(Intro to the series here. Part 1, here.)

Less than two weeks to vote for a congressional representative for CA CD-32! It’s anticipated to be a low voter-turnout election, so it’s vitally important for all registered voters to get out to the polls on May 19, 2009, for the special election.

(Hilda Solis and Judy Chu both wearing lucky red for Chinese New Year.)


Here’s the promised Q&A between MOMocrats’ Cynematic and Dr. Chu. It delves a little deeper into Dr. Chu’s background, her first entry into politics, and concrete plans for representing her district and serving Americans in Congress. (*I should note that “Run, Mama, Run” is a MOMocrats series that features progressive pro-choice women of note as they compete for local, state, and federal offices. We use ‘mama’ in the literal sense–many of the women we feature are mothers of either very young or grown children–and in the more colloquial, friendly and intimate sense–of acknowledging metaphorical kinship with women in a greater struggle for justice that benefits all. In each case, we leave it to the candidate to reveal and discuss the particulars of her family life as she wishes.)

MOMocrat Cynematic: I love the fact that you told Emily’s List that your mom was/is a Teamster. Most people envision Teamsters as big burly guys who drive trucks; obviously your mom was not any of that, but instead a Chinese immigrant to America who worked in a cannery. Can you tell us more about your family background and how they’ve viewed your political career? Did you ever think you’d leave academia to run for city council?

Judy Chu: While growing up, no one in my family was involved in politics. I never even contemplated the
possibility of being a leader, let alone being an elected official. It seemed entirely outside the realm of possibilities for me as an Asian American woman.  So I was a math major when I went to UC Santa Barbara.

I actually remember the moment I realized that it was even possible for me to be a leader.  During the first quarter there, I decided on a lark to take an “experimental” Asian American Studies Class. They had a guest speaker, Pat Sumi, a strong community activist committed to anti-war issues and civil rights. 

As I listened to her, a light went off in my head.I realized that it was possible for me to be a community activist too, and to be a leader in changing people’s lives for the better.I got active in campus and community activities, transferred to UCLA, and changed my major to psychology in order to better help people. I joined the movement to pass the Equal Rights Amendment for women, and then taught classes at UCLA on Asian American Women. That was the beginning of my 25 year history working on behalf of equality for women.

My family was surprised by my entrée into politics on both a grassroots and electoral level, but of course they are very supportive. 

I did not leave academia for politics.  I taught for 20 years in the Los Angeles Community College District while I served as an elected official on the local level.

Cynematic: Thanks for correcting me on the chronology of your career in teaching and public service. Can you tell us more about the English-only movement that prompted your entry into electoral
politics? Was it possible to create a Latino-Asian coalition at that time?

Chu: In 1985, I had not even contemplated running for office. 

However, I was teaching in psychology in the Los Angeles Community College District and living in Monterey Park.  A group of people asked me to run for the board of the Garvey School District.  I ran and won.

Then an “English Only” movement occurred in Monterey Park where long time residents scapegoated new immigrants who were moving into the city. They wanted English only on the signs in the city and for the books in the library. The last straw was when they got a resolution passed in the city council saying that only English should be spoken in the city. I joined a coalition to defeat the resolution. The coalition was multiethnic, with Latinos, Asian Americans and
whites coming together. We were successful, and out of that movement, I ran for city council. I made it my goal to bring the city together, and bring about an appreciation of diversity. 

Seven years later, I was so gratified when our city won the grand prize for Innovation in Addressing Diversity by the League of California Cities.

Cynematic: Tell us a bit about who lives in CA CD-32, and what their main needs are as you understand them, as you’re actually a resident of the district.

Chu: CD-32 is a working class district made up of people with long-time roots in the area.  It has been hard hit by the foreclosure crisis and the economic downturn.

The first step that I plan to take for economic justice and a living wage in the 32nd CD is to support the Employee Free Choice Act.

I believe that giving working people the freedom to form unions and bargain collectively is key to turning around the economy, rebuilding America’s middle class, and providing working families with an effective tool to protect their wages and medical and retirement benefits. Union members are 52% more likely to have job-provided health care, nearly
three times more likely to have guaranteed pensions and earn 28 percent more than nonunion workers. 

As a member of Congress, I will advocate for efforts to save and create jobs by rebuilding the critical public services we all count on to keep our communities safe and healthy, especially healthcare, human services, education, and transportation infrastructure. I will also support continued expanded funding for unemployment benefits in order to cushion the pain felt by the millions of people who have lost their jobs. 

Cynematic: As current Vice Chair of the state’s Board of Equalization, and someone with a great deal of experience as Chair of the State Assembly’s Appropriations committee, I’m sure you’ve been watching President Obama’s passage and administration of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act closely. Care to comment?

