’ve been sending in pictures and videos, they spend it on rent and if they barely paid rent, then they spend it on food. We’ve seen pictures of empty fridges and then fridges stocked with food because of the basic income payment that they received. We’re still obviously monitoring how they’re doing and we have different sets of written questions and video questions along the way, because month one will be different from month two, different from month three. At the end of it, we hope to use those results and perhaps do something bigger; share it with local officials, talk about ways that we can make Los Angeles better and help our own people.
KO: Your campaign is grassroots funded. Why is it important for your campaign to reject PAC and corporate money and what kind of statement do you hope to send to the voters?
Kim: I know that some of us have received phone calls from candidates or volunteers for campaigns and a lot of times, the initial reaction is just to hang up because now you’re equating candidates as being salespersons. It’s very unfortunate I understand, but that jadedness, that indifference, that apathy, that cold closed heart all comes from this distrust of government. Why has that come? It’s come because our elected officials promise one thing, but then when they go into office, [we] don’t see it. All right, [we] hope for another two years later, or for another four years later. The reason why change never happens is because these corporate interests, their best interests are completely opposite of the people. When you’re preaching Medicare for All, but you take money from pharmaceutical companies and healthcare companies — whose best interests are not Medicare for All because the current health system allows them to profiteer the most — they’re not going to want that. […]
I think in any industry, you realize, “Oh, why isn’t there as much changes there is?” Because there’s conflicting interests at heart. When you look at someone like my opponent, where 98.8 percent of his campaign contributions are funded by big donors and corporate PACs, he’s representing corporate interests, not the people. The reason why I’m running a grassroots campaign — Tulsi Gabbard, I think she’s one of the individuals that explains it the best — the reason why grassroots campaigns are disruptive to the world of politics in D.C. is, once I get elected, I don’t have to kiss up to elected officials at the top of the party leadership, whether they be Nancy Pelosi or whoever, and worry about, “Oh, no, if I don’t listen to them, they’re going to take away the corporate PAC funding for me,” and the reality is, money is what gets you to win elections. So if your money’s taken away, if your corporate interest support is taken away, chances for reelection are going to be tough because they’re going to replace you with a different puppet to take your spot and run in your position. There’s nothing to hook me with, my allegiance is 100 percent to the people. I’ll be able to push for things more that my constituents want to see happen. That’s where the big difference is.
Why is it that a majority of corporately funded democrats continue to increase funding for the Pentagon for the military budget? Yeah, some of them might have voted to decrease it defunded by 10 percent a couple months ago, but that was a political stunt for reelection because several months ago before that, they all voted to increase it to $733 billion or $738 billion. So why didn’t they do it then? It’s all a stunt. […] Once you follow the money and see where it goes, that’s where you notice changes in happening because of that.
KO: The 34th District has one of the highest populations of unhoused residents in the nation, what are some of the specific actions that you will take to combat this issue?
Kim: The first thing is immediately working on ways the local government, county government and local leaders on “How do we house our unhoused neighbors? How do we do that? How do we house our unhoused constituents?” They’re your constituents too. They are people too, they are not ghosts. What are you doing for that? You can’t just put your support behind a relief, which is great, but then your job also is to follow up with that. To give you a tangible example, if you’ve voted to allocate almost up to 10 billion dollars in federal funding toward housing assistance, toward homelessness prevention, toward those related services and programs during a pandemic like this early on, then you need to make sure that that’s being diverted in your own district, in your own city, with your own local officials and county government as well, and making sure that that’s being done.
Even to take it another level, I’ve been to Mayor [Eric] Garcetti’s house a lot of times because I’ve attended no evictions, no vacancies, no rent protests, because people don’t have money to pay for rent. One of the things that we were protesting about was “Mayor Garcetti, you should commandeer hotels, to house our unhoused neighbors and residents. Forget about Project Roomkey, go look on the stats. You didn’t even fulfill the majority of the goal that you wanted to.” Even if you are trying to house somebody, dial 211 and go through that process, once you do it, come back and talk with me. It is a crazy process, and that’s why Project Roomkey is a failure, among other things. If you’re not commandeering hotels for unhoused neighbors and residents, what are you doing? […] That’s the first thing we need: to house our unhoused neighbors and residents.
