Friday, October 21, 2016

Ash Kalra and Janet Nguyen

A few days ago, I was honored to be at the Grand Opening of the Vietnamese-American Community Center in San Jose. For over a year, I have given my full support as a Council Member as my colleagues, Tam Nguyen and Manh Nguyen, have worked diligently to open the community center in order to better serve our Vietnamese-American residents. It was a joyous occasion to see hundreds of community members come out on a rainy day to celebrate an historic event that should have been achieved many years prior. 

Before the Grand Opening event, I had the great privilege of meeting with Senator Janet Nguyen, who flew up for Orange County the same morning. She took the time to fly up for three hours in order to join the celebration and recognize the tremendous work of the community of making the community center a reality. Our conversation was very instructive and helped me to understand why Senator Nguyen is so beloved by the Vietnamese-American community. I left the meeting with more clarity than ever as to why electing my opponent will be a big step backward for the Vietnamese-American community.

First, think about how important it is for elected leaders to be present. Over the years, I have spent literally hundreds of hours to be present for community events. They can be small gatherings at a library to educate residents on how to become citizens or huge Tet Festivals with thousands in attendance. I do this because in order to represent my community well, it is required of me to be present and to honor the sacrifice of thousands of volunteers who spend time throughout our community organizing events to celebrate their culture and make San Jose a wonderful place to live. Senator Nguyen took the time out of her extremely busy schedule to fly up for the opening of the Vietnamese-American Community Center in order to honor members in her community who put in so much time and energy to make it a reality. Over a dozen elected leaders and candidates were there to recognize the joyous occasion. Madison Nguyen was not there. But, that is not unusual. I have gone to dozens of Vietnamese-American just in the last year alone and she is never there. Contrast that with Senator Nguyen who makes an extraordinary effort to be present in celebration and support of her community in Orange County. And, even comes up here to support our Vietnamese-American community in San Jose. Being present and supporting the wonderful causes in our community matters. 

Second, think about how important it is for elected leaders to do the work of making laws. I am proud to say that not only have I been a very active Council Member, I have also served on our Valley Transportation Authority Board (VTA), Caltrain Board, Bay Area Air Quality Management Board (BAAQMD) and Housing Trust of Silicon Valley Board. I was even the Chairman of the Board of VTA and BAAQMD, the first person to ever Chair both organizations in history. During my time in service, I have written legislation and have led these agencies to crack down on predatory payday lenders, stop trains carrying explosive oil from entering our city, added more capacity for affordable housing, and succeeded in having BART come to San Jose ahead of schedule and $75 million under budget. 

Even as it relates to the Vietnamese-American community, I have not shied away from representing the community. I led the Council to create an Office of Immigrant Affairs, including a small business ambassador to specifically serve the Vietnamese-American small business community. I have repeatedly spoken out against human rights abuses, even signing on to and supporting Resolutions against the abuses of the Vietnamese government. I hosted the 40th Black April Memorial Commemoration at City Hall and have sponsored or supported many other Vietnamese-American community events. I fought for Little Saigon freeway signs, even as my opponent tried to slow progress and reignite hostility on the matter. And, I have shown public support for Senator Janet Nguyen's legislative bills regarding nail salons and rice cakes. In fact, I sent an official letter of support of her rice cake bill to the Senate Committee that heard the matter prior to the law being adopted. 

Of course, I have also joined the community when they have raised issues that matter to them. I have been to many of the vigils at city hall over the last half year protesting Formosa, have been there to show support when the community expressed rage over China's incursions into the South China Sea, and have celebrated many artist and authors in the Vietnamese community who have helped share the cause of freedom with the world. In fact, I recorded a radio interview just a few days ago with Congresswoman Lofgren condemning the arrest of blogger Me Nam. Needless to say, I have never seen Madison Nguyen at any of these events or protests to speak up against abuses of the Vietnamese government or to honor those who have been on the frontline of the struggle for freedom. She is also not someone who has written laws or served on meaningful regional Boards and, therefore, lacks the knowledge to effectively represent our city in Sacramento.

This leads to my third, and final, point in this article. As Senator Janet Nguyen does her good work on behalf of the Vietnamese-American community, who will be a better ally in the State Assembly? Senator Nguyen is a Republic leader in the Senate. The person who wins the race for Assembly will be a Democrat in the State Assembly. For those unaware of the poor reputation of Madison Nguyen, they may think it would be a good thing to have a Vietnamese-American representative on the State Assembly side to partner with Senator Nguyen. The truth of the matter is that having Madison Nguyen elected to the State Assembly will be a barrier to the work Senator Nguyen is doing on behalf of the community. It is not easy for Senator Nguyen to pass legislation that focuses on supporting the Vietnamese-American, like the rice cake or nail salon bills. And, certainly, it is difficult for her to pass Resolutions standing up for human rights and condemning the Vietnamese government for its atrocities. It will be much harder for her to pass such legislation or to make important statements standing up for human rights if Madison Nguyen is in the Assembly. Her Democratic colleagues in the State Assembly will look to her to respond to efforts by Senator Nguyen. Since Madison is a Democrat (although I am endorsed by the Democratic Party in our Assembly race), they will defer to her as to how to react to a bill or action from Senator Nguyen. If there is opposition to a Senate Bill from the Assembly, the bill dies and never sees the light of day again. So, it is actually quite dangerous to have Madison as the spokesperson of the Vietnamese-American community in the State Assembly. And, it will definitely not help the good work that Senator Nguyen is doing.

Now, it is true that I am also a Democrat. But, as evidenced by my support from Republican Van Le, I can work with all sides in order to come to compromises. Also, the areas where Senator Nguyen and I may disagree will likely have to do more with traditional disagreements between Republicans and Democrats regarding fiscal priorities. However, I whole-heartedly will work with Senator Nguyen on matters of human rights and representing the Vietnamese-American community with honesty and integrity. I will be a partner with Senator Nguyen and will seek her guidance as to how best represent the community with respect. 

Supporting my candidacy allows San Jose and Orange County to unite as I will work with Senator Nguyen to represent the community well and make sure the Vietnamese-American community has a voice in California like never before. I would be honored to have your support. 

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