Young Kim Discusses the California G.O.P., After Trump

Good morning.

Almost exactly a month ago — and a full 10 days after Election Day — Young Kim became the official winner of a close, hard-fought race to represent California’s 39th Congressional District.

The race was a rematch between Ms. Kim, a Republican former state lawmaker, and Representative Gil Cisneros, who narrowly clinched the Northern Orange County-area seat as part of the 2018 “blue wave,” in which Democrats were ushered into seats that had previously been solidly in Republican hands.

[Read more from last year about why Ms. Kim decided to run again.]

The Democratic victories, particularly in Orange County, were taken as evidence of the state’s firm rejection of the president when he wasn’t on the ballot. So the rematches in 2020 were closely watched tests of the durability of leftward shifts.

The results? Well, the president lost in California by a huge margin. But Ms. Kim was among the four Republicans (including Representative Mike Garcia, who in November won a full term representing the 25th District) to narrowly recapture those seats.

[See all of California’s election results.]

Now, Ms. Kim, along with her fellow Orange County Republican Michelle Steel, will be among the first three Korean-American women in Congress. Last week, I spoke with Ms. Kim about that historic distinction, the pandemic and the California Republican Party after Trump.

Here’s our conversation, lightly edited and condensed for length and clarity:

Congratulations on the win! Tell me about what your last couple of weeks have been like.

It’s been a whirlwind. I’ve been getting all the congratulatory messages from everyone who supported me from my family and friends, relatives and communities.

The last two weeks I’ve been in Washington, D.C., and meeting my fellow freshman class. I’m just blown away by the level of qualification they bring to this class. We have a record number of Republican women in Congress and I’m especially proud to be one of them. So it’s just been a lot of getting adjusted. I won the lottery, so I got the first choice for my office.

We’ve just been very busy, since I had to wait 10 days before my race was called. I’m just glad our heads are still intact.

Talk to me about what it means to be one of the first Korean-American women elected to Congress. And what do you hope your election says about the future of the Republican Party?

It says a lot about how the times have changed. Our Republican Party has been very aggressive in recruiting quality candidates who happen to be women.

They really wanted to not just recruit us, but to provide the support we needed to get out of the primaries. Many organizations, including the Elevate PAC, in addition to the VIEW PAC and Winning for Women, have really focused on helping women Republicans run so we have more of a chance in the general elections.

It says there are efforts to grow our party by including many individuals — like me, an immigrant, a mother of four, someone who speaks different languages. They see those more as assets.

How are you thinking about the Republican Party specifically in California in the post-Trump era?

We knew in California that President Trump was not going to win. So we focused on getting our message to voters, to constituents: It’s about fixing the gridlock and not being part of the status quo, which people are sick and tired of.

They were looking for someone who can work in a bipartisan manner, and I’m focused on moving forward, healing the divide and reaching out to all community groups. You know, I’m not going to stop and say, “Did you vote for me?” I’m going to work to find common ground.

We need to agree to get additional support for our families, additional P.P.P. money for our businesses and to safely open our economy again. We need to address out-of-control health care prices so many people face every day.

This is not a Trump or Biden issue. It’s not a Young Kim or Gil Cisneros issue. That’s how I’m going to work.

You’ve said that the state’s stay-at-home orders are too restrictive and unfairly hurt small businesses. But thousands of people are dying and millions are getting sick. What do you think is an appropriate solution?

First of all, as leaders and policymakers, and the government itself, we must take a common-sense approach. So when they institute restrictions that seem too harsh, we need to talk about them. We’ve seen arbitrary rules, like those targeting nail salons, undermine public trust.

We must make individuals responsible for following guidelines and looking out for the well-being of others. So I want to see consistent guidelines and consistent policies coming from our leaders. Our governor can’t say, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

All I ask is: If it affects us, are we doing something that is reasonable?

[Catch up on California’s current restrictions.]

What would you say to people, including your constituents, who have resisted mask mandates or other public health rules?

I would say to be responsible and follow simple public health guidelines, so we can continue to function and go back to work safely.

But we needed to do it in the very beginning, without having different guidelines for different parts of the state or the counties. That’s why we’re in this situation.

But it is what it is right now, so let’s be responsible and follow these guidelines. They work only if we all work together.

Beyond the pandemic, what are your top priorities?

My first priority is making sure we get through this crisis. I will be working to secure another round of relief for families, businesses and health care systems.

And I’ll fight for business-friendly policies that will allow our businesses to be more creative and innovative.

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An Update on the Pandemic

Over the weekend, not much changed about the state of the pandemic in California, except that the things we knew were grim — dwindling hospital capacity, exhausted health care workers, terrifyingly high case counts — continued to become more so.

[Track coronavirus cases by California county.]

In the San Joaquin Valley, which is home to relatively high numbers of low-wage essential workers and has been pummeled especially hard in the pandemic, there is no intensive care unit capacity left, according to the state. Across Southern California, just 5.3 percent of intensive care unit capacity is left — and as The Los Angeles Times reported, Orange County’s hospitals are being flooded.

And yet, there are reasons for hope: Vaccines are on their way — literally.

Read more:

  • In spite of a major effort to ramp up testing, turnaround times have crept back up. [CalMatters]

  • Tribal casinos across Southern California opted to keep their doors open, even amid the new shutdown, since they don’t have to follow the state’s orders. But experts say they’re worried about rising cases. [The Desert Sun]

  • An analysis shows the pandemic’s toll on college sports. [The New York Times]

  • Even if you are vaccinated, you should still wear a mask. Here’s why. [The New York Times]

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Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.