By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu English Editor in Chief
In November, the balance of power in Washington may come down to Mark Takano, and he’s not taking it lightly.
“It’s one of the closest races in the country, both parties are very interested and it has attracted a lot of media coverage, from Bloomberg, CNN, AP,” said Takano on Wednesday in an interview with The Rafu Shimpo.
The 51-year-old Sansei educator is in a close race against Riverside County Supervisor John Tavaglione for the newly created 41st Congressional District in Riverside. Due to redistricting, the district is 56 percent Latino and skews slightly more Democratic in what has been considered a Republican stronghold. Takano’s race is considered one that will determine which party controls the House for the next two years.
“Democrats need 25 seats and this is one of the critical, must-win seats. It’s very difficult to win without winning the 41st, which is where I am,” he noted.
“I feel very strongly that the issues are with us. My effort is now painting a contrast between me and my opponent. I’m talking to Riversiders. It’s about common-sense Riverside values versus Washington extreme ideology. It’s common sense to be for middle-class tax cuts and tax cuts on small businesses, to be for not allowing Medicare to be turned into voucher care.”
Takano cited an August poll that showed him running slightly ahead of Tavaglione, who currently serves as chair of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors and has picked up endorsements from the mayors of Riverside and Moreno Valley.
“We’re in the final stretch. I feel optimistic. The polling from last showed us leading by four points. We were at 42 percent, he was at 38, with 20 undecided,” said Takano.
Takano is one of a record 25 Asian Pacific Americans running for Congress this year. He is among three Japanese Americans non-incumbents seeking office; the others are Nathan Shinagawa, who is running for the new 23rd Congressional District in New York, and Rep. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, who is running to replace Daniel Akaka, who is retiring from the U.S. Senate. (Incumbents seeking re-election are Doris Matsui in Sacramento and Colleen Hanabusa in Hawaii.)
Takano has garnered support both locally from Little Tokyo leaders including Ernest Doizaki, Tom Iino and Henry Ota, as well as incumbent members of Congress such as Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, Rep. Judy Chu (D-San Gabriel) and Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose). Both Chu and Honda have sent staffers to volunteer with the campaign.
“The support has been very intense, almost overwhelming,” he said. “It’s recognizing the importance of a new generation of Japanese Americans to keep that representation in Congress consistent.”
If elected, Takano would make history as the first openly gay Asian American to serve in Congress. But he stressed that his sexual orientation hasn’t been an issue in the campaign.
“It will have reverberations everywhere, it will be emblematic of how far the country has moved forward, and it’s just really fascinating to see how much a non-issue it is,” said Takano. “People are far more curious and interested in what I have to say about the economy.”
Education is one of Takano’s key issues in the campaign. He is in his fifth term as a member of the Riverside Community College District’s Board of Trustees and taught in the Rialto Unified School District. Takano is supporting Proposition 30 because of the impact budget cuts would have on the state’s school systems.
“For our community college it would mean a loss of $8 million, so my board unanimously voted to endorse the governor’s proposition,” Takano said.
His parents, William and Nancy Takano, were both interned during World War II. William is a retired systems analyst and Nancy, formerly a life insurance agent, runs Designer Hand Knits, a knitting store in Riverside.
“The Japanese American, Asian American, emphasis on education has shaped me very deeply and as I get older I’m very thankful for the way in which I was raised,” said Takano. “When I was a youngster I’d have to explain the A-minus.”