Congressional candidate Kenneth Mejia on going Green and growing up Fil-Am

Kenneth Mejia
AJPress photo by Rae Ann Varona

Mejia joins incumbent Gomez on ballot for California’s 34th Congressional District

The U.S. midterm elections are about two months away and California’s 34th Congressional District is looking to choose between a familiar incumbent and a new face in the upcoming November 6 election.

On one end is current Rep. Jimmy Gomez of the Democratic Party who has represented the district in the House since 2017 and is working towards re-election in the Democratic majority area.  Before his election, Gomez served four and a half years in the California State Assembly.

On the other end is Fil-Am Kenneth Mejia, a relatively new face, representing the Green Party — a party he decided to move to after running as a Democratic write-in candidate in 2016.

For the 27 year old, politics wasn’t something he saw himself getting involved in.  After graduating college early at the age of 20 with a Bachelors of Science in Accounting, Mejia initially started on the path of finance with a job at the accounting firm Ernst & Young.  He got his Certified Public Accountant license at 22, and three years later, Mejia found himself making six-figures. 

Yet the finance life took a back seat when he, like many other young Americans, were inspired by 2016 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to get involved in the political process.

Mejia shared with the Asian Journal his thoughts on politics, why he was drawn to represent the Green Party, his goals for California’s 34th District, and how growing up a Fil-Am has helped shape him.

Asian Journal (AJ):  Why the switch to the Green Party?

Kenneth Mejia (KM):  I chose the Green Party because I wanted to be part of a political party that represented the working class, minorities, people of color, immigrant communities, and low income folks.  I was a Democrat my whole life before I was Green, and sort of after the 2016 election between Bernie and Hillary, I felt that the Democratic party was trying so hard to not fight for working class issues.  It was evident on what they were doing to Bernie.  Bernie was fighting for things like single payer healthcare which would’ve guaranteed healthcare for all, tuition free public college, and things like taxing Wall Street.  These are all things that make sense and are normal in other countries.  The Democratic Party kept on fighting back against that.  Those were sort of the issues that were important to me, and our community, and that’s sort of why I chose the Green Party.  And the biggest reason is that we don’t take any corporate money.  So we’re all volunteer based and we’re funded by the people.

AJ:  You mention Bernie Sanders a lot when discussing your view on politics — he ran  for president as a Democrat but returned to being Independant.  Can you expand on how he’s influenced you? 

KM:  So he’s an Independant and he was actually one of the people who came out as  Democratic Socialist.  That word is scary to a lot of people, but if you were to get away from the identity of names, and sort of look at the issues he was fighting for, it made sense.  The reason why voter turnout is so low is because politicians are corrupt, and when people saw Bernie, especially a lot of youth, they got involved with the political process — the largest voter turnout was millennial when he ran. 

Whether it was healthcare for all because people are getting bankrupt over medical bills, or education because there are people who can’t go to school, or single moms who can’t get healthcare or a head start for their babies — he talked about these issues that really affected the working class people, immigrants, and minorities.  He went after root causes like corruption in politics.  Us as millennials and as people throughout the country, whether Republican or Democrat, know its corrupt.  And that’s why some are so fed up with politics. 

When I saw someone like Bernie, I thought finally there was actually someone that cared and that’s sort of why I got more involved politically.

AJ:  What are some of your biggest goals for District 34, should you be elected?

KM:  Housing.  In LA, a lot of people are spending the majority of their income to rent.  We’d love to fight and push for more funding, quality public housing.  Right now, private development has taken over LA and people are getting displaced because these new apartments are market rate — $2000 for a one bedroom and we want quality public housing where essentially, state or federal government, helps build these homes because right now developers are making lots of money and the government subsidizes them and another big one we’d fight for is rent control.  And it’s not just here in LA, but nationally, people are getting priced out at 20% rent increases, 30% increases.

Homelessness is very big and we have over 55,000 people in LA County.  We want to push for is more funding for permanent support of housing, like more shelters, but specifically for people’s basic needs.  For example, women would have their own shelter, domestic abuse victims, or women with children.  We just want to make sure that everyone has a place to sleep because we believe housing is a human right.  We also want to provide services for mental health or drug related problems.

Another big one is for health care.  One out of every five people don’t have health insurance in LA District 34, and many more people are underinsured.  Single payer health care is the policy that we’d fight for,  where essentially we’d get rid of the health insurance companies because they make a ton of profit.  For example for me, I pay $80 to $90 a month for health insurance, and I still ended up paying close to $2000 to get this cyst off my arm.  My friend from Canada paid zero and got it removed in five minutes.  I think many people can relate that these health care bills.  Going to the doctor, or having an emergency — it’s very risky and people go bankrupt.

AJ:  Also on the ballot running for re-election for the California District 34 is incumbent Jimmy Gomez of the Democratic Party.  What are the big differences between you two?

KM:  So many differences.  On paper, he appears progressive.  He votes the right way majority of the time, but number one, he takes a lot of corporate money.  Some of his biggest donors are Goldman Sachs, the NFL, Naviance — the largest student debt collector — so if you’ve got student loans, you’re probably getting hassled by these people.  Amgen, Big Pharma, Pfizer, Blue Shield, UnitedHealth Group, Verizon, Comcast, T-Mobile, Boeing.  Basically the list goes on and a lot of people don’t know that.  So number one, we don’t take any corporate money.

