“No Time for Bathroom Breaks”

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“I would like to create laws that will benefit the Korean-American community.”

Steve Seokho Choi is now four months into his tenure as the California State Assemblyman representing the 68th Assembly District. After his victory in the election last November, he was sworn into office on Dec. 5 in Sacramento.

The Korea Daily met with Choi, the only Korean in the state assembly, at his office in Tustin recently. Although only four months have passed, he seemed to be fully adjusted to life in the state’s capital.

◆ No time for bathroom or water breaks
When the Korea Daily arrived at Choi’s office, he was speaking to a Caucasian couple who lives in the 68th Assembly District. After the conversation, he kindly asked if he could quickly take a bathroom break.

Choi came back in no time and described that he has become “unimaginably busy” since he became the assemblyman four months ago. He believed that his life has always been busy, especially when he was the Irvine Mayor, but now he admits that his time in Irvine was rather “comfortable” compared to his current life.

“I get on the flight to Sacramento in the early morning every Monday,” Choi said.

“I work at the state government until Thursday afternoon and return to Irvine in the evening. Moving itself is not the hard part. I’m always occupied with meeting the local residents in Sacramento as well as the lobbyists. The hallway and security point at the office is always packed with people who want to discuss certain issues. So I schedule 15-minute meetings for each of them. Even when I come back to Tustin, I constantly meet with the local residents. Whenever I have time to spare, that’s when I prepare proposals for new legislative bills.”

Attending events is also a big part of Choi’s duties. Showing his hour-by-hour schedule on his smartphone, he said, “I was invited to 26 events in one day. I have to decide three or four events.”

◆ Asian power in state assembly
Choi admitted that the influence of Asian-Americans in the state assembly is now stronger than ever before.

“There are 13 Asian-Americans in the state assembly,” Choi said. “Seven of them are Chinese-Americans, while there is one of each Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, Filipino and Middle Eastern Asians. It’s a pity that Young Kim was not reelected last year. The most surprising thing is that there’s an Asian and Pacific Islanders event almost every day in Sacramento. The power of Asian-American politicians is widely accepted now. It may not seem as strong if you count every ethnicity separately, but as Asian-Americans as a whole, there is big power there.”

◆ The difference in attitude from Koreans and others
Choi added that there is a difference in how Koreans and other ethnic communities communicate with politicians.

“Non-Korean residents and lobbyists often visit my office to have a meeting even when they don’t have an urgent matter to discuss,” Choi said. “They do that to familiarize themselves with me since I only recently became a state assemblyman. Doing that makes it easier for them to ask for my help when they really need it. I’d say only one-fourth of the people who requested for meeting with me had an urgent matter to discuss.”

“Koreans, on the other hand, do not come to visit me at all unless there is an emergency situation,” Choi added. “They only try to meet with me when their backs are against the wall. As a Korean, I understand why that is, but would politicians of other ethnic or cultural backgrounds understand that? In politics, relationships are immensely important. They need to realize that this applies to everyone.”

Choi said: “I am representing two districts. Other than the 68th Assembly District, there is another one and that is the Korean community. I feel strongly supported. I’m going to try my best to create laws that will help the Korean community.”

◆ Choi has already proposed 10 bills in four months
Since entering office in December, Choi has proposed 10 legislative bills. Some of them were singlehandedly spearheaded by Choi, while others have been in collaboration. Regardless, that is still a lot of proposed bills.

One of those bills includes AB-1046, which attracted attention among Korean-Americans. “I’m going to try to make as many beneficial laws for the Korean community while I’m at it,” Choi said.

Obviously, Choi’s efforts can be dismissed if his proposed bills do not pass the state assembly. That is why Choi is constantly trying to create balanced laws that could potentially convince the overwhelming number of democrats in California.

Choi is currently levying a lot of expectations on AB-1216, which would provide tax credit to attract out-of-state businesses. “The focal point of it is the lowered corporate tax for businesses with 20 or more fulltime employees,” Choi said.

◆ Let’s further grow the power of Korean-American politicians
Admittedly, Choi said that he has felt the reality of Korean-American politics and added that its community “still has a long way to go.”

“The capacity of the community as a whole needs to be more focused to strengthen the power of Korean-American politics,” Choi said. “Every time there is a local election is Garden Grove or Westminster, Vietnamese candidates are always strongly favored to win. Orange County supervisor Andrew Do was also a city councilman in Garden Grove. That is how those people eventually end up in state and federal governments. I strongly urge Korean-Americans vote for their fellow candidates whenever they see a Korean-American running for positions.”

Choi’s office is in Tustin, which is part of the 68th Assembly District (17821 E. 17th St., #150, 714-665-6868).

By Sanghwan Lim