07/28/2017

Flippable Interviews Rep. Grace Meng

Rep. Grace Meng is our multi-time Endorsed Candidate and the recipient of our prior awards. The below is a repost of “From State Assembly to Congress: flippable interviews Representative Grace Meng

A few weeks ago, flippable co-founder Joseph and I sat down with Representative Grace Meng, a Congresswoman from New York’s 6th Congressional District. Representative Meng cut her teeth in New York’s State Assembly, where she represented the diverse community of Flushing, Queens.

Representative Meng had sought us out because she’s such an enthusiast of state politics. (“I know where I come from!” she exclaimed.) It was clear that her state-level work and her local constituents were never far from her mind. She lit up when recounting conversations with senior citizens and when describing how she’s tried to make their lives easier—for example, by stopping caller ID scams. And, true to her passion for the community, she wouldn’t let us leave without recommending some fantastic Chinese and Korean restaurants for us to try in the neighborhood.

Representative Grace Meng, New York's 6th Congressional District

Representative Grace Meng, New York’s 6th Congressional District

We were especially struck by Representative Meng’s humility and candor. When we asked her what achievement she was proudest of, she told us about authoring a bill to establish Lunar New Year as a school holiday. The bill, she admitted, had few co-sponsors and didn’t pass. But she was proud of having stood up to represent her community.

In light of this week’s disappointing vote on healthcare, Representative Meng’s attitude is one to emulate. Like her, we need to focus on the long game, with the knowledge that we’ll have many ups and downs along the way. We need to remain positive, pragmatic, and forward-thinking even as we encounter roadblocks. And we need to invest in serious, dedicated state-level leaders—so that, like Representative Meng, they can carry their knowledge of local communities’ needs to statewide and national office.  

Catherine Vaughan: Representative Meng, it’s a huge honor to be here with you. Thanks for taking time to speak with us and our community.

Grace Meng: Thank you!  I’m a big fan of your work on Twitter, and state legislative politics are near and dear to my heart because that’s where I got started.

CV: Let’s start from the beginning of your political career. What made you decide to run for State Assembly?

GM: After graduating from law school, I wanted to do something in public interest law. Throughout law school, I had interned in government agencies: the Department of Justice, the New York State Attorney General, Department of Education, and the IRS. It was exciting to be at the table, seeing decisions being made and how they impact our country.

After law school, I started by doing pro bono work, focusing on sanctuary for families and victims of domestic violence. Serving my community gave me the idea to run for state legislature, and it also gave me a leg up on my opponent. I spent two years holding office hours three of four times a week for senior citizens who didn’t speak English and needed translation services. It was basic stuff, but my opponent wasn’t doing this and didn’t have the same perspective.

CV: What were your biggest challenges in campaigning?

GM: I didn’t have political advisors like flippable or Emily’s List. I didn’t know where or who to turn to for advice; I didn’t know how to fundraise. I just knew how to provide community services for folks in the district, and tell my story about how I grew up and how I could help the community. I didn’t know any lobbyists or special interests. But since I grew up in the church, I did have a strong group of church and community leaders to go to.

“My experience running for New York State Assembly prepared me to run for Congress.”

CV: What was the most valuable thing you learned in the Assembly?

GM: I wasn’t the first, but I was the only Asian American in State Assembly. I learned how important it was to bring my Asian Americanness and female identity to work with me. In my first year, I had barely started my job when Lunar New Year conflicted with session. As the only Asian American assemblyperson, I felt I needed to take a stand—so I decided to stay home.

I was pregnant my first year for basically the entire session. Finding enough food to eat was a challenge! (I’m only half joking). When my second child was born, we learned that he had food allergies and needed special formula. That was when I learned that special formula was not covered by insurance companies (whereas Viagra was!). I pushed for a bill to get special formula covered. We weren’t able to pass it successfully, but it was important for me to try.

CV: What is the accomplishment you’re most proud of as a state legislator?

“Everything stems from local government.”
 

GM: When I started in 2009, one of first bills was to make Lunar New Year a school holiday. Most people laughed at me—I didn’t get a lot of co-sponsors, and neither the city nor state leadership was on board. Fast forward to 2014, and both the mayor and governor agreed it should be a school holiday. Just four years later, students have Lunar New Year off in New York City.

A lot of the time, we propose legislation not necessarily to get it passed that year, but to lay the groundwork. Politics is unpredictable, and you never know when something will catch fire.

CV: How did you make the decision to run for Congress?

GM: It’s not the typical story: I had 24 hours to decide. My predecessor announced Thursday night he wasn’t running again, and the deadline to collect petition signatures was Saturday morning. I had never felt so overwhelmed, but the experience also gave me clarity that this was the right next step for me.