Number two, we can push harder and fight for these real progressive issues he’s isn’t pushing like canceling student debt, for example.  Right now, it’s the second largest behind mortgages.

We can also fight for things like rank choice voting which would essentially give people a more democratic option when the have election where you essentially don’t pick one candidate to vote for.  You rank your candidates as one, two, three.  So you’d pick me as number one, then Jimmy Gomez as number two, and then if anything, the Republican as number three.  So if I don’t win as your first pick, it will then go to Jimmy.  Right now, there are people that are scared to vote for a third party. 

We’re also fighting for things like rent control.  We’re using our privilege and our power.  We’d talk to our city and state officials if we were to get elected, to push for things like rent control.  And these are some of the things that he’s not fighting for. 

Thirdly, we can go after both parties — Democrats and Republicans.  I think nowadays, people are so against politics because it’s always Democrats or Republicans and they end up leaving the people behind.  We can actually go after both parties who take money from these special interests.  We can keep it focused and that’s kind of what he’s not doing.

We can say he’s very progressive because he co sponsored single payer healthcare H.R.676, but how can you cosponsor a progressive bill like single payer but behind the scenes take money from health insurance companies and Big Pharma?  We noticed he only cosponsors and fights for it when he campaigns.  When he was actually elected, he never outspokenly fought for single payer health care as a human right. This is just the show that politicians do.  They show that they care but they don’t.

AJ:  What was it like growing up Filipino American, and how do you think your experience plays into what you’re doing now?

KM:  My mom is from Pangasinan and my dad is from Baguio. Just like many immigrant families and Filipino parents, they left it all to provide a better life for people like me and my siblings. 

My parents got divorced when I was seven, so it was mainly my mom who was the one who physically raised me.  She worked as an RN during the night shift, but as a Filipino family, we also had my grandma and my aunt living in a small townhouse. 

My mom cherished education.  So that’s what I did.  Seeing her work very hard, seeing her put me through school, drive me, come out to my games whenever she can, it made me realize that hard work is what sort of drives us Filipinos. 

And her coming from a Catholic background, and I’m a Catholic, she always told us to be thankful to God and to be compassionate.  That’s sort of why I’m sort of grounded in compassion — because of my mom always taught me to be nice to others.

I’m also grounded in hard work because of her struggle to raise four kids by herself and that’s  influenced who I am and it’s akin to what our campaign is modeled after.  Being Filipino, we work very hard and we’re sort of making a name for ourselves. 

AJ:  What are the challenges that come with being a third party, especially in a district that is a majority Democrat?

KM:  Its very hard.  I think if we ran Democrat, we’d get way more votes just because of the name.  This district is a majority Democrat district, so when people go to vote — and we spoke to people at the polls — they already had their sample ballots for Democrat and they didn’t even know who he [Gomez] was.  Not a lot of people know us.  We’re only 2,000 here in Los Angeles, but I think the way we overcome it is though a grassroots surge of volunteers getting involved in the political process.  It’s helping us big time.  We have over 100 volunteers helping, whether it’s knocking on doors, haring our posts on social media, or making calls.  And we do a lot of guerilla campaigns on streets so people can see who we are.  We also do a lot of social media.  We do our best, they best way we can with whatever we have.

It was able to get us here to beat out the other candidate, but it’s definitely a challenge and that’s sort of why our goal is to get people to know us.  Once they know who we are and what we’re fighting for, and who our opponent is and who he’s taking money from, and how he’s part of a corrupt establishment, they ended up voting for us at the polls.  These are people we spoke to right before they voted and they changed their vote for us.  So I think that’s our goal — to get these people to know who we are.  And in order to do that, we want to recruit about 1,000 people to help us here on the ground.

We’re also more confident because now it’s one on one.  We’re getting more attention and we’ll be in people’s faces more and we’re hoping to get more donations to help us with operations that we’re going to do and we feel good.  We’re going to work as hard as we can to get out and knock on as many doors.  We’ve knocked on thousands and thousands of doors, and now letting people know that they have an option. 

When people find out who he is and who he’s taking money from, and what he’s not doing and what he’s not fighting for, a majority of the time, they agree with us.  And many of them are excited that there’s actually a third party and a young candidate.  It’s going to be hard, but we feel good about it because every time we go out there, more people know who the Green is.

AJ:  What do you think is needed in the political system right now?

KM:  People need to be energized to know that change can come but only if they get involved.  Because right now, if you don’t get involved, whether its organizing or you’re getting involved in politics, people will make decisions for you and the status quo continues.

Our representatives need to really encourage people, but in order to really encourage them, they need to fight for working class issues.  Healthcare, benefits, education, housing…  If our politicians are not fighting for these human necessities, then people won’t’ get involved.

We need a working class sort of struggle to happen where workers all over the place unite minorities, low income folks, tenants, and involve and fight for their power. I think just reinvigorating the real issues is what needs to happen in the political system.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. n

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