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Robert Lee Ahn could be first Korean American member of Congress in 20 years

Robert Lee Ahn addresses supporters. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Robert Lee Ahn addresses supporters. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

John Yi and Jinha Park shot each other strained looks Tuesday night as they tried to name Korean American elected officials other than Los Angeles city councilman David Ryu.

There was Mark Keam, member of the Virginia House of Delegates. And New York State Assemblyman Ron Kim. State Assemblyman Steven Choi was just elected last year to represent part of Orange County.

"It is a short list," said Yi, the president of the Korean American Democratic Committee.

The two were at the election night party for Robert Lee Ahn, the man they hope will soon leap onto the national stage and become the first Korean American to win a seat in Congress in more than 20 years. Ahn is in second place behind state Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, who has garnered 28% of the vote to Ahn's 19%. The two will likely meet in a runoff for the 34th Congressional District on June 6.

"It is very significant," said Park, a radiologist. "The Korean American community has always felt voiceless at the federal level." 

Dozens of Ahn's supporters packed into the La Fonda de los Camperos restaurant in the Westlake neighborhood. Several members of the Korean press were there to interview Ahn and his family.

Ryu's election was a poignant victory for many in Koreatown in 2015. Now Korean American politicos are seeing if they can repeat the feat.

"It is a show of force for our community, which people have undervalued," Yi said. "We need a seat at the table in the decision-making process."

Ahn said it was meaningful to have the potential to represent Korean Americans at the federal level.

"Especially with everything happening on the Korean peninsula [and] the dangers presented by North Korea, we need to have a Korean American person in Congress," he said.

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