Chu: I believe that the “devil will be in the details” of the economic stimulus plan. 

Most importantly, how do we effectively enforce limits on executive compensation, and efficiently deliver funds and
resources directly to the communities where they are targeted?I strongly believe that we must be vigilant against bureaucratic delays and corporate loopholes that would prevent stimulus funds from reaching the projects and people that are depending on.

Nevertheless, the Economic Stimulus Plan will directly help the large number of recently unemployed in the 32nd CD by extending and expanding Unemployment Insurance.

For those who are still working, the Plan provides an immediate tax cut.For the large number of seniors in the district, the Plan would provide a temporary bonus to their Social Security checks. 

The plan also provides aid to the state prevent a loss in services to the 1,500 families who have lost their homes to foreclosure in the San Gabriel Valley.

Cynematic: President Obama recently stated that he plans to close tax loopholes for two groups: extremely wealthy individuals who illegally shelter income in other countries, and corporations who stash their profits overseas at the same time as they create low-paying jobs offshore.

To revisit an earlier question I asked you in light of this, with your experience on the State Board of Equalization and service on the state assembly’s appropriations committee, what insights would you bring to helping to close the deficit gap or reforming the tax code/closing tax loopholes?

The single most critical issue that we are facing today is the economic crisis.  Seniors don’t know if their 401K will hold any value, business people don’t know if they can pay their next month’s salaries and young people don’t know if there will be a job waiting for them when they graduate.  In addition, the foreclosure rate is overwhelming.

I want to use the fiscal expertise I’ve gained as Chair of the Assembly Appropriations Committee, as a member of the California Legislature’s Budget Conference Committee, as a member of the Board Equalization collecting the taxes for the state, and as the author of the Tax Amnesty bill which was supposed to bring in $300 million but actually brought
in $4.3 billion for this state and was the most successful tax amnesty in the nation in history. 

I want to bring this out-of-the-box thinking to Washington D.C. to close the U.S. tax gap of $350 billion.The tax gap is the difference between what people owe in taxes and what they actually pay.

I also authored the bill in California to close the tax loophole for corporations that set up phony headquarters in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.  I’d like to carry that bill on a federal level.

Cynematic: Do you see opportunities to increase small business ownership by minorities/women when you get to Congress? How?

Chu: The economic crisis has hit women particularly hard because there is a gender gap in wages for women.  Women still earn only 77% of what men earn.  According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, at the present rate of progress, it will take 50 years to close the wage gap between men and women nationwide.

To me, this is unacceptable.  I have worked hard at the Board of Equalization to close this gender gap.  I’ve done a series of women entrepreneur workshops to close this gap, so that women can get the resources they need to be economically independent.

I would like to continue this work in Congress.

Cynematic: President Obama has identified federal support for education as one of his main priorities despite the economic downturn. Besides the support for Pell grants that you mentioned on the blogger call, what other kinds of federal support K-16 would you like to see extended to students and their families, teachers, and the schools? How can we improve on California’s middling ranking in per-pupil spending?

Chu: As a teacher and strong advocate for improving public education and closing the achievement gap that exist among our most vulnerable communities, I will work to ensure that No Child Left Behind is fully funded. As Congress works to
reauthorize No Child Left Behind, I will work to ensure the needs of California’s 32nd district are met.

This includes closing the achievement gap for those schools which have concentrated poverty and are hard-to-staff, using growth models to assess yearly progress, and encouraging parent participation and creation of school-community partnerships. I will also work to ensure that No Child Left Behind recognizes the unique needs and challenges faced by English Language Learners.

All students deserve to have a chance to attend college.  That is why I join Rep. Hilda Solis in supporting increased funding for GEAR UP, which encourages middle school students to become college-ready, and other TRIO programs such as Upward Bound, which supports low-income students to prepare for college. I will vote to increase funding for financial aid programs such as Pell Grants, which makes college more affordable for young people, and organize college fairs and workshops for college bound high school graduates and their families.

I also think we need to reduce by half the interest rates on need-based student loans, and provide tuition assistance for excellent undergraduate students who agree to teach in public schools.

I also support colleges which serve large minority populations, including California State University Los Angeles and East Los Angeles College, located in the 32nd Congressional District, as well as Rio Hondo College, Mt. San Antonio College and Citrus College, which serve students who reside in our communities.I support legislation that would not only provide money to colleges that serve large minority populations, but would also grant money to colleges helping them improve their ability to meet the specific needs of minority students.

Cynematic: As a past member of the State Assembly, you’ve authored bills on preventing/punishing hate crimes, protecting women from domestic violence/sexual assault, and limiting toxins in packaging and found in classrooms, to name just a few. What legislation would you like to launch or join your efforts to when you get to Congress? In a related question, what Congressional committees would you like to be on, and why?

