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Steel Vs. Chen: New Foes For SoCal Congressional Seat Quickly Emerge After Redistricting

Political signs dot the sidewalk outside the Asian Garden Mall in the heart of Little Saigon in Westminster during the 2020 election season.
Outside the Asian Garden Mall in Westminster during the 2020 election season. Little Saigon is part of the newly-drawn 45th Congressional District.
(Josie Huang
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California’s new political maps were certified by the Secretary of State on Monday, capping off an intense, months-long redistricting process that saw tens of thousands of Californians provide input on how voters should be grouped over the next decade.

But even before the maps were hand-delivered by the state redistricting commission, candidates had begun placing dibs on the freshly-created districts.

One of the new districts to emerge in Southern California will be among the most hotly-contested in the 2022 Congressional election.

The new 45th Congressional District straddles Orange and Los Angeles counties, stretching from Brea to Cerritos to Little Saigon in Westminster. Residents of Asian descent will account for about 37% of the voting age population ahead of other demographics: white (36%), Latino (23%) and Black (3%).

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A screenshot of a toggable map from the California Citizens Redistricting Commission showing the new 45th Congressional District outlined in fluorescent blue.
In the newly-created 45th Congressional District, Asian Americans make up the largest group of voters.
(California Citizens Redistricting Commission)

Already, two Asian American candidates have announced plans to run. Republican Michelle Steel, who lives in Seal Beach, currently represents the 48th Congressional District, which overlaps with parts of the new area she's vying for, such as Little Saigon. Steel noted she also represented some of the same communities when she served on the state Board of Equalization.

Steel will face Democrat Jay Chen of Hacienda Heights, a politician whose family emigrated from Taiwan. A Navy reservist and owner of a real estate firm, Chen leads the board of trustees for Mt. San Antonio Community College.

Before the state’s final redistricting maps were unveiled earlier this month, Chen had planned to challenge Republican Young Kim, the Congress member for the 39th District, who along with Steel in 2020 became among the first Korean American women ever elected to Congress.

Chen has run for Congress twice before in the 39th District — in 2012 and 2018. Political analysts see his latest bid as highly competitive given the close split between Republicans and Democrats in the new 45th District.

Chen's current hometown of Hacienda Heights has been drawn into the new 38th Congressional district where Latinos account for the largest share of the voting age residents (55%) with white and Asian segments of the voting population tied for second with about 20% each. U.S. Rep. Linda Sanchez, who currently represents the 38th, said she plans to run for re-election.

Chen's campaign said that he decided to run for the 45th because of long-standing ties to the area, such as the military base in Los Alamitos where he trains, and the fact that his wife grew up in Cerritos.

Steel and Chen do not live within the new district they each want to represent, which is allowed under U.S. House rules.

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But a media consultant for Chen's campaign said the candidate and his wife would consider such a move with their young family in mind.

"As the parents of two young boys who are in the middle of the school year, they're going to look at what's most appropriate for their family, while minimizing disruption to their children's education," Orrin Evans said.

Steel's campaign has not yet responded to LAist about whether she would move if elected.

The primary is in June and the general election may be nearly a year away, but both candidates are already racking up endorsements. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is backing Steel, while Chen has been added by the New Democrat Coalition Action Fund to a short listof promising candidates.

As for Chen's former would-be opponent Kim, she has now turned her sights toward the new 40th Congressional District, which includes communities she's currently representing, such as Chino Hills and Yorba Linda.

Have a question about Southern California's Asian American communities?
Josie Huang reports on the intersection of being Asian and American and the impact of those growing communities in Southern California.