20 Candidates, One Spot in Congress. Who will win?


With the primary election creeping up in June, seven candidates for the 39th Congressional District were invited to answered questions from Mt. SAC students in the student life center on Friday, April 13.

Though not all candidates attended the forum, it was five Democrats and two liberal leaning independents that accepted the invites. The candidates were Sophia Alexander(I), Gil Cisneros(D), Steve Cox(I), Sam Jammal(D), Dr. Herbert Lee(D), Andy Thorburn(D) and Dr. Mai Khahn Tran(D).

The other candidates are: Ted Alemayhu (American Independent Party), John Cullum(R), Bob Huff(R), Young Kim(R), Suzi Park Leggett(D), Phil Liberatore(R), Camilla Kuo Liou(D), Shawn Nelson(R), Ted Rusk(D), Andrew Sarega(D), Karen Lee Schatzle(I), Cybil Steed(D), Steven Vargas(R).

Here’s a breakdown of each candidate that attended the forum.

Sophia Alexander

Sophia Alexander is a liberal independent and navy veteran running for the 39th congressional seat. Alexander said that she was running for congress because she didn’t see politicians representing the people and believed that there would be less partisanship in congress if people had more political choices than the two parties.

“I believe that partisanship is the worst disease we have in our political system today,” Alexander said. “I think that no matter what issue is the number one issue for you individually, the single issue which should be concerning all Americans is that congress is ineffective and paralyzed by gridlock.”

The main reason she wasn’t running as a Democrat was because she believed that the party had turned its back on DACA recipients and wasn’t supporting their fight. Alexander supports citizenship for DACA recipients and undocumented immigrants currently in the country and believed that the current immigration system was prejudice against immigrants based on the country they came from.

When asked what committees she would want to serve on if elected to congress Alexander said that she would like to serve on the Armed Services and Veterans Committees as she would be able to bring the experience of an actual veteran. As well, Alexander said she would like to serve on the Education Committee citing her experience as the Associated Student president at Fullerton College. It was during this time the Alexander publicly came out in the student media as transgender, becoming the first openly transgender Associated Students president. Alexander took time off from her education at UC Berkley in order to run for congress.

When asked about campus safety, Alexander said that the first thing that came to her mind was on campus sexual assault and believed harsher punishments were needed in such cases. In terms of protecting campuses from gun violence Alexander said she believed there was a need to fight the NRA and to be prepared to fight the more extreme groups that would follow the NRA softening their stance.

In her closing statement Alexander addressed the slim chances of Democrats in the 39th district.

Gil Cisneros

Gil Cisneros is a Democrat and navy veteran running for congress in the 39th district. Cisneros said he decided to run for congress because he want to continue his history of service to the country and in order to continue his advocacy work for education. Cisneros’ education advocacy began after winning the lottery in 2010 and established scholarship program with the goal of putting a college degree in Pic Rivera, California.

On immigration Gil Cisneros voiced his support of fast tracking a path to citizenship for DACA recipients and undocumented immigrants with American family. Cisneros added that due to his own personal experience working with undocumented immigrants in the navy that he wanted to fast track citizenship for undocumented veterans as well.

On student loans Cisneros argued that interest rates should be lowered to zero percent and that loans should be allowed to work off by joining Americorps or the Peace Corps.

When asked about equity in the United States Cisneros spoke on the high school teachers and counselors that discouraged him from going to college and said that in order to provide an equal opportunity that congress needed to start with education and ensuring that students received encouragement.

Steve Cox

Steve Cox is an independent and “little ‘L’ libertarian” running for the 39th district. Cox said that due to predicting recent chemical attacks in Syria after Trump tweeted about removing American troops from the country that he believed he would do good on the intelligence committee. He also wants to serve on the Veterans committee and introduce legislation to introduce tax breaks for veterans, which he believes would decrease the willingness of the U.S. to go to war.