More than anything else, my experience running for New York State Assembly prepared me to run for Congress. Because I didn’t have political experience going into state legislature a few years earlier, I had had to work harder than the average candidate to gain institutional knowledge and make friends outside of my district. Once elected to State Assembly, I had to prove myself in a short period of time to do well in re-election every two years. When the opportunity came to run for Congress, I had made friends and built bridges beyond the scope of my job, and proven myself as a legislator. The alliances and bridges I built made my jump into a Congressional race easier.

CV: It must have been quite the transition going from a Democratic New York State Assembly to a Republican-dominated Congress in the year of the government shutdown. What was it like to step into a much more hostile environment?

GM: Coming from a Democratic New York Assembly, I was used to thinking of ways to help more people and build a larger tent. The move to Congress was shocking, and the shutdown in particular made me feel trapped. I couldn’t understand why Republicans would be willing to shut down the government.

We met with Representative Meng in her campaign headquarters in Flushing, Queens

We met with Representative Meng in her campaign headquarters in Flushing, Queens

What’s different now is Republicans control everything. It’s incumbent upon all of us to let the public know that. Democrats are, for once, all on message. We need to keep drilling that in.

CV: A lot of our readers ask us what they can do if their representative is a Democrat. What would your advice be?

GM: Hearing from our constituents is incredibly important. I love getting a letter or postcard, or seeing social media posts in support of what we’re doing. This isn’t just for our ego; it truly makes us feel like the people have our back and we’re doing the right thing. It also gives us a stronger argument to show people who disagree with us. In my district, 2,000 constituents called asking Congress not to repeal Obamacare and only seven people called for repeal. This gave me even greater conviction in my vote against repeal.

CV: How has your experience in New York’s State Assembly informed your job in Congress?

“I learned how important it was to bring my Asian Americanness and female identity to work with me.”
 

GM: My experience as a state legislator has been tremendously important. I always tell people, “I know where I come from.” Everything stems from local government, and anyone who says otherwise is mistaken.

Knowing how laws and policies actually affect local constituents helps me reach across the aisle and push bipartisan legislation. If I hear that my constituents in Queens are suffering from caller ID scams, I can guess that the same type of situation is happening in GOP districts. I can find examples of how my Republican colleagues’ constituents are also getting hurt and help them see value in our legislation. The bill I’m referring to was federal, but it resonates more when we frame messages as local.

CV: How does messaging need to change in the Democratic party? What would you do differently?

GM: You know, I don’t agree completely that we need to change our message. We’re not going to go into brainstorming mode and come out with a message that surprises all of us. Democrats have a message; we know what we’re fighting for. Our job is to just make sure everyone has access. That’s our guiding principle every single day. The problem is, there are many corners of the country where people didn’t hear this message; they feel like they didn’t hear from us. Democrats spend a lot on television ads, but lots of people don’t watch TV. Our methods need to change. And we need to make sure we’re reaching people in all corners of the country. Where do we start?  Locally.

Ending the Attacks on Asians

In light of recent attacks and hate crimes targeting South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Middle Eastern, and Jewish communities – including the recent shooting of two South Asian men in Olathe, Kansas and the shooting of a Sikh man in Kent, Washington – Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) Chair Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27) issued the following statement:

“The alarming number of attacks facing the South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Middle Eastern, and Jewish communities is appalling and must end. The recent shooting of Deep Rai, a Sikh American, outside of his home in Washington follows the murder of Srinivas Kuchibotla and attempted murder of Alok Madasani in Kansas. The stark parallels in these cases are undeniable. In both attacks, the assailants told the victims to go back to their country before opening fire on them.

“While both shootings are now being investigated as hate crimes, this is not enough to stymie the increase in xenophobic attacks targeting communities of color and religious minorities that we have seen since the presidential election. In fact, just last week, we learned of the fatal shooting of another Indian man, Harnish Patel, who was murdered outside of his home in Lancaster, South Carolina. While the facts of this particular case are still being investigated, it is clear that we must do more to address the surging tide of hate and the emboldened anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric plaguing our national discourse.

“This begins with President Trump and our nation’s leaders not only condemning these incidents of hate, but also moving away from the dangerous rhetoric that has enabled this violence to flourish. We must also take proactive steps to investigate and prevent future hate crimes impacting our communities. These hateful actions run contrary to our values as a nation and have no place in our society. No community should have to live in a constant state of fear in their own country.”

The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) is comprised of Members of Congress of Asian and Pacific Islander descent and Members who have a strong dedication to promoting the well-being of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. Currently chaired by Congresswoman Judy Chu, CAPAC has been addressing the needs of the AAPI community in all areas of American life since it was founded in 1994.

