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OC Register: Jimmy Pham launches Assembly campaign days after dropping out of congressional race

By HANNA KANG | PUBLISHED: October 20, 2023 at 8:52 a.m. | UPDATED: October 20, 2023 at 9:47 a.m.

Five Democrats running against each other for a single seat was too much, thought Jimmy Pham.

So the Westminster attorney last week dropped out of the race for California’s 45th congressional district, opting to endorse one of his former primary opponents, Garden Grove Councilmember Kim Nguyen-Penaloza.

And he set his sights on a different campaign: the 70th Assembly district, officially launching his bid on Friday, Oct. 20.

California assembly district 70 candidate Jimmy Pham in Westminster, CA, on Thursday, October 19, 2023. Pham recently announced he’s dropping out of the crowded CA-45 house race to run for the state AD-70 seat. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)It took him several weeks to come to that decision, Pham said. Mentors and friends had reached out to him months ago telling him there was a need for a Democrat to run in AD-70, represented by former Westminster Mayor Tri Ta, a Republican.

“At first, I didn’t want to switch, because I was in the middle of a congressional race,” said Pham, who is of Vietnamese descent. “At that time, there were four people in the race. But when the fifth Democrat jumped in, it affected me.”

“There were now five Democrats running, and three were of Vietnamese descent,” he said. The race for CA-45, held by Rep. Michelle Steel, R-Seal Beach, has drawn several candidates, including Nguyen-Penaloza, Brea resident Aditya Pai, UC Irvine Law grad Cheyenne Hunt and attorney Derek Tran. Nguyen-Penaloza and Tran are of Vietnamese descent.

Pham said he ended his congressional campaign “to unify the party.” “Steel is going to be one of the two to advance past the primary,” he said. “So why are we fighting against each other? Why is the Democratic Party, in this instance, so divisive?”

The 70th Assembly district includes Westminster, Garden Grove, Fountain Valley, Los Alamitos, Stanton and Rossmoor, plus parts of Santa Ana and Huntington Beach. It was redrawn last year in the decennial redistricting process with the goal of ensuring much of the county’s Vietnamese community could be clustered together and retain political clout.

Nearly 40% of voters in the district are Asian, with Vietnamese Americans comprising the largest segment of that population, according to Political Data Inc.

He plans to run for re-election, he said.

“I continue to be humbled by the trust voters have placed in me to represent them in Sacramento,” said Ta. “I look forward to a spirited campaign and the opportunity to discuss the fight to improve public safety, make California affordable for all and to create real solutions to the homelessness epidemic.”

Another reason for the switch, Pham said, was that he felt the congressional race was “too much” for him at the moment. He wanted to work his way up the ladder, he said.

“If I’m going to build my political career, maybe I jump to the state level,” Pham said. “I jumped from being a city council candidate to a federal congressional seat.”

Last year, Pham ran for Westminster City Council but did not get elected.

AD-70 “is a better fit” for now, he said. “It’s a less aggressive approach in my political career in that it is more attainable … because one, it requires less money.”

Pham, who stressed money wasn’t the central factor in his decision, struggled to fundraise for his congressional campaign, raising a total of $29,890. A bulk of that came from a personal loan, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

According to the most recently available data, Ta has raised $169,481 and has $144,613 cash on hand.

“Money was a concern, but it’s also going to be a concern for the AD-70 race. The AD-70 race is not a race that’s cheap,” he said. “And I’m going to still have to fundraise and money needs to still come in.”

Pham is an Orange County native and graduate of UC Irvine, and the only one of five siblings born a U.S. citizen. He said his family escaped Vietnam in 1975 via a refugee boat and found opportunity in the U.S.

“My father became one of the first Vietnamese dentists in the United States, opened a practice on Bolsa Avenue in Westminster and was one of the founders of the Little Saigon community,” Pham said.

Pham now serves as vice chair of Westminster’s traffic commission.

Several issues he wants to tackle in Sacramento are housing affordability, public safety and homelessness.

“We’ve had (multiple) smash-and-grabs in Little Saigon recently at the Asian Garden Mall,” he said. “Public safety is an issue; people are not respecting the laws. We also have to address homelessness. Westminster has a liaison team called Be Well. They have be more active in pulling homeless off the street. Most of these homeless are wounded and need a place to go.”

For now, Pham said he’s busy tying up loose ends and kickstarting his new campaign. His campaign staff has nearly doubled since dropping out of the congressional campaign, he said.

“I do believe I can win this race,” he said. “I’m already working to fundraise and get my name out there.”


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