Earlier this month, I interviewed Assemblywoman Lin Ling Chang, who is running in the 29th Senate District (her opponent is Josh Newman, whom I interviewed in August). Here is Part 1 of the interview.
Matthew Cunningham: Give me the quick Ling Ling Chang bio of where you grew up, what got you interested in politics, and led to city council and so forth?
Ling Ling Chang: My family and I immigrated here when I was 3 years old, and my parents just wanted a better life here, a better life for their kids. I grew up in the district, and we were in the city of Walnut until 5th grade, then I moved to Diamond Bar. All within the area, and I still haven’t moved far.
I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined being here today. I was fortunate enough to have met some really good people, people who were in politics for the right reasons, and I realized that if you were there for the right reasons, you can totally make a difference. I got my start on the Diamond Bar Community Foundation, and from there I got appointed to the parks and recreation commission, and then people were encouraging me to run for Walnut Valley Water District board, because there was an issue on the water board where they were misusing funds. I ran and defeated a 21 year incumbent through that defeat, and became president my second year. I gained the respect of my colleagues and they made me president of the board the next year. Served a full term there, then there was an open seat on the Diamond Bar city council in 2009, so I ran for city council and won, then became mayor from 2011 to 2012.
I really love being effective. I love the work, I hate the attention. It’s odd. People ask why I’m politics since attention kind of gives me anxiety, but I love the work. I feel like I’ve been effective in a way that others haven’t been. On the city council, I was able to accomplish something that council members for over 20 years have been trying to do, and I did it.
MC: What’s that?
LLC: Getting the post office to change their codes. Diamond Bar shared a zip code with Walnut, and council members and the city had been been trying for years to get Diamond Bar its own ZIP code. I did some research and found out there is a postal service subcommittee under the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. But no one at the city had ever contacted this subcommittee.
So, I paid my own way to DC to meet with the postal service subcommittee. I had a 2008 Congressional Research Service report as back up, and and met with the postal service government liaison. I asked her to explain why this should be so difficult. The delivery routes don’t change – you just change the ZIP code. You can do that on an Excel spreadsheet.
Long story short, I made sure I had adequate data to counter whatever excuses they could come up with. I said to them, “We have a whole stack of excuses that you guys have given us over the years. Every single one’s different, okay? Mind you, the Dodger Stadium has its own zip code, and I feel like if your rationale and your reasoning for not being able to change the zip code is correct and true, then you wouldn’t have different excuses almost every single year.”
They really had no response and finally agreed to give Diamond Bar its own ZIP code. It was matter of just doing the work, doing the homework.
Next thing I know, people are urging me to run for the Assembly. I’m like, “Okay, all right, let me think about it.” Senator Huff was one of those who strongly encouraged me, and eventually decided to run. It was a bloody, bloody, bloody primary.
MC: That was against Phillip Chen, right?
LLC: That was with Phillip Chen, yes. It was a very interesting situation in that you had two, younger Asian-American Republicans running against each other, and I ended up winning. After I won the primary, I was in a great position to help other Republican candidates like Young Kim. It earned how me leadership position in the caucus, right when I was sworn in.
MC: When did you decide to run for the state Senate?
LLC: Again, a number of people urged me to look at running but also cautioned it would be a tough race and ‘d be giving up a safe Assembly seat. The demographics in the 29th Senate District have been shifting. It’s one of the most ethnically diverse Senate seats in the state, and it’s gone from a +4 Republican to a +1 Dem seat this year.
MC: You’re considered an effective legislator even though Republicans are in the minority in the state legislature. Why is that?
LLC: Thank you for asking that. It’s funny – [former Assemblyman] Curt Hagman and others told me, “You’re doing such a great job as a councilmember. Why would you want to go to Sacramento and be irrelevant as a Republican?”
I said, “Well if everyone thought that way, nothing’s ever going to change.” I have to say I’m very proud of both sides of the aisle of the legislative class of 2014. A lot of us came from local government. And when you are operating at the local government level, you tend to be problem-solving and issues focused. Partisan politics play less of a role. All of us were thrown into this partisan place and were trying to navigate it, but some of us believe in building relationships, and friendships, regardless of party. That’s what I did.
I’ve gotten to know my legislative colleagues and they’ve come to respect me as a person. I wasn’t a bomb thrower. I haven’t been one of those people who is just going to say “no.” I’ll sit down with somebody and be completely honest with them. You can build relationships and friendships without sacrificing your values. TechNet did an analysis of legislators’ voting records, and I was rated the fourth most conservative vote in the Republican caucus, but I’m friendly and respectful and able to work effectively across the aisle. That’s all it is.
I’m not going to name names, but there are some of my colleagues in the caucus who could do a much better job at that. It’s not like you’re sacrificing anything to be a Democrat’s friend. It doesn’t mean you have to vote with them, or vote for their bills. It’s just being friendly. When you introduce a bill, most of the time it would be like, “Oh, man, do I want to vote against her bill?” You see some of that, or you call them and say, “Hey, I want to talk to you about my bill. Let me explain to you why this is a common sense measure,” and they’ll most likely be on your side if you’re not some crazy person.
MC: Tell me about some of your legislative accomplishments.
LLC: One thing I’ve focused on his helping our veterans. They’re really to lay down their lives for our liberty, and it’s important we’re there for them. AB 388 was one of the first bills I got signed by the governor. It’s purpose is providing accountability for Prop 41 funding to homeless veterans. We want to protect those funds and ensure their used effectively, the right way, to help homeless veterans. That was one of my very first bills, in the first 7 months in office, I got signed by the governor.
MC: What else?
LLC: The sharing economy, or the innovation economy, is another area of focus. Crazy as it sounds, but state employees couldn’t use sharing economy services like Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb while on state business.
MC: There weren’t allowed?
LLC: The law was silent, so when the law is silent, they weren’t allowed to use it.
MC: So if they were on state business, they’d have to use a taxi?
LLC: Yes. I heard about state workers submitting reimbursements that would be rejected. So introduced legislation to permit it – AB 229. I thought, “Okay, this is going to be a simple, right?”
And it did sail through the Assembly and through Senate committees, but when it got to the Senate floor, that’s when the unions started paying attention. It was two days before the last day of session, and I had to get three floor passes to run to the Senate side to defend my bill, because I got a call from the senate Republican caucus, saying, “Hey, the Dems are caucusing on your bill. What is going on? We thought this was a simple bill,” and I said, “I’ll tell you what’s going on! The unions came in last minute and opposed this. They sent opposition letters, and now the Dems are trying to kill it.”
MC: What would they have against it?
LLC: Generally speaking the unions are often hostile to sharing economy services because they’re not unionized.
Anyway, I worked the floor like nobody’s business, asking Democrats to support it, and they ended up voting for it. It got sent to the governor’s desk, and he signed it. Some of my Democrat friends ask how I did it, since even their sharing economy bills got held up in committee.
I’m also proud that it served as a model for federal legislation. Congressman Issa is the co-chair of the Sharing Economy Caucus. It’s a bipartisan caucus. They are using my bill as the basis federal legislation. It’s one of the five bills that I got signed by the governor in my first year.