Endorsement: Kim Nguyen-Penaloza for the 45th Congressional District

Democrat Kim Nguyen-Penaloza
Democrat Kim Nguyen-Penaloza is running for the seat currently held by Rep. Michelle Steel (R-Seal Beach) representing California’s 45th Congressional District.
(Courtesy of Kim Nguyen-Penaloza’s campaign)

Rep. Michelle Steel of Seal Beach should not remain in Congress. That should be a simple choice for the voters of the 45th Congressional District, which curves from Fountain Valley through a section of south Los Angeles County and north Orange County, including Garden Grove and Westminster.

The Republican has not been a positive force for the region or for the nation. In 2021, she voted against the bipartisan infrastructure bill. It passed anyway, and when it brought more than $8 million to her district in 2022, Steel claimed credit.

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Feb. 7, 2024

She co-sponsored a resolution to declare that life begins at conception, has an A+ rating with the antiabortion group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, and prevailed on the Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs. Wade.


Steel doesn’t represent the values of her district. A majority of the voters there cast ballots for Joe Biden in 2020 — and for California’s abortion rights measure, Proposition 1, in 2022. It’s surprising she doesn’t have any moderate Republican challengers in the March primary.

The longtime legislator stands out for his extraordinary leadership over the last several years in helping to protect the nation’s institutions, the rule of law and American democracy itself from former President Trump.

Jan. 14, 2024

Four Democrats are vying to run against Steel in November. The strongest among them, and the one with the best chance of knocking Steel out of her seat, is Kim Nguyen-Penaloza, a Garden Grove City Council member who has expertise and passion for improving healthcare and medical insurance — she works as a manager for Blue Shield’s Medi-Cal program — and who is a strong advocate for reproductive rights. She thinks she can do a much better job than Steel of bringing federal dollars to the 45th.

Voters can expect to see ugly and highly misleading campaign ads from Steel attacking Nguyen-Penaloza, who has the backing of the California Democratic Party, as Steel tries to hang on to her seat. In 2022, she painted her Democratic opponent Jay Chen as a communist sympathizer — even though the Navy reservist with a top-secret clearance is the grandson of a woman who fled Communist China. It was a message designed to upset the many Vietnamese refugees in Little Saigon, which straddles Garden Grove and Westminster.

It certainly would be hard for Steel to try any similar claims against Nguyen-Penaloza, the daughter of a Vietnamese refugee and Mexican immigrant. But Nguyen-Penaloza’s background does more than just shield her from groundless political attacks. It has given her an authentic understanding of the needs of the people and the issues in the 45th district. She was raised mostly in Garden Grove, and shortly out of college, when she disagreed with the voting-district boundaries drawn up for city council elections, she did the research and drew up a different map that was ultimately adopted by the city. That’s a lot of savvy for such a young person.

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Jan. 3, 2024

At age 25, she was the youngest person elected to the City Council, where her accomplishments include spearheading a mobile mental health program that serves mostly the city’s homeless population. That progam is about to be expanded into a wraparound service center for the homeless, providing food, job training and shelter. She’s now in her eighth and last year as a council member.

What’s notable about her achievements is that she was working with a council that, although officially nonpartisan, is dominated by Republicans. Even so, she was able to find areas of commonality to get important legislation passed, such as an agreement that requires the contractors on public projects to hire a certain number of veterans and local workers. The ability to work successfully with members of another political party is a rare quality in the divided Congress.


Also running is Cheyenne Hunt, a 26-year-old public interest attorney who, while in law school, worked as a law clerk for a few months in the office of Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and helped craft legislation on online technology regulation. She is knowledgeable and articulate, but although her desire to see more young people in Congress is a good idea (something that Nguyen-Penaloza offers, too), she is not as plugged into the community and has too little experience for the job.

The two other Democrats on the ballot are Derek Tran, a 42-year-old attorney who specializes in consumer and personal injury law, and Aditya Pai, an affordable housing attorney.

Nguyen-Penaloza is strong on local and national issues; as a member of Congress, she will need to study up on thorny international problems. But there is no doubt she has the smarts and determination to do that, and a lot more.