Now, the second thing is we need to work on, something that’s very fundamentally big, that’s something like the Homes Guarantee, which is a bill already in Congress, already put there by Representative Ilhan Omar, not yet cosponsored by my opponent, not yet talked about. I don’t think he even knows about the bill. It’s pushing for a Homes Guarantee. We’re currently in federal public housing, we have $70 billion and improvements that need to be made but they are not being made. That’s institutionalized racism in effect, because two-thirds of them are Black and brown. […] Part of the Homes Guarantee is building 12 million social housing units. That number is based on the number of people experiencing homelessness in the country today. Five percent of that would be dedicated to units for permanent supportive housing, wraparound services for those who might require on-site services with dental, medical, health, vision, with recovery services with others, and we would be able to provide that to Los Angeles.
The homelessness crisis here is not just a housing issue. It’s interconnected in so many different ways. That’s what I love about our “A Floor to Stand On” platform because it’s addressing all of that from a 360 angle. That being said, we need to remove exclusionary zoning policies and pass things like a YIMBY act and even go further and work for Los Angeles. We have less than 10,000 public housing units, and that’s because in the ‘50s, there was a white supremacist group that campaigned against public housing in Los Angeles because it would ruin the Hollywood landscape of LA. […] So know the history of your district and your city, fight for public housing, fight for these improvements. That is, I feel, is the thing that my opponent hasn’t really led on or talked about. I think it’s about time, especially during our time where we have over 40,000 neighbors experiencing homelessness and we have over 60,000 neighbors living unhoused. What are we doing about that? Those are the first things that we can start doing, along with being able to provide them the support system like “A Floor to Stand On.”
MR: This past week, LA City Council pushed a vote on a motion that would have banned sitting, sleeping or lying down within 500 feet of freeways, freeway ramps, tunnels and other homeless service facilities. That’s been pushed for now. It would also ban the storing of personal property in any of those areas. What is your personal opinion on this motion? Does banning folks’ presence on the streets effectively combat causes of homelessness?
Kim: No, it doesn’t. It is all the same concept that Mayor Garcetti is working with, based on this whole idea of, “if we police the streets, we’re increasing safety and protecting our communities.” No, you got it all wrong. It’s based on broken windows policing theory and warrant of the manmade war on drugs. That’s why he allocates more than half of the city’s budget on the LAPD when we could actually be diverting towards care and resources for community. Instead of enforcing these sweeps of people’s homes — those tents, those structures that they make, those encampments that they have, they are their homes. Imagine your home being thrown away completely, and now you have to start completely from scratch. What is that? That’s not treating each other as human beings. I’m all for services and not sweeps. We need to really look at “Hey, what is causing our communities to hurt right now?” We can’t look at these symptoms and try to put a bandaid over the top and hope it doesn’t bleed more, we need to find out what’s causing the internal bleeding and the bleeding to come out. That’s not what a lot of our officials or government leaders are doing right now. So, no, I disagree with sweeps. I would never vote to enforce that and I would definitely frame and change the discussion on how we can care for our people right now.
KO: In LA, advocates are calling to defund the police and redistribute that funding to other areas of need. What does the phrase “defund the police” mean to you and how would you imagine that will look in LA and nationally?
Kim: What’s very true is that the current policing and system that we have isn’t working. Why is it that we still have — whether it be with the number of violent crimes or the 626 lives killed by the LAPD or the sheriffs — not one was prosecuted by Jackie Lacy? What are we doing and what are we claiming that we stand for? If we’re looking at, “Hey, these 600 plus 26 lives aren’t just nothing. They’re actual people with families and stories and huge futures and potentials and actual realities and communities all connected to them. What are we doing?” I think that’s the first focus that we need to have in terms of how much harm policing has done. On a second level for me, defunding the police means, this broken windows policing theory of “Hey, having more police presence on the street is going to save things. Having more law enforcement is going to save things.” But no, it continues to oppress our communities, continues to kill them, continues to divide them, and takes away resources from them, taking away their rights. We need to defund and reallocate our money toward healthcare, toward education, toward our marginalized communities, toward services, toward changing the way our structured system is set up. We should have social workers being the first responders and not police officers. We shouldn’t have police officers being paid millions to be in schools. We should be paying millions for nurses and therapists and health counselors. Why aren’t we putting our money where our mouth is if we actually care for our students and our teachers? In all of these ways, there’s so many different ways that we could be spending our money. That’s my view of defunding the police. We’ve wasted so much I don’t have the exact numbers with me right now, but we’ve wasted so much in low level traffic violations in enforcing those when we could be spending all of that money that was spent there towards our communities. I hope that addresses your question.
MR: The 34th District is over 60 percent Latino or Hispanic identifying. What have your Latino constituents told you about issues that they’re facing and what are some policies in your agenda that you feel addressed those issues?
