OAKLAND, California — In a David-and-Goliath battle, a relatively little known but gutsy political newcomer, a Filipina American, is challenging a veteran incumbent for the 14th District of California’s Congressional seat.
The challenger, Cristina Osmeña, is a member of the famous Osmeña political clan in Cebu that boasts a former Philippine President (great grandfather Sergio), ex-senators (including father, Serge, of “the great escape from detention during Martial Law”) congressmen and countless local politicians.
“I want voters to think that the odds are against me. I have the element of surprise on my side. I want to be underestimated. This type of situation appeals to me,” explained Osmeña when asked about her run against Rep. Jackie Speier.
“I am actually running now as an immigrant. That will be one of my attributes. I am an immigrant and a political refugee. It is front and center in how I am describing myself, which is absolutely true. Republicans adore the Founding Fathers and the flag and freedom. These ideas don’t have a skin color. That’s why I am their candidate here—me, a little brown immigrant woman.”
Pushed into action
Osmeña intimated that the idea of running for office was originally brought up by a mentor, businessman Gerald Gold, who was “very important to me in my industry,” she said. While toying with this idea of running, she got into spirited discussions with people where “there was a lot of stereotyping of immigrants.” This pushed her to action.
“I was advised when I went to Washington, DC, that minorities think that Republicans do not like them. It’s just not true, and there’s just nobody there to stop this impression. And if you can go out and reverse this impression, I was told, ‘You would be doing us a favor.’”
A large portion of the Republican Party, most of it, hopes that minorities understand that the racist outbursts of small groups in distant places do not speak for the party as a whole. If I accomplish just that in this run for Congress, I would consider it a success,” Osmeña explained.
She further said she would like to bridge the gap between the Republicans and minorities in the 14th District of California’s where minorities are now the majority.
GOP not one-sided
“The Republican party has a wide array of ideas and so you have many people from different sides that have competing ideas. For example, the issue on deferred action on childhood arrivals (DACA), the Republicans are split 50-50 that they are arguing with each other. For me, DACA should pass.”
Osmeña sympathizes with the Dreamers. She had to get political asylum herself when she was six years old.
“And by the time Cory Aquino came to power, we were still on political asylum and it was not until a year later that I was given a green card. I went back to the Philippines briefly after Cory came to power for a year and a half and felt very separated from this country. I felt like this was my country. And to actually not be allowed to stay in the United States and somehow have this artificial piece of paper telling me I was not an American would have broken my heart,” Osmeña’s voice broke.
“I think that if you grow up here and were acculturated as an American, you are an American. I will draw the line on DREAMers who have not followed the letter of the law, who committed crimes, serious crimes. That is because I will be tough on crimes in general. I very much sympathize with the DREAMers.”
Wants DACA compromise
She said a compromise bill giving the path to legal status for the DREAMers coupled with funding for the border wall is a reasonable compromise.
On her political run, Osmeña strongly believes that one of her advantages is that she can do the job with a higher level of energy.
“The incumbent (Speier) is 68-years-old. The Democrats that are now in positions like Nancy Pelosi (78 years old) and Anna Eshoo (74 years old) are getting kind of ossified. They are getting way past the retirement age. It is becoming evident in the level of energy that is being expended on the job. The other thing is that I do have twenty years of experience in the financial market, trying to predict economic trends, so I feel that my judgment can be trusted.”
“I think she could have had better attendance–her absence rate, according to vocativ.com, is 10.8%, the seventh worst attendance record in Congress,” Osmeña says of Speier. “She has missed 545 votes out of five thousand. More important, I think in terms of constituent services, lawmakers from Bay Area districts should be leveraged by the immigrant population. A member of Congress has the ability to facilitate a visa application, following up after papers are filed. Those who need help with their visas should be able to contact their Congressperson for an expedited process,” contended Osmeña.
Big picture person
Asked on why she, a political newcomer, has ventured to run for a higher position and not for a local position, she said the positions she’s was eligible for are not interesting to her. “The town where I live does not have interesting problems and does not pose much challenge. Because of my training and career, I gravitate towards problems that analyze the big picture. I am ready to do the job of a legislator.”
Osmeña is a University of California-Berkeley graduate in English. She worked for investment banks for 10 years, including at Hambrecht & Quist, Needham & Company, Jefferies & Company where she was Managing Director of Equity Research and part of the startup technology team.
She was also named one of three Best on The Street Analysts by the Wall Street Journal for stock picking in 2004.
In 2005, after having children, (she has four, including two stepchildren), she went to the investment management side for 10 years working for different firms as an analyst and fund marketer. She then transitioned to the solar industry where she has been over the last four years.
She volunteered at SunEdison Foundation where she oversaw the design, build and installation of an off grid island electrification clean energy plant that powered a school of 200 grade school children in the Philippines. She is currently on leave from a specialty solar module supplier, SunPreme, as VP of Corporate Development
Against human trafficking
Owmeña is married to Stephen O’Rourke, an executive in the renewable energy industry and former Naval officer, graduate of United States Naval Academy and veteran of the first Gulf War stationed on the U.S.S. Simon Bolivar, a ballistic missile submarine. She is also a columnist for the Philippine News and a frustrated writer of fiction.
“One of my priorities would be to address human trafficking and labor exploitation, to raise awareness and identify cases as I know that they are a lot more plentiful than even what we see and that statistics report. It is criminal. Anybody, whether or not they are legal, should be paid the minimum wage or better for working here. Anything below that is a huge insult to our society.
“Somebody that is being abused, sleeping in the bathroom and being paid pennies on the dollar is a victim of a crime that should be spotted. The process by which these victims are discovered and that the perpetrators are brought to justice needs to be refined by introduction of laws to make it easier for the victims to report abuses. We need victims to be emboldened to have their stories documented. Give them more amnesties to be able to reports the abuses done to them,” Osmeña stressed.
She understands that one of the most pressing concerns of her district is housing affordability.
“There is some hope that the recently passed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 may bring more supply of rentals into the market. The cap on the SALT deduction, which includes property taxes, makes empty homes more expensive to keep empty. Ultimately, we need more supply and we need a population that will accept higher density living. Many of these solutions are the jurisdiction of local governments, but I think the Federal government could provide assistance, such as down payment assistance, for first time homebuyers,” Osmeña suggested.
Tax cuts, frugal government
“And, of course, I would like to continue the good fight of returning more of the taxes to the taxpayers and acquainting the government with a more frugal existence.”
Osmeña was quick to admit that typically the incumbent has a 99% chance of reelection. But she was optimistic that her odds will rise partly because “it is a tired group of legislators that are in office now.” She believes time is on her side, being much younger than the incumbent.
“Filipinos represent 1 to 1½% of the population in this country. Essentially, we have no one in Congress. We should have four to six congressmen of Filipino descent. The 14th district is one of the most Filipino districts in the country, but why aren’t we running a Filipino against the incumbent? There should be a Filipino or a Latino representing this district,” contended Osmeña.
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