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Endorsement: Jay Chen for Congress

Jay Chen, left, and Michelle Steel
(Tom Zasadzinski; Associated Press)

The redrawn 45th Congressional District, straddling Orange and Los Angeles counties, is one of the most closely watched races in the Nov. 8 election. The outcome in this open seat is expected to be crucial in deciding whether Democrats retain control of the U.S. House.

Republican Rep. Michelle Steel decided to run for reelection in the 45th District after the recent redrawing of the state’s political maps put her Seal Beach home into Democratic Rep. Katie Porter’s district. Rather than face Porter, Steel set her sights on this inland district, which has a plurality of Asian Americans.

Steel was elected to Congress in 2020, and she’s already established herself as a social and fiscal conservative who would restrict reproductive rights, who refused to protect same-sex marriages and who would not even support bipartisan pro-business legislation, including the infrastructure bill and the CHIPS Act that provides federal funding to help make the U.S. semiconductor industry more competitive with industries in China and other countries.

Voters have a good alternative in Democrat Jay Chen, a commercial property manager. He’s a longtime community leader who one colleague described as thoughtful, collaborative and mission-driven. He served on the board of the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District and the board of Mt. San Antonio College, along with commissions overseeing libraries and public transit. These aren’t exactly high-publicity, high-reward positions, and that speaks to Chen’s in-the-trenches approach to public service and his ability to work alongside people of different ideologies.

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The L.A. Times’ editorial board endorsements for statewide ballot measures, elected offices in Los Angeles city and county, L.A. Unified School District board, L.A. county superior court, statewide offices, the state Legislature and U.S. House and Senate seats.

He’s also a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve and was deployed to the Middle East in 2020.

As a member of Congress, Chen said he’d like to work on transportation and infrastructure investments. He will advocate for the region’s fair share of funding, particularly for major transit projects like the West Santa Ana Branch Transit Corridor, a 19-mile light rail line between downtown and Artesia that has high projected ridership but needs a lot more funding to accelerate construction. He sees opportunities for bipartisan cooperation to advance infrastructure investments.

As the son of Taiwanese immigrants and because of his experience in the Naval Reserve, Chen says he has a particular interest in foreign affairs and thinks he can work with Republicans on policies to strengthen support for Taiwan and other U.S. allies.

Chen has said he would vote to protect reproductive rights — in contrast to Steel. She signed a brief in 2021 asking the Supreme Court to end federal protections for abortion and she co-sponsored the Life at Conception Act, which would enact a nationwide abortion ban. Steel told a Times reporter that discussions of a nationwide abortion ban are “purely hypothetical at this point.” That’s true, but only because Democrats still control the House. But if the GOP wins control, voters can assume she would vote to turn the ban into reality.

The race has turned ugly, with accusations of racist comments and “red-baiting” mailers. Over the summer, Steel, who emigrated from South Korea, accused Chen of mocking her accent when he said, “You kind of need an interpreter to figure out exactly what she’s saying.” Chen said he was referring to a written transcript of her town hall and her convoluted policy positions. Steel recently sent a mailer to Vietnamese American voters in Orange County portraying Chen as a communist sympathizer because a decade ago on the Hacienda La Puente school board he voted to adopt a free Chinese-language program offered by the Chinese government.

Steel declined an invitation to interview with the editorial board, so we did not get to ask about her priorities, her efforts at bipartisan cooperation or whether she would have voted on Jan. 6 to certify the 2020 presidential election. (Steel tested positive for COVID-19 just before voting occurred.)

If voters want a representative in Congress who will protect their rights, fight for their fair share of federal funding and bring a pragmatic, collaborative approach to governing, Chen is the best choice for the 45th District.


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