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Orange County’s six new state and federal representatives begin transition to their new roles

They need to find part-time housing in new cities. They have offices to open and staff members to hire. Some have full-time jobs to quit.

Orange County just voted to send two new congress members to Washington, D.C. and four new state legislators to Sacramento. While these six new representatives won’t officially start work until their legislative sessions reconvene in January, all are already transitioning to their new roles.

“The last week has been like drinking from a fire hose,” said Congresswoman-elect Michelle Steel, R-Seal Beach, of attending freshmen orientation in D.C.

Steel has held a state seat before and is a current county supervisor. But her win in the 48th House District marks her first time holding federal office, which means learning a whole new legislative process.

It’s also a whole new world in particular for State Senator-elect Dave Min, D-Irvine, who just won the 37th District and his first elected office.

“I’m still figuring out how to get around when we’re in session,” Min said, expressing his thanks for a senate “boot camp” last week that went over everything from how to get health insurance to how to introduce a bill in the State Senate.

GOP Assemblywoman-elect Laurie Davies is serving as mayor of Laguna Niguel until Dec. 1, but will head to Sacramento for the first time to represent the 73rd District.

“It’s been pretty busy,” acknowledged Davies, who owns a wedding planning firm. “I am working to tie up some loose ends with my business, as well as hire staff and find a place to live.”

For the other half of O.C.’s new cohort, the process — and sometimes the city — isn’t unfamiliar.

Congresswoman-elect Young Kim, a Republican from La Habra who won the 39th District, learned to navigate D.C. as a longtime staffer for former CA-39 Rep. Ed Royce. She also attended freshmen House orientation in 2018, when early results showed her leading Rep. Gil Cisneros, D-Yorba Linda, only to lose the seat after all votes were counted.

“This time I told them I wasn’t going to Washington, D.C. until I knew the race was over,” Kim said, able to laugh about the mishap now that she’s won the seat by more than 4,000 votes.

Democratic State Sen.-elect Josh Newman of Fullerton was first elected to the 29th District in 2016, was recalled from the seat in 2018, and won it back this month. And Assemblywoman-elect Janet Nguyen, a Republican from Fountain Valley who won the 72nd District, was previously a state senator.

Both Newman and Nguyen said not much has changed in terms of adjusting to their new roles. Newman said he’s already been able to lock down an apartment three blocks from the capitol, in the same building where he lived during his abbreviated first term. And he attended a compressed legislative orientation via Zoom, since he didn’t need to be shown around the statehouse.

Still, they’re all navigating this transition during a global pandemic, which meant House members took their welcome dinners to go and state legislators were told not to speak with the drivers who picked them up from the airport. But all of the newly elected representatives said they felt comfortable with the safety protocols in place.

“I felt as safe as possible during these times,” Nguyen said.

Newly elected Orange County Assembly members Janet Nguyen, center, of the 72nd District, and Laurie Davies, right, of the 73rd District, pose at the state capitol with Assemblywoman-elect Suzette Valladares of AD-38. The women attended orientation in Sacramento this week. (Photo courtesy of Janet Nguyen)

None of Orange County’s new representatives are taking over for someone who voluntarily left the seat. That means they all have to coordinate the transition with the office of a politician they just defeated — sometimes in very heated elections.

Kim said she had a very pleasant conversation with Cisneros when he called to concede the race. They discussed both making it a No. 1 priority to transition any pending case work from constituents, such as CA-39 residents who’ve asked for help with veteran benefits or unemployment claims, so that work can keep moving forward.

Min said he’s had two similarly good conversations with GOP State Sen. John Moorlach, who also posted on social media about committing to a smooth transition for the more than 100 open constituent cases in SD-37, which Min said he really appreciates.

“That’s something we’re not seeing a national level,” Min said, referencing President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede to President-elect Joe Biden.

Min just wrapped up teaching his last class on contract law at UC Irvine and still has to finish administering finals and grades as the semester closes out. One question he was still trying to get answered was when he had to officially quit his job at the university, since he’ll be sworn into office Dec. 7. He’s been told he can’t be an employee of a state university at the same time he’s a legislator. Either way, he said he’s committed to finishing out the semester for his students.

State Senator-elect Dave Min, D-Irvine, during orientation for newly elected members at the state capitol in Sacramento on Nov. 13, 2020. (Photo by Lorie Shelley, Senate Rules Photographer)

Kim said a couple factors will ease her transition into the new role.

One is that her daughter lives in Fairfax County, Va., just across the river from D.C. So Kim said she can stay there if needed while she takes her time finding a place to live in the area.

The second is that she’s longtime friends with Steel, who, along with Congresswoman-elect Marilyn Strickland, D-WA, will join her in becoming the first Korean American women in the House. Steel and Kim’s parents actually taught together in South Korea before they immigrated to the United States. And Kim said she and Steel coincidentally gave birth to their daughters a few months apart, and the pairs remain friends to this day. So Kim said she has an ally to learn the ropes with, and to partner with on legislation down the road.

“Maybe God wanted me to be patient and come to Washington, D.C. with my sister at the same time,” Kim said, putting a positive spin on her 2018 loss.

WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 13: Congresswoman-elect Michelle Steel (R-CA) arrives at the U.S. Capitol on November 13, 2020 in Washington, DC. Newly elected members of the House of Representatives are attending orientation at the U.S. Capitol today following the 2020 elections. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

Most of the newly elected members said they’re still interviewing potential staff members and holding decisions close to the vest as they finalize plans. Kim is looking for staffers who understand the district’s needs, Nguyen for people with with experience and a shared vision, and Min wants people who will connect with and reflect the diversity of the 37th Senate District.

Newman confirmed he’s hired his campaign manager, Marc Hanson, as his chief of staff. And he’s keeping on four more young people from his campaign to work in his district office.

His first priority in office will be renewing funding for the North Orange County Public Safety Task Force, a 10-city program he piloted during his first term to get at root causes of homeless, youth violence and people returning to prison.

Kim’s first planned act in Congress is what she hopes will be a bipartisan effort to introduce a resolution celebrating Korean American Day, just as she did for California when she was a state Assembly member. Next will be trying to pass another round of financial relief to support people and businesses that are struggling during the pandemic.

Steel said meeting with other House members has given her renewed faith in the future of the nation.

“Seeing members of both parties coming together for the right reasons is a reminder of what I was elected to do – work to end the gridlock, fight for lower taxes, and get good things done for our community and our country.”

Source: Orange County Register

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