Kim: A lot of our Latino communities, whether they be the Salvadoran community, the Hondurian community, Mexican, other Latino communities — for me, because most of my clients, 80 percent are from the Latino community. I also did workers cases, 90 percent of those clients were also from the Latino community. I’m all too familiar with the horrible working conditions, the wage theft, the sub minimum wage standards, the inability to actually pursue even worker’s comp claims sometimes because of the layering of contracts between temp agencies. These realities and actualities are things that our leaders need to know and to hear about from their constituents. If they’re not conversing and communicating with their constituents, how do they know what they are going to fight for or stand for in Congress? That’s why I’m bringing in my experience as an attorney, my experience in working with my Latino clients — whether it be with immigration, or labor and employment issues — and a lot of them are undocumented. Because we’re not fighting for giving them equal representation, because we continue to tax them without representing them, and taxation without representation, as we know, is called tyranny; because we’re seeing blatant tyranny happen in front of our eyes, and our governments aren’t doing anything about it. We need more people from the community running for office. I am all too familiar with a lot of the issues that are experienced in our Latino communities and we don’t have somebody fighting in office for them on those issues.
Things that we could really fight for — why is it that our DACA recipients, their future and their fates are destined to the political whims of an administration? Why isn’t Congress doing something about that? I know that we had a recent Supreme Court victory, that’s great, but the reality is that after that decision, DACA recipients have it harder: they have to reapply every one year instead of two years, they have more travel restrictions. It’s gotten worse. Why are we letting our undocumented residents and neighbors live through this fear through each administration, through each government, when that’s something that we could actually codify?
As an immigration attorney, and those who are familiar in practice of immigration, one of the things that used to happen under president Obama’s administration was something called prosecutorial discretion. I’m not letting president Obama off the hook, because a lot of our community members were deported because under his administration too, but at least under President Obama, there was something called prosecutorial discretion where an immigration judge had the discretion to close the case if the respondent demonstrated that he, she or they were paying taxes faithfully for the past several years, didn’t have any major crime records, had great standing in the community, character references and recommendations. Then they just close the case. That’s the thing that our Congress members need to be fighting for and not leave to the whim of any political administration. What I’ve noticed is the California establishment Democratic Party, what they do is they put people in communities that look like people of the community, to say, “Hey, we’re connecting with you guys. We’re connecting with you, elect them, they’re fighting for you,” but they’re not. They’re not really fighting for them. I think our community and constituent members also realize. The more people that I talk with tell me “Oh, Jimmy, I don’t know who he is. Who is he?” They either don’t know him completely, and number two, they know him, but they’re like, “Oh, I’ve never seen him in my neighborhood. I don’t know him, because I’ve never seen him, but I know who he is. But I don’t know him.” Those are basically the two responses that we get. Our community members are also realizing it’s not just enough that somebody is put out there, that they look like you, we need to look further.
MR: In 2020, 52.5 percent of folks self responded to the census in the district — in 2010, that was 65.1 percent. A lot of advocates that I’ve talked to in my reporting expect there to be a severe under count in communities of color. My question for you is, as Congressman, how will you ensure resources and funds continue to flow to the district, despite the potential undercount and the impact that will have on funding and resources?
Kim: What that is is a reflection of our representative’s inability — complete, utter inability — to connect with the constituents of their district. If they were, would we have this low turnout? No. It’s great, and it seems like it is an honorable, glorious thing that our representatives are always tweeting about the census — which they should be as a basic thing — but that’s the basic thing that they should be doing. If we already had a responsive, constituent-representative relationship in place, this wouldn’t be happening.
We just really need to think outside of the box in different ways that we can leverage the resources that we do have on the local level, meaning with city government, county, state and federal, and seeing how we can actually combine our forces. Actually combine our forces because I see it here at LA, we have different government arms and branches and leaders, having different programs when they could be joining them together and working together on certain issues, and finding ways outside of the box to do that, working with other local organizations and being able to work with that.
[…] Funding is a huge issue, and if we’re able to reallocate and properly in Congress, I feel that there’s still hope and light there in terms of whether or not we can have that critical support and mass support in order to push those changes, but even finding ways to do that in reallocating a budget and other resources as well. That’s something that, again, the representatives should also be including their constituents in conversation and co-governance with, and talking about it as a community and seeing what we can do to improve this and prevent this from happening again, as well.