Chu: My goal is to help pass legislation that will revitalize the economy and provide support for working families that are struggling financially as a result of the nation’s financial crisis.  In addition, I want to work on passing legislation that will increase access to quality affordable healthcare and develop sustainable sources of clean energy.  In the long term, I want to continue the work I started in the state Assembly to expand civil rights protections and laws to protect individuals and groups from hate crimes.

Because of the need to fix our economy, I would like to serve on the Appropriations Committee or on the Ways and Means Committee.

I would like to serve on the Commerce Committee in order to fix our healthcare system and work on environmental and
business issues. 

I would like to serve on the Transportation committee because of the need to fix our problems of traffic
congestion in the 32nd Congressional District.

Cynematic: With the president’s signing of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, lifting of the global gag rule, and creation of the White House Council on Women and Girls, the White House has signaled greater openness to the concerns of women. What are some other issues benefiting women that you’d like to advocate for in this more welcoming climate?**

Chu: I was once a Rape Crisis Counselor and the experience had a deep impact on me.  It led me to carry many bills in the State Assembly addressing issues of sexual assault and domestic violence. 

They are listed below, including the bills that I carried on preserving the right to choose and on banning phthalates.

These are the types of bills I’d like to carry in Congress.

AB 2583- Campus Sexual Assault Safety Act
Established a Campus Sexual Assault Task Force whose charge was to establish a Campus Blueprint for addressing sexual assault programs on college campuses.  Today, the Blueprint remains the state’s main guidelines for sexual assault programs on California college campuses.

Signed into law.

AB 898Sexual Assault Survivors’ DNA Bill of Rights- In 2002, it was discovered that 1100 rape kits had been destroyed by Los Angeles Police Department since 1995 without the survivors’ knowledge. Rape kits are the evidence collected by sexual assault survivors during a grueling 4-hour exam in the emergency room.  Disposing the kits ensured that the perpetrator of the crime would never be found. This bill required that survivors would be notified if their rape kits were to be disposed, or if law enforcement did not intend to take further action.

Signed into law.

AB 1288- Protecting Domestic Violence Victims from Gun Violence.  Fully 1/3 of women who are murdered with firearms are killed by an intimate partner.Domestic violence greatly increases the risk of a gun-related domestic homicide. Yet the law actually prohibited officers from telling a victim if her batterer acquired a gun. This bill allowed judges to impose a firearm prohibition against batters and allowed law enforcement to advise a domestic violence victim when they found out that the batterer obtained a firearm.

Signed into law.

AB 2018- Protecting the Assets of Domestic Violence Victims. This bill came from the case of a woman who
was a domestic violence victim and nearly beaten to death. Her husband was convicted of domestic violence abuse. However, she found to her horror that she would have to share half her retirement benefits with him.This bill allowed family law courts to take domestic violence into account when making determinations in a civil judgment regarding assets in a divorce, thus protecting women’s hard-earned dollars.

Signed into law.

AB 1015- Sex Offender Management Board.  There are 100,000 sex offenders in California, yet no centralized system of treatment for them.  Consequently, many end up committing more offenses and revolving in and out of prison. This bill, sponsored by the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, established an innovative Sex Offender Management Board that would determine best practices for the comprehensive treatment of sex offenders.

Signed into law.

 AB 2012/AB 908: Banning phthalates from cosmetics.  The European Union banned the chemical phthalates from cosmetics because they determined them to be reproductive toxins. In the U.S., however, phthalates are still
used in cosmetics. This is particularly dangerous for women of child-bearing age, especially since there is no
requirement to include these chemicals on the labels of such products. This bill, sponsored by the Breast Cancer
Fund, banned such phthalates from cosmetics.

AB 594- Protecting a Woman’s Right to Choose.
The Bush Administration made a redefinition in regulation, tying federal funding of prenatal healthcare to life beginning at conception rather than at birth.  Such a redefinition would have made the life of the fetus more critical than the life of the mother, and challenged Roe vs. Wade. My bill allowed for the federal funding of prenatal care, but only with California’s definition of life beginning at birth.  It preserved the state’s ability to draw down federal funding without jeopardizing a woman’s right to choose. 

Signed into law.

Thank you for your time and for letting us get to know you better, Dr. Chu. Vote May 19! It matters.

Cynematic blogs at P i l l o w b o o k. Disclosure: as part of a group working to promote marriage equality among college youth in Los Angeles and Orange Counties with a college scholarship contest, she has very tangential contact with Dr. Chu, who kindly volunteered to act as one of the judges of the contest. Dr. Chu is a longtime supporter of civil rights for all, and that includes her vocal and public record of opposing passage of Proposition 8 in California.