On Tuesday, voters in California’s 34th Congressional District will have to choose between two progressive Democratic candidates for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. It’s the second face-off between the incumbent, Congressman Jimmy Gomez, and challenger David Kim – who lost the race by only 6% in 2020.
While the two top vote-getters in the June primary are affiliated with the same party, there is a stark difference between the candidates’ take on progressive issues and style in politics. A Los Angeles Times story last week pointed out to how their contrast was shown by the way they reacted to the City Hall racist tape controversy involving local councilmember Kevin de León: while Gomez joined mayoral candidate Karen Bass and civic leaders at a press conference calling for a plan of action, Kim took to the streets with a group of activists to call out corruption at a protest outside City Hall.
Gomez, a former state legislator who has been in Congress since 2017 and Kim, an immigration and child dependency lawyer, are vying ro represent a diverse district that spans from Koreatown to East Los Angeles – including Boyle Heights. The district is majority Hispanic/Latine but has large and influential Asiam American and white communities. Eighty percent of its residents are residents and nearly 20% of them live in poverty.
Boyle Heights Beat recently spoke with both candidates and here are some of their comments on a number of campaign issues:
Race and identity
Gomez, 47, grew up in Southern California as the son of undocumented immigrant parents from the Mexican state of Zacatecas and says that his work is informed by his upbringing:
“I understand what it means to be undocumented in this country, what it means that you don’t get access… it’s always been a top priority of mine, because what I’m fighting for is my own family members, my own siblings, and what obstacles they [had] to go through and jump through in order to live a better life in this country.”
Kim, 38, is a second generation Korean American who grew up in the Bay Area and Seattle in a Christian fundamentalist, Republican household. Kim says he regrets once registering as a Republican, and that his views changed as he grew up. If elected, he would join a small group of 16 Asian American and Pacific Islander members of Congress – and said he expects to work with all ethnic groups in the district:
“I think it really comes down to how willing you are to listen to different members and leaders of each community. I hope to build upon what [AAPI] members of Congress have done to do that. I know that not all of us are on the same side of the political spectrum, and that we’re going to have to work across the aisle. I think finding the things that we, as members of the AAPI community can connect and agree on, let’s start with those things.”
Racist recording scandal
Both candidates decried the contents of the leaked recording and have called for the resignation of those involved – though Kim claims that he did so immediately and before Gomez.
“To have leaders who are elected to serve the city and then to see that they’re also involved in just more hate and dividing and racism is very discouraging. And so, the moment I heard it I was very discouraged. So sad. I put out a statement calling for the resignation immediately, the day that I heard it, my opponent did not, as I understand that he does have a very close friendship with Kevin de Leon.”
While Gomez has been an ally of deLeón, he did call for the councilmember’s resignation. The congressman said he found the recordings particularly offensive, as he recently became the father of a Black-Latine child::
“I found [the recording] offensive, I condemned the language. And then I called on the council members to resign.”
Immigration reform and DACA
As a member of a Democratic majority House of Representatives, Gomez says he has worked for immigration reform and helped pass bills that would have led both DACA and TPS recipients to citizenship, though they were defeated in the Senate.
“We’re going to try and see if we can get the votes in the Senate. But there is still a court strategy as well as a strategy of pressuring the Biden administration to keep extending DACA. And I’ve been working closely with CHIRLA and CARECEN and other immigrant rights groups on how to protect DACA recipients.”
Kim says that Congress has actually done little to protect the so-called Dreamers:
“There are immigration rules that we could immediately modify and adjust. For example, Trump made it so that those who didn’t apply for asylum within one year, wouldn’t be able to renew their work permit; things like that we could immediately undo and renew. But it’s already been two years and even a small rule like that hasn’t been undone. For a while we focus on the long term goal of giving everyone permanent status, I think we need to also focus on the short term goals that we can give people immediate release right now.”
Both Kim and Gomez believe our immigration system needs an urgent update and are both critical of the Department of Homeland Security and its Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
Gomez recalled that during Trump’s presidency he spent time on the border helping Central American immigrants fleeing violence in their countries and reminding border patrol agents of the rights of asylum seekers.
“For the Department of Homeland Security, I have always voted against any increase in the Department of Homeland Security or ICE budgets. I’ve always voted no and it’s something that I will continue to do.”
Kim has a more radical view when it comes to the federal agency:
“Why do we have ICE? What’s the purpose of ICE? I am for abolishing ICE and not funding and supporting it, although my opponent has voted to fund, authorize and support it in the past.”
Throughout the campaign both candidates have questioned each other’s past and endorsements. Kim has gone to the extreme of saying that the Congressman stands for nothing, while Gomez has retorted that his challenger has done nothing.
Gomez says he has focused his campaign on pointing out his accomplishments:
“What I’m doing is making sure that I campaign in every part of the district… talking to every single voter, and making sure that people know that I believe in immigration reform, defending LGBT rights, women’s rights, abortion rights, how do we create more affordable housing, how do we protect renters from eviction, and tell them what I’ve done to this day. And then pointing out how my opponent has never been truthful about who he is, he lied to the Democratic clubs about being a lifelong Democrat when he was a Republican. And we’re going to point out the fact that he hasn’t done anything. He was a neighborhood council member… he never built one affordable housing unit, never got money for any projects. All he ever did was do yoga in the park. That’s it.”
Kim has challenged Gomez’s effectiveness at helping the poor residents of his district, pointing out as an example that Los Angeles only used 15% of federal housing vouchers intended to get people off the streets.
“We need to be talking about this and blasting the national spotlight on what we have here in Los Angeles, and really working with local city officials to see, ‘hey, I co-sponsored all this federal money, why aren’t our constituents receiving it? Why are local authorities turning federal money away? I don’t see that proactive, passionate, working and following up and coordinating with local people to see that that’s happening.
And we’ve seen his positions continue to change. Prior to us running in 2020, he was against canceling student debt. He was against legalizing marijuana, he was against many other kinds of different things. He’s now for canceling student debt. He’s now for a child tax credit. He’s now for legalizing marijuana… It’s great to see, but why do you have to do that when you’re challenged?”
Message to voters
From the incumbent, Jimmy Gomez:
“I have committed myself to public service based on my values and my beliefs. That’s why people can’t really complain about my votes. They can’t really complain about what I’ve done. They know that I have been a champion for immigrants, for women, for workers, the LGBT community, for the working class, and the people that are often left behind. I will always put my career, my everything on the line and risk my career, to take on corporate interests in the special interests and to do what is right for the people of Boyle Heights and the people of the 34th congressional district of Los Angeles and the country.”
From the challenger, David Kim:
“We really want to, number one, eliminate corporate money’s influence out of politics, because it’s the corporate money that is sucking up our federal budget, that is making our politicians not prioritize the people as much. Number two, really bringing in a responsive representative – in our district constituents haven’t been able to visit their Congress members office in over two and a half years, they haven’t been able to drop in at all. And then number three, we really need to build a floor for everyone. That means creating a constituent caucus, where all constituents can have a say, and you can check in on what we’re voting for and discussing. We need to also prioritize that everybody is not left out. So that means a universal basic income. That means a living wage. That means providing housing security, that means providing health care, and all of those different ways.”
It’s up to the voters to decide who will represent them in the 34th Congressional District. Polls close at 8pm on Tuesday.