Almost exactly a month ago – and 10 days after Election Day – Young Kim became the official winner of a close and fierce race to represent California’s 39th Congressional District.
The race was a rematch between Ms Kim, a former Republican state lawmaker, and Representative Gil Cisneros, who narrowly won the Northern Orange County region seat as part of the ‘blue wave’ of 2018, in which Democrats were led to seats that had previously been firmly in the hands of Republicans.
[Read more from last year about why Ms. Kim decided to run again.]
The Democratic victories, especially in Orange County, were seen as proof of the state’s firm rejection of the president while he was not on the ballot. The rematches in 2020 were therefore closely watched tests of the durability of the shifts to the left.
The results? Well, the president lost a huge margin in California. But Ms Kim was one of four Republicans (including Rep. Mike Garcia, who in November won a full term representing the 25th District) to narrowly retake those seats.
[See all of California’s election results.]
Now Ms. Kim, along with fellow Orange County Republican Michelle Steel, will be among the top three Korean-American women in Congress. Last week, I spoke with Ms. Kim about this historic distinction, the pandemic, and the California Republican Party after Trump.
Here’s our conversation, lightly edited and condensed for length and clarity:
Congratulations on the victory! Tell me about your last few weeks.
It was a whirlwind. I received all the congratulatory messages from everyone who supported me from my family and friends, relatives and communities.
The past two weeks, I went to Washington, DC, and met my freshman classmates. I am simply blown away by the level of qualification they bring to this class. We have a record number of Republican women in Congress and I’m especially proud to be a part of it. So there were a lot of adjustments. I won the lottery so I have the first choice for my office.
We have just been very busy as I had to wait 10 days for my race to be called. I’m just glad our heads are still intact.
Tell me about what it means to be one of the first Korean-American women elected to Congress. And what do you hope your election will say about the future of the Republican Party?
It says a lot about how times have changed. Our Republican Party has been very aggressive in recruiting quality candidates who happen to be women.
They really wanted to not only recruit us but also provide the support we needed to get out of the primaries. Many organizations, including Elevate PAC, in addition to VIEW PAC and Winning for Women, have really focused on helping Republican women so that we have a better chance in the general election.
He says there are efforts to grow our party by including many people – like me, an immigrant, a mother of four, someone who speaks different languages. They see them more as assets.
How do you feel about the Republican Party specifically in California in the post-Trump era?
We knew in California that President Trump was not going to win. So we tried to get our message out to the voters, to the voters: this is about breaking the deadlock and not being part of the status quo, which people are fed up with.
They were looking for someone who could work in a bipartisan fashion, and my focus is on moving forward, bridging the gap and reaching out to all community groups. You know, I’m not going to stop and say, “Did you vote for me?” I will work to find common ground.
We have to agree to get extra support for our families, extra P3 funds for our businesses and to safely reopen our economy. We need to tackle the out of control healthcare costs that many people face every day.
It’s not a Trump or Biden problem. It’s not a problem with Young Kim or Gil Cisneros. This is how I will work.
You said that the orders at the domicile of the State are too restrictive and unfairly hurt small businesses. But thousands of people die and millions get sick. What do you think is an appropriate solution?
First, as leaders and decision-makers, and the government itself, we need to take a common sense approach. So when they institute restrictions that seem too severe, we have to talk about it. We have seen arbitrary rules, such as those aimed at nail salons, undermine public trust.
We need to make individuals responsible for following directions and looking after the well-being of others. So I want to see consistent guidelines and consistent policies from our leaders. Our governor cannot say, “Do what I say, not what I do”.
All I’m asking is, if this is affecting us, are we doing something reasonable?
[Catch up on California’s current restrictions.]
What would you say to people including your constituents, who resisted mask warrants or other public health rules?
I would say be responsible and follow simple public health guidelines, so that we can continue to function and return to work safely.
But we had to do it at the very beginning, without having different guidelines for different parts of the state or counties. This is why we are in this situation.
But that’s what it is now, so let’s be responsible and follow these guidelines. They only work if we all work together.
Beyond the pandemic, what are your main priorities?
My first priority is to get us through this crisis. I will work to ensure another round of relief for families, businesses and health care systems.
And I will fight for pro-business policies that will allow our businesses to be more creative and innovative.
(This article is part of California today newsletter. Register to have it delivered to your inbox.)
An update on the pandemic
Over the weekend, the state of the pandemic in California didn’t change much, except things we knew were grim – shrinking hospital capacity, exhausted healthcare workers, terrifyingly high case counts – have continued to be.
[Track coronavirus cases by California county.]
In the San Joaquin Valley, home to a relatively large number of low-paid essential workers and which has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, there is no longer intensive care unit capacity, according to the state. In Southern California, only 5.3% of intensive care unit capacity remains – and as the Los Angeles Times reported, Orange County hospitals are inundated.
And yet, there are reasons for hope: vaccines are on their way – literally.
Despite a major effort to speed up testing, turnaround times have increased. [CalMatters]
Tribal casinos in Southern California have chosen to keep their doors open, even in the midst of the new shutdown, as they don’t have to follow state orders. But experts say they are worried about the increase in cases. [The Desert Sun]
Analysis shows the results of the pandemic on university sports. [The New York Times]
Even if you are vaccinated, you should always wear a mask. Here’s why. [The New York Times]
California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. PT on weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: CAtoday@nytimes.com. Have you been forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here and read each edition online here.
Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from UC Berkeley, and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles – but she always wants to see more. Follow us here or on Twitter.
California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from UC Berkeley.