MR: You and your opponent are both Democrats, both support progressive policies — the Green New Deal and Medicare for All — and you’ve both received endorsements from progressive political organizations, both locally and nationally. What are some important distinctions that exist in your progressive views for the future and why are you better able to enact progressive policies in Congress?
Kim: Firstly, I am not running for lieutenant governor in 2026 like my opponent is. He filed to run for that race two years ago, so he’s not quite going to be caring about our district the next couple terms. That’s for one. The second thing is his track record has shown that he signs on to cosponsor bills when a majority or a big block of progressive people have already done so. He’s always playing it safe and during a time like this, where we’re one of the poorest congressional districts where we have the lowest in education, we don’t want a representative that plays it safe. We want somebody that is fierce, that’s relentless, that is able to stand tirelessly for their constituents, that is able to fight for them. That’s what I’ve done during my 10 years as an attorney and during my entire life growing up as a pastor’s kid, translating for members of my church who couldn’t speak English and negotiating on their behalf.
And I think it says it for itself. What has he done on Medicare For All? What has he done on Green New Deal besides adding his name as the cosponsor? I can’t think of any. So I think it says it for itself in the sense of what are we really pushing and fighting for and why are we reelecting? Just because it says member of congress there? I think it’s about time for us to really realize there is a reason why a local group, a progressive [group], Our Revolution LA would endorse [me], and the national group, who doesn’t even reach out to their local chapter but then endorses a candidate despite knowing that they’re corporately funded. So even the self-alleged progressive endorsements that my opponent is claiming, you really need to look into whether it be with Our Revolution national, are they really for grassroots candidates? If they endorsed him and ignored their local chapter? Is End Citizens United one of his endorsers? Are they really progressive? No, they’re not. I’ve emailed them since January, they completely ignored me. They do know that we’re completely grassroots funded, but they are a shadow arm of the DCCC [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] and he’s using their endorsement and putting it out there as if he’s progressive.
What we really need to focus on is — now’s the time where we really need to elect people from our own community. If somebody, like my opponent, was hired in a regular company, or in a business environment that I was in, they would have been fired the first 90 days. I think that lack of ownership, that lack of diligence, that lack of competence is missing in our elected officials. It’s about time we have outsiders running for office, who have been doing their own careers and been working in the community and organizing and being an activist running for office. That’s really what sets us apart in addition to the whole corporate funding, which is its own mess of problems and issues.
KO: Are there any policies or programs by your opponent that you might agree with and will likely to continue?
Kim: I don’t know of any community constituent-focused engagement program. Once I get into office, I want every community, every borough and neighborhood in our district because we’re so diverse. We have Koreatown, Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, Eagle Rock, LaSalle Park, Little Tokyo, Little Bangladesh, Historic Filipinotown, Chinatown, Pico Union, Westlake, we have all these communities, why aren’t we talking with each other? Wouldn’t it be cool to have an inter council community with representatives and members from each community talking? Wouldn’t that be cool? Wouldn’t it be cool to say, “Hey, guys, this is actually who we are funding.” Instead of just blurting out, “We received this much federal funding for our district at the end of reelection season,” dissect that, what does that mean for each neighborhood and community?
What does it mean that case work you’ve done 2,000 hours of it during the year? Do our constituents even know that’s available? The reason why I’m sharing this is I have a whole rollout of community constituent programs that we really want to focus on, because the people should be the number one focus, community should be the number one focus. I don’t know what programs, if any, he has. Xavier Beccera, his predecessor — I met with different community leaders and they tell me “Oh, yeah, when Xavier was in office, we had a lot of meetings, and were able to talk with his office. But once Jimmy [Gomez] went into office, we never really saw those community meetings anymore.” And so I’m not sure what he really fights for in Congress. I know that when we think of Representative [Alexandria] Ocasio Cortez, we think Green New Deal. We think Representative [Ilhan] Omar, we think Homes Guarantee, rent mortgage cancellation. When I think of my opponent. I don’t know. So I really feel representatives’ job isn’t just a cosponsor, it’s really to lead on issues too. So that’s what I hope that we can do for our district.
KO: What effect do you think free public colleges and universities can have on LA and nationally?
