Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Turkey, transition and tradition: Tony Cardenas moving from local to national political scene

Los Angeles City Councilman Tony Cardenas

Sharon McNary/KPCC

L.A. City Councilman Tony Cardenas is moving to Congress, meaning he'll represent about a half-million more constituents.

California voters are sending fourteen new members of Congress to Washington in early January. Tony Cardenas is one of them. Monday afternoon, the Los Angeles City Councilman  took a few minutes during his annual turkey giveaway for needy families to reflect on the coming change.

He'll represent his current 200,000 San Fernando Valley constituents, plus another half-million in the 29th Congressional District to which he was elected Nov. 6.

It's Cardenas' tenth consecutive year on the food distribution assembly line, handing out the frozen birds to families who were nominated to receive Thanksgiving gifts by local schools and non-profit groups. After about 20 minutes of transferring turkeys into bags and receiving the thanks of the last of the families, Cardenas' hands are chilled.

The turkey hand-out has become something of a tradition. Now Cardenas is hoping he doesn't draw the short straw in another tradition — the lottery for new members' office space on Capitol Hill.

"One office, they say, is notorious because people walk through your office to go to the bathroom, which I think is just not nice," Cardenas said.

As he concentrates on moving from local to federal government, Cardenas says he needs to let go of issues such as filling potholes and fixing street lights.

"Now, as a congressman, I have to discipline myself to understand that that's not my responsibility directly," he said. "However, I will be trying my best to make sure that various departments get grants to my community."

Cardenas sees it as returning tax funds to the community, and he's already getting requests. He told the crowd he will focus on policy issues such as creating a path to permanent residency and citizenship for immigrants.

Cardenas is taking one of his City Hall staffers with him to Washington; the rest of his D.C. staff will be people who have experience navigating the federal labyrinth.

"It's a very confusing place, literally," he said. "The tunnels are like mazes and it's hard to find the offices and find your way around. It's going to take a bit of time for me to acclimate."

Constituents such as Antonia Lamas, while thankful for the bag of food, are also focused on the bigger picture, and on what Cardenas can do for them in Washington."The most important thing," she said, "is that he get immigration laws implemented and enforced so that we all benefit."


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California's Asian-American voters include many who are undecided and nonpartisan

Party identification among Asian Americans

National Asian American Survey

A majority of California Asian-American voters choose neither Republican nor Democratic party registration.

A new study of California's Asian-American voters shows about 30 percent are undecided about the presidential race. That's a much higher rate of undecided voters than the overall population, which tends to be about 7 percent undecided.

Slightly more than half of all Asian-American voters in the state register as non-partisan, said UC Riverside political science professor Karthick Ramakrishnan.

"Asian-Americans are the most heavily immigrant group in the United States so it takes them a while to gain familiarity with the U.S. political system and figure out where they fit in with respect to the parties," Ramakrishnan said.

Another factor is that Asian-American voters receive the least amount of contact from political parties and campaigns, he said. And despite having fairly high levels of education, their turnout at the polls is among the lowest of any race or ethnic group, said Ramakrishnan.

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House vote on GOP immigration bill would allow more foreign-born grads to stay in US

Congresswoman Judy Chu

Alex Wong/Getty Images

U.S. Rep. Judy Chu of El Monte is fighting a proposed bill that would create a visa program for high-value college graduates at the expense of an existing visa program.

There are precious few hours before Congress leaves town until after the election. They still have a funding resolution to pass to keep the government going, and they'll name a few post offices. But there's also an immigration bill likely to get a vote Thursday — one sponsored by Republicans.

The bill by Republican Congressman Lamar Smith of Texas would make it easier for graduate students from foreign countries to remain in the United States after getting a degree. There's a catch: their major must be from one of the so-called "STEM" areas — science, technology, engineering, or math.  

Smith is chair of the House Judiciary Committee. His bill is designed to prevent the brain drain of foreign-born, U.S.-educated scientists and engineers who return to their home country because of the difficulty in obtaining work visas. Up to 55,000 visas would be designated for such candidates.

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