1) Tell us about yourself.
I live in Takoma Park with my wife Melinda. My parents are immigrants from Korea who started life in America in the Takoma-Langley area several decades ago. And though I was born in Adventist Hospital, we chose to settle here for the community’s progressive values and diversity. But my involvement in the community goes back years. I’m a grassroots organizer and Democratic policy advocate, and immediately after law school, I spent five years working at the Takoma Park-based nonprofit FairVote. It was there that I met then law professor Jamie Raskin and volunteered to manage his first campaign for office. Since then I’ve worked for CASA de Maryland, Purple Line NOW!, Demand Progress and others. I now seek to amplify Takoma Park’s passion for justice in the House of Delegates.
3) What do you hope to accomplish in office?
Maryland’s Democratic Party has made huge strides at advancing social justice in recent years. But it has really been the voters who have been leading lawmakers on issues ranging from marriage equality and the Dream Act to death penalty repeal and marijuana decriminalization. Takoma Park has been the moral epicenter of these battles, and our next challenge is to bring the same energy to fighting for economic justice in Annapolis. In recent years, we’ve seen state Democrats approve tax cuts for the wealthiest 3% of households – even as we face funding shortfalls for school construction, libraries, public transportation, and retiree pensions. Meanwhile, paid sick leave didn’t even get a vote, and a paid parental leave bill was turned into unpaid leave. It’s time to get our priorities straight.
2) What would you say your biggest accomplishment has been so far. What does that say about your priorities as delegate?
As a grassroots organizer and political activist, I’ve spent the last decade finding pragmatic strategies to help advocates push tough issues over the finish line. I’ve been involved in mobilization on marriage equality, death penalty repeal, voting rights, and free speech. But the work I’ve been most proud of us my time spent directing voter registration and GOTV activities for CASA de Maryland, when the Dream Act was subjected to a shameful vote by the people by Tea Party Republicans. Not only did we defend the dignity and education of immigrants by overwhelming margins, but my work at CASA resulted in thousands of new voter being added to Maryland’s political conversation. This is a gift that will keep on giving through the years.
4) Many of you have fought for political causes outside of the assembly. What could you accomplish as a delegate that you couldn’t accomplish as an advocate?
Through years of experience with social justice advocacy, I have come to believe that many of the most challenging progressive issues are not won or lost on the merits of the argument. It seldom seems that controversial policy outcomes are determined by white papers, research or other evidence. Instead, mobilizing key political constituencies and demonstrating public support is critical to moving stalled legislation. Luckily the voters of Takoma Park and increasingly throughout Maryland are hungry for social and economic justice issues, and there is a moral imperative for those of us who have spent years working outside of the system to embrace and utilize the political process to make change. The next generation coming of age cannot see the political process through the same jaded lens that many have adopted.
5) What distinguishes you from the other candidates?
The House of Delegates is a part-time “citizen legislature” that is supposed to represent people from all walks of life. But of Montgomery’s 32 lawmakers, the vast majority are private practice attorneys or work in the private sector. There are few grassroots organizers serving in Annapolis, and yet the most knowledgeable policy minds I know are issue advocates. I actually earn my living fighting for social justice causes. As we build a team to represent Takoma Park, I think my skills in community outreach and political strategy will be useful for moving many of the stalled justice issues in Maryland. Equally important are my strong relationships with Maryland’s advocacy community and our elected officials at the federal, state, county, and city level – as evidenced by my wave of endorsers.
6) That is the top issue (or one of the top issues) facing the District and how do you propose to deal with it?
The failure of Maryland Democrats to consistently prioritize economic justice and challenge corporate welfare is the largest unsolved problem in Annapolis. In a one-party state like Maryland, it’s too easy for Democrats to say they voted for the Dream Act and marriage equality and brand themselves progressives, all the while rubber-stamping tax cuts for millionaires and handouts for arms dealers like Lockheed Martin. These giveaways are not without consequence. Maryland’s recent income and inheritance tax cuts for millionaires will cost the state budget $200 million a year – every year into the future. Meanwhile, Montgomery County faced a shortfall of roughly $20 million this year for school construction, our transit projects are not fully funded, and local budgets have not yet restored library hours or bus routes. This is wrong.
7) What are the top issues facing the Assembly and how do you propose to deal with them?
My top issues are not just those I care passionately about, but they are those with ready communities of advocates working to advance their causes. Many of these issues already have legislation introduced in Annapolis and will need community organizing to get them passed in coming years. I would highlight several economic justice issues first: paid sick leave, paid parental leave, and universal child care. We also need to undo the watering down of our new minimum wage law by restoring an index and including tipped workers. Beyond economic justice, I’m keen to tackle the problem of money in politics, starting with banning corporate contributions to state candidates and implementing public financing for state races. I also want to unravel Maryland’s participation in the failed War on Drugs and over-incarceration.
8) Please list endorsements:
Sen. Jamie Raskin, Mayor Bruce Williams, City Councilmembers Seth Grimes & Jarrett Smith, Councilmembers Valerie Ervin & Nancy Navarro, Teachers (MCEA), Equality Maryland, CASA in Action, Clean Water Action, League of Conservation Voters, NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, National Organization for Women (MoCo PAC), Progressive Neighbors, Progressive Maryland, SEIU, AFL-CIO, and more. My community endorsers include Howard & Diana Kohn, Marie Ritzo, Marlana Valdez, Mike Tabor, Wally Malakoff, Rob Richie & Cindy Terrell, Paula Kowalczuk, Kate Rhudy, and more.
9) Please supply links, and contact info.