Kim: We have so many people nationally and locally with student debt. We all know the numbers, at least $1.5 trillion in student debt, it’s a bubble crisis that a lot of people are still paying off. Thankfully, they don’t have to pay their payments, temporarily, right now because they’ve been deferred. But what happens when they start? What happens when those who don’t have jobs? Like how are they going to keep up with their payments? And then because of that, they’re not able to pay for other things, and it just continues this cycle of purchasing and acquiring more debt. So it would allow our recent graduates or older graduates to have room to breathe, to start being able to save, and to be able to help in a lot of different ways. Because Los Angeles is a very expensive city, it will allow our graduates and people not to just graduate and move elsewhere because it’s so expensive. It’ll allow them to stay here. You hear stories now where, I thought it was other cities, where it’s like, “Oh, yeah, I’m here for college,” and then they move back home. Now LA has become that college town where people are just moving out back home after graduating because LA has become too expensive. What have we become? In order to allow the local economy to really come back again, for our people to come back again, we need to help us help with student debt, really eliminate that, make it free for everyone and then also, just really focus on that. On lower education right now during the pandemic, we’re not having any input from our elementary, middle school and high school students, and it’s about time that we get their input on how we can make their remote learning better. That’s the conversation I don’t think my opponent or any elected official has ever asked anybody about. So those are the ways that we can at least start right now.
KO: Why should young people feel comfortable voting for you? What are some of the steps that you’re thinking of taking to safeguard their futures regardless of who wins the presidential election?
Kim: For those who aren’t able to vote, I feel you. I know that you’re desperate, you want to vote so hard, and but you can still put that energy of passion, go interview people, go do a live and talk about what your views are, go talk about it with your family and friends, spread the word about a campaign, a measure, a candidate you like, because that’s how we can really bring change. Change really comes from bottom up. I know that we all focus on the presidential campaign, but all of that change comes from a bustling of ideas, emotions, feelings and perspectives that people have. What better way to tap into that by tapping into the people next to you? You can really start from down-ballot. That’s why we have a lot of great down ballot candidates running across the country. We probably have a record number of younger congressional candidates running for office. […] It’s amazing to see because what’s at stake for us is everything. It’s not just climate change and the environment. It’s not just jobs and financial security. It’s not just education and student debt. It’s not just the ability to go see a doctor. It’s everything, as you can see.
Now we have more young people voting, but it’s definitely encouraging and empowering to see our generation and our younger generation start to be more engaged, ask questions and say, “Hey, don’t judge me, but can I ask you a question about this?” Go ask it, talk about politics and what that is, because when you turn on the light, that’s politics, when you’re figuring out where to get a job, when you don’t have money to pay rent, that’s politics, too. I think our generation is realizing our generation has it worse than our parents. What are these career politicians doing for us? They’re so disconnected in their own cash bubbles, not knowing what we’re really struggling through. There’s so much at stake for us, I understand for those who call yourself young, I understand what you’re going through and it’s very heartbreaking and disappointing to see our lifestyles and our futures be encapsulated in political games. I think what we can do is take action and just show up and I know, there’s a lot of times where we don’t want to show up, but just show up, whether that be running for office, whether that be holding a podcast, whether that be voting and getting five friends to vote for us in CA-34.
MR: David, I want to thank you for spending so much time with us. I wanted to give you your opportunity to give your final pitch to folks who haven’t voted yet, folks who might be undecided.
Kim: Thank you so much, and thank you for giving me this platform and time to share. I know that in the last five days, about 100,000 people in our district have already voted. We have about 327,000 that are registered. The highest voter turnout was two years ago when Kenneth Mejia — good friend, I call him Godfather, I worked for his campaign against Jimmy, the same opponent. The highest voter turnout was 150,000 back then. People say that we are expecting to probably break 150,000 and reach 200,000. That would be great. That’d be amazing, getting more people engaged. So go, please vote. Don’t send in your ballots through mail right now, do it through a dropbox, because it might be delayed, just to ensure that your ballots are accepted on time and make sure that it is a correct valid dropbox. You can go vote in person, there’s about 50 to 60 locations open in our district starting tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The last day, on Tuesday, it’ll be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. You can go to lavote.net to find the nearest location.
We’re fighting for the people — community first. Our allegiance is 100 percent to you. That’s why we refuse to take corporate PAC money because we don’t want to be hooked when we get to D.C. Day one, besides finding my office keys, day one, I’ll be fighting on issues that really affect our district and really will help us thrive and help give us a floor to stand on. Please examine our website, go look through what we have, go through our opponent’s — the answer will be very clear on who to support. I’ll leave you with that, and let’s really change the status quo. Let’s fight for big, fundamental change that’s needed right now, because our people are hurting and they can’t continue to suffer. There’s a reason that every independent LA progressive voter guide that’s weighed in on our race, has endorsed me, and not my opponent.