By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
GARDENA — To drum up support for a veteran member of Congress running in a new district, a group of mostly Japanese American community leaders held a reception on Aug. 9 at the New Gardena Hotel.
Rep. Maxine Waters, a Democrat who was first elected to the House in 1990, currently represents the 35th Congressional District but is now running in the 43rd Congressional District due to redistricting.
Mike Murase, a member of the host committee and former district director for Waters, explained, “Ten years ago the congresswoman represented southern parts of Los Angeles. Then she also got Gardena, Hawthorne, Lawndale, Westchester. So if you live in the city of Gardena, she’s been representing you for 10 years already.
“This year she also added … the whole city of Torrance east of Hawthorne Boulevard, and Lomita, Harbor Gateway and some other portions of the South Bay. So one of the purposes is to introduce you to her if you are from the new part of her district and for you to get to know her.”
The new district’s population is 46 percent Hispanic, 24 percent African American, 15 percent white, and 12 percent Asian.
In the general election, some of the local congressional races will be between members of the same party. In the 43rd, Waters will face off against fellow Democrat Bob Flores after beating him in the June primary, 65.4 percent to 34.6 percent.
As a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Waters “doesn’t represent just her district but all over the country, African Americans look to her as a leader,” said Murase, adding, “For progressive people, other minorities, whether it’s … opposing the war in Iraq and Afghanistan or a number of causes that are important to us, to seniors, to youth, to women, she’s been a champion for over 30 years.”
Waters also had high praise for Murase, who worked for her for 13 years: “Mike is multitalented and very versatile. He did my scheduling for years … But not only that, he’s a fine graphic artist. He is a fine computer specialist. He understands public policy. He’s a great writer. And even though Mike is not working for me now … I call on him anyway.”
Explaining why she continues to run for office, Waters said that she addressed local and state issues during her 14 years in the Assembly and had an opportunity to serve at the national level when Rep. Augustus Hawkins retired. In the House, one of her first assignments was to the Banking Committee. “So I’ve been there all of these 21 years, and I’ve now arrived at a place where I have the highest seniority on the Democratic side of the aisle. Barney Frank (of Massachusetts), who had the most seniority, is retiring. And it puts me in good position to be able to be chair of the Financial Services Committee …
“We have the responsibility for developing public policy as it relates to all of Wall Street, all of the banking institutions in America, all of the credit unions … If I’m fortunate enough to be able to chair that committee, I think that I can do a lot to help foster reform where it needs to be, provide consumer protection for the citizens of this country, and help avoid another subprime meltdown and the recession that it caused.”
In the area of government assistance, Waters said, “We must save Social Security as we know it. There was a big fight in Congress (when) the Republicans … decided we needed to change Social Security and basically put it in the hands of Wall Street. For those of us who care so much about our seniors and their ability to have a decent quality of life, not only did we push back on it, we fought very hard and we won.”
After the milestone of Barack Obama’s election in 2008, she said, “in 2010 people did not go back to the polls in the same way, and guess what happened? … The Tea Party came in with a different kind of mission. Their mission was to cut, cut, cut, cut, cut. Not evaluate, not set priorities … They basically made a pact that they were coming to dismantle government, and it has been extremely difficult. The president has not been able to advance programs in the best interests of the people because he’s been blocked at every turn by the House of Representatives.”
Waters defended “Obamacare”: “The Tea Party and some of our more conservative elements … have frightened a lot of people, and particularly our seniors. They have misdefined how health-care reform is going to work. They have our seniors believing there are going to be ‘death panels’ who are going to decide whether or not they live or die … The Supreme Court has ruled that health-care reform is not unconstitutional and that health-care reform can go forward. And now I think we have an opportunity to see how we can provide protection and health care for all Americans no matter what station you are in life.”
On the issues of taxes, Waters stated, “We’re trying to make sure that everybody pays their fair share and that rich people not get away with paying less than the middle class and working people … Are we going to go the way of those who think that it’s all right to give tax breaks to the richest one percent in this country while the middle class and working people are paying way more, 30, 35 percent?”
Waters summed up by saying, “All we’re talking about is … a country that helps people to realize their full potential as human beings and have a decent quality of life. And we can do that with good, sound public policy, with people who are there to do the people’s business … not simply there because it’s an upward mobility opportunity.”
Arlene Inouye, treasurer of United Teachers of Los Angeles, thanked Waters for “fighting for neighborhoods and schools when we’ve had takeovers and where we’ve had privatization where they want to make a profit on the backs of our students.”