Our Friend Rep. Lieu Statement Regarding The Need to Investigate White House Conflicts of Interest

Today, Congressman Ted W. Lieu (D | Los Angeles County) issued the following statement regarding Republicans on the House Judiciary committee rejecting a resolution of inquiry (H. Res 111) introduced by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). The resolution directs the Department of Justice to provide the House of Representatives with information relevant to President Trump’s conflicts of interest, his potential violations of the Foreign Emoluments Clause, and ties between his advisors and the Russian regime. The full text of the Resolution of Inquiry can be found here.

“I am disheartened that House Republicans would oppose efforts to bring transparency to the Trump Administration’s ties to Russia and business conflicts.
In the past few weeks, we’ve heard of questionable interactions between Administration officials and Russian agents, yet congressional Republicans have refused to take any concrete effort to learn more about the connections. Moreover, the President has failed to adequately remove himself from his business, going so far as to host official events at his hotel. Still, Republicans have turned a blind eye to these clear conflicts of interest.”

“The American people deserve to know the truth. We also deserve elected officials who don’t shrink from their responsibilities as the people’s representatives, but do everything they can to put the interests of Americans first. Today’s debate – or lack thereof – suggests the contrary from my Republican colleagues.”

Congressman Lieu is a member of the House Foreign Affairs and House Judiciary Committees.  

Mr. Lieu is also a Veteran, an Assistant Whip for the Democratic Caucus, a Colonel in the Air Force Reserves, and 1 of 24 immigrant Members of Congress.

The People’s Vote

Asian I voted stickerIn recent weeks, U.S. Congresswoman of New York Grace Meng has proposed the 21st Century Voting Act, a bill which intends to “protect, improve, and modernize the act of voting.” According to Meng’s website as well as the language on the bill itself, the 21st Century Voting Act seeks to:

  1. Make Election Day a national holiday;
  2. Initiate automatic voter registration;
  3. Restore voting rights to formerly incarcerated persons;
  4. Make voter registration portable;
  5. Allow voting information, such as polling place and registration status, to be available online;
  6. Strengthen and streamline voting cybersecurity protections;
  7. Provide additional federal resources to state and local election boards;
  8. Establish a quadrennial review of voting in America.

In short, the act keeps in mind the protection of our voting rights and seeks to create greater accessibility to vote for all American citizens eligible to do so.

“It is way past time that Congress pass meaningful voting reform,” Meng said on her website. “It is ridiculous that in this day and age such troublesome hurdles exist that restrict access to the ballot box. My bill would address key priorities to modernizing our voting systems, including establishing automatic and portable voter registration, and making Election Day a national holiday. These commonsense reforms would allow every American the opportunity to participate in our electoral process, which is one of the hallmarks of our democracy. We must finally overhaul our disparate and complicated voting systems.”

Our right to vote is consistently explained to us as an equitable and democratic privilege that we have as American citizens—and this is true in the sense that our right to vote is founded upon such democratic principles. We are allowed to have a say in the actions of our country, and we have the power as the people of our country to elect who to grant greater powers to.

However, the issues Meng brings to light in the 21st Century Voting Act are crucial to upholding the democratic principles behind our right to vote. Despite the great ideals upon which our democracy has been founded upon, many members of American society have historically been barred from this right. Even after African Americans were technically granted the right to vote under the 15th amendment in 1870, it was not until almost a century later when the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 that they could practice that right. Prior to that, the ability to vote was basically inaccessible due to many laws that were created with the intention to indirectly keep African American citizens from voting. Poll taxes prevented citizens who could not afford to pay the tax from voting, and literacy tests prevented uneducated citizens from voting, and furthermore tended to be selectively administered to African American citizens.

While these laws have since been repealed, still many barriers remain which keep voting inaccessible to many American citizens who by all means should be able to have a say in the way in which our country is run. Unsurprisingly, marginalized communities still tend to be disproportionately be effected.

In particular, the Asian American community has been seen to have the lowest voter turnout of any racial group in the United States, according to a study of the 2010 Midterm Elections done by the Pew Research group. Of Asian Americans who did not vote, most said that they were too busy with work or school to do so. In fact, nearly forty percent cited this as their reason for not voting, a rate fifty percent higher than any other racial or ethnic group. The ease of voting Meng’s bill presents is especially crucial to the Asian American community for this reason, as this accessibility could drastically increase Asian American voter turnout. With this, the Asian American community could very well gain the voice it deserves within our government.

It also comes at a key time following our last Presidential election, after which America was labeled a partial rather than full democracy for the first time ever. As citizens, the power of our right to vote is an idea that has been entrenched in our identity as Americans itself. The philosophy of a democratic society does not function unless all members of the society are granted some voice within their government. The right to vote lies at the foundation on which our country was built, and we should make every move to uphold these rights, or strip ourselves from all of the principles that we hold to be true as Americans. But with Meng’s 21st Century Voting Act in mind, we must also remember that with our support true voting equity is possible. And so we must go forth and mobilize, and with that, I urge our congress to support Meng’s bill with the same fervor I do.

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