If elected as the representative for the 34th Congressional District in California, Emory alumnus Robert Lee Ahn (98B) would be the first Korean-American U.S. congressman in 20 years.
Although this is his first time running for elected office, Ahn cited his work in the private sector as an attorney and a businessman and his experience as two-time Los Angeles city planning commissioner. In 2011, he served on the Los Angeles City Redistricting Commission and has worked on the Los Angeles City Planning Commission since 2013.
“I come from the private sector, but the reason why I ultimately decided to run was the general frustration that I’ve been feeling … with the politics as usual — professional politicians, special interests running this country,” Ahn said.
Ahn embraced his image as a political outsider, striking a stark contrast to his opponent, State of California Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez, whom Ahn deems “a creation of the political machine.”
According to Ahn, “[Gomez] has all the institutional support and is funded primarily by special interests.” Ahn’s campaign team is currently researching Gomez’s voting record to identify inconsistencies in his positions and voting.
The Korean-American community has shown an outpouring of support, according to the attorney and businessman. In a district where more than half of the voters are Latino, according to the Los Angeles Times, Ahn maintained that this race is not about Korean versus Latino, but rather centered around a political insider versus outsider.
“The Korean-American community is starved for representation, and they need a voice,” Ahn said, adding that Korean-Americans are concerned with the same issues, such as the fate of the Affordable Care Act, public safety and the homeless epidemic in Los Angeles, as any other constituent in the 34th District.
Though he has no former political experience, Ahn credited his fresh perspective as an advantage.
“I can come with an independent mind … that’s not beholden to special interests — I’m only beholden to the people of the 34th District,” Ahn said. “I bring real world experience, and that’s often lacking in our political officials.”
As a Los Angeles city planning commissioner, Ahn often collaborated with people to come to a consensus to move projects forward. He said he would bring that perseverance to Washington, D.C., “to fight for individual rights, civil rights and continue to move our country forward.”
After leaving California to attend Emory starting in 1994, Ahn found a “welcoming” and “nurturing” community that “helped foster [his] academic potential.” Ahn was involved in the BBA Council and various service projects like tutoring. He graduated in 1998 with a bachelor’s in business administration from Goizueta Business School.
Currently, 15 members, or 2.8 percent, of the 115th Congress are of Asian and Pacific Islander descent, the highest number in history, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center study. The 2015 American Community Survey estimated that 16.8 million people living in America — 5.3 percent of the U.S. population — are Asian or Pacific Islander.
Ahn and Gomez will go head-to-head for the seat this June. The special election for the congressional seat was prompted by former Congressman for the 34th District Xavier Becerra’s vacancy when he became California’s attorney general in February.