Cox also argued that the U.S. immigration system was racist against Latino immigrants and wanted to see immigration reform that made it easier for legal immigration to occur in order to let immigrant compete on an even field which he believed could lower the number of immigrants coming into the country.

Cox said that he believed that continuing to elect Democrats and Republicans would not lead to fixing the U.S. political system as both parties only wanted to win the next election and have flipped ideologies in the past.

Sam Jammal

Sam Jammal is a Democrat and civil rights lawyers with experience working for Latino rights groups, in the Obama administration, as a congressional chief of staff, and for SolarCity and Tesla. Jammal said that he is running because as an Arab and Latino American he knows how it feels to be an outsider, citing feeling as such after 9/11, and doesn’t want other to feel the same under the Trump administration.

Jammal said that he would want to serve on the Judiciary committee because of his legal expertise and in order to support the beginning of articles of impeachment against President Trump. Jammal said he would also want to serve on the Energy and Commerce committee because of his experience working for SolarCity and Tesla.

When it came to criminal justice reform Jammal said that there needed to be a focus on rehabilitation in order to stop a constant in and out flow of inmates.

On partisanship Jammal said that he believed the California could be an example in voting more level headed politicians. “I believe our top two system forces us to talk to independent voters and forces us to talk to republicans voter,” Jammal said. “That’s going to create a better level-headedness and that’s where our district can be an example.”

Jammal finished saying that the election needs to be about not just beating Trump and retiring incumbent Ed Royce and electing a Democrat but a electing better Democrat that has roots to the district and is able to now what the district wants.

Dr. Herbert Lee

Dr. Herbert Lee is a Democrat, physician, surgeon and former UC Irvine medical professor who stated that, despite not being a politician, is running because he can no longer sit and wait for the government to fix itself. Lee said that in congress he would fight to improve healthcare for veterans and pass universal healthcare as well. On partisanship Lee said it could be a good thing as only Democrats are going to protect the Affordable Care Act.

On equality Lee said that from his experience as a doctor he knows that everyone is the same on the inside and wants to see laws passed to ensure equal treatment under the law.

When it came to criminal justice reform Lee took a hard stance and said criminals needed to be locked up and overcrowding could be solved through private prisons and increasing the number of jails in the country.

Andy Thorburn

Andy Thorburn is a former teacher, union organizer and entrepreneur running as a Democrat. Thorburn gave his reason for running as using his life experience in order to take back the district from conservative Republicans. Thorburn said that in congress his goal would be to support the implementation of universal healthcare and programs that provide job opportunities for the non-college educated.

Thorburn said on equity that congress needed to take charge and establish a voice on equity and exclusiveness.

“Almost all of the issue come back to legislation,” Thorburn said. “You go back to all of the progressive eras of the United States, you can go back to Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, civil rights act, the fair housing act, head start act for children, you back earlier to progressive eras, anti-trust laws, food and drug administration, these are basically, at heart, legislative issues.”

When it came to partisanship Thorburn said that he believed it could solved by being able to come to a table and come to a compromise, but that Republicans had gone past partisanship and into hypocrisy.

Thorburn finished saying that the election can be about putting America back on a progressive course.

Dr. Mai Khahn Tran

Dr. Mai Khahn Tran is a pediatrician running for congress as a Democrat who said that she is running for two little girls. The first of the two girls is Tran’s daughter who Tran wants to ensure can see the America that Tran grew up with. The other girl is one of Tran’s patients who has been diagnosed with cancer and is only able to receive treatment through the Affordable Care Act. As such Tran said she wants to sit on the Appropriations committee to be able to work on healthcare policy. She also believes that the House of Representatives needs the view of a female doctor and especially of a pediatrician.

On equity Tran said that to start heading back towards providing equal opportunity for Americans that congress needs to repeal Trump’s tax bill that is cutting a number of social program designed to provide equity.

When it came to immigration Tran, a former child refugee, said that she felt kinship with DACA recipients and wanted to see them provided with a path to citizenship and laws made to secure the border using modern technology and not by building a wall.

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