Waters noted that in February she took part in a Day of Remembrance program at the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute, at the invitation of Executive Director Allison Kochiyama. “I spoke about the need to remember the mistake of Executive Order 9066, where our president sent 120,000 people, most of them American citizens, to incarceration camps because of their ethnic heritage …
“In June, I was also very moved to participate in the presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal, one of our nation’s highest civilian honors, to members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and Military Intelligence Service for their outstanding service to our country during World War II, even while many members of their families were unconstitutionally incarcerated.”
George Nakano, chair of the Go For Broke National Education Center and former member of the Assembly, thanked Waters for taking part in the Little Tokyo ceremony. Photographer Gary Miyatake brought a panoramic shot that he took of the veterans and dignitaries during the ceremony. He asked Waters to sign copies of the photo and attendees to purchase them by writing checks to Go For Broke.
“In addition to how spectacular the service was, I have to tell you I was quite impressed because we had a lot of people from Gardena there and they knew me,” Waters recalled.
Waters was also complimented by Wilbur Sato of the Gardena Valley Democratic Club and Kelly Fujio, director of the Gardena Recreation and Human Services Department.
“The congresswoman was so instrumental in our public safety initiative, raising probably half the money for that to help keep our parks safe, our streets safe,” said Fujio. “… She’s also been so instrumental in trying to push forward our senior citizen day care center.”
Assemblymember Warren Furutani talked about the changing district lines: “I think politically, behind the scenes, people have been trying to move her away from her base, so they’ve moved her from South Central, they tried to move her west into Westchester (and) south into Gardena. Ten years ago we had a program similar to this one where we were introducing Maxine to Japanese Americans and others in Gardena, and now we’re into Torrance.
“They keep thinking that if they move Maxine farther from the black community, she’s going to lose her base. But what they don’t realize is that Maxine’s base is not an African American base, Maxine Waters’ base is the people. They happen to be made up of Latinos, African Americans, whites, Asian Pacific Islanders.”
Furutani thanked Waters for endorsing him every time he has run for office, from his successful school board campaign in 1987 to his unsuccessful bid for the L.A. City Council earlier this year. Although she knew he faced a tough battle against an opponent who had strong support in San Pedro, “she doesn’t make a business decision, she makes a decision from her heart and from her soul,” he said. “She said we can bring these other communities together and counterbalance the weight of another part of the district which was obviously going in one direction …
“I’ve walked precincts with Maxine many times, knocked on doors, and it’s amazing the kind of reception she gets from people. People love her, people respect her, and people know that maybe they’re not going to agree with her on everything, but they know that on the big things, the most important things, she’s a champion.”
He emphasized, “The only way to get something done in Congress is knowing the chairperson and having seniority. It would be stupid for us not to have Maxine Waters, who’s on the threshold of becoming the chair of the Banking Committee, and if there’s a number one issue in the United States, it’s got to be the issue of finance and banking.”
The upcoming election is part of “an ideological battle (over) what government should do and who it should serve,” Furutani said. “… Whenever somebody talks about taxing the rich, they immediately say … ‘You’re trying to wage war on the rich.’ They never talk about the class warfare that’s been going on for decades when they’ve been attacking the poor … We need to make sure that the basic tenets of democracy are upheld … That’s why we need Maxine Waters.”
Furutani asked everyone to “give what you can to Maxine” to help offset corporate donations to super PACs (political action committees). “The Supreme Court has already ruled corporations can give any amount of money because it’s considered freedom of speech … When it comes down to it, super PACs are not people, individuals giving to people we want to represent us in our government.”
Since he has chosen not to run for a third term in the Assembly, Furutani suggested, “What you might have been willing to give to me … give it to Maxine.”
At the state level, “we need to get Albert Muratsuchi elected to the Assembly to follow in the footsteps of George Nakano and (Sen.) Ted Lieu,” he said. “I’m leaving in November, but I keep thinking about what would have happened in 1941, ’42, if we had a Japanese American in the California State Legislature or representing us in Congress when they tried to put us all in camp.”
Waters thanked Furutani for his support and added, “This may not be the political thing to do or to say, but doesn’t Warren look fantastic? Warren has lost 50 pounds. Give him a big round of applause.”
Waters was accompanied by her husband, former U.S. Ambassador to the Bahamas Sidney Williams, and her district director, Blanca Jimenez. Other city officials in attendance included Gardena City Councilmembers Ron Ikejiri and Dan Medina and Gardena Planning and Environmental Quality Commissioner Art Kaskanian.