Takano Would Be Poised to Become First Out Congressman of Color
Peter DelVecchio

Democrat Mark Takano has embarked on a campaign that, if successful, will make him the first out gay person of color to sit in the U.S. House of Representatives. Takano, a 51-year-old Japanese-American, is running to represent the newly created 41st Congressional District, which includes the cities of Riverside, Moreno Valley, Perris, Jurupa Valley and the unincorporated area of Mira Loma. The new, diverse district leans Democratic, even if its communities are not generally known for progressive politics.

Takano believes he would be the best person for the job, noting that he “was born and raised in this District.”

“I remember the smog alerts while growing up,” Takano told Frontiers in a recent email interview, “and know the value of government action to clean up the air. More needs to be done.”

Takano also noted his commitment to public education. ”I attended public schools,” he said, “and because of the good public education I received, I was able to attend Harvard College. I returned to my community to serve as a teacher in a low-income school district. The Inland Empire suffers from some of the highest dropout rates and some of the lowest college-going rates.”

Takano explained that when he was elected to the Riverside Committee College Board in 1990, he helped guide the college district through a recession and “had to open new campuses during [a] time when, as now, people were walking [away] from their mortgages.”

Takano also believes he would be the best representative because of his familiarity with the district. “I am the only candidate in this race who has represented nearly all of the residents in the 41st Congressional District, and I know the communities that comprise it. I understand the history of this area, having lived here nearly all my life. It is a diverse district. I understand the challenges facing its people and I believe in their potential.”

Takano thinks being a member of two minority groups would be a distinct advantage in Congress. “I believe being Japanese-American and gay has given me a double awareness of what it means to be vulnerable,” he explained. “The truth is we are all vulnerable when we allow injustice, inequality or oppression to prevail with any group. Martin Luther King said it best when he said ‘an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.’ Being gay and Japanese-American will allow me to speak with authority about protecting civil liberties and freedom and striving for full equality.”

Takano’s parents and grandparents were among the Japanese-Americans interned by President Franklin Roosevelt during World War II, a shameful chapter in American history that directly affected Takano. “Growing up, I went through a process of taking ownership of my family’s history,” he said. “Recently, I had the poignant experience of viewing the contract of sale for land that my paternal grandmother owned in Bellevue, Wash.”

Takano’s grandmother lost the property because she could not pay property taxes while interned. “I was in my early 20s when I watched the United States Congress pass the redress bill for Japanese-Americans and President Reagan signed it,” Takano said. “It officially apologized for the wrongs committed against Americans of Japanese descent and made a token compensation of $20,000 for those interned. This action made me think what a great country I lived in and gave me hope it could do right by other groups of people it has wronged. This is why I believe we can repeal DOMA [the Defense of Marriage Act], pass ENDA [the Employment Non-Discrimination Act] and legislation protecting LGBT young people from school bullying.”

If elected, Takano said his “top priority will be to pass a jobs bill,” noting that the new district “suffers from 15 percent unemployment” and that “economic distress poses a threat to vulnerable minorities and the LGBT community in particular.” He also hopes “to lay the ground for marriage equality and nondiscrimination laws in the workplace.”

Takano is pleased with President Obama’s record on LGBT issues. “Repealing DADT was a huge accomplishment,” he said. “He has done a lot with his use of executive orders to help the LGBT community. It is important that he be re-elected to appoint fair-minded jurists to the federal bench, appellate courts and the Supreme Court. I believe he will be on the right side of the fight for marriage equality. Now is not the time to undervalue what the president has done. It would not have occurred under a Republican president.”

This is not Takano’s first congressional campaign. In 1992, he lost by fewer than 550 votes in California’s 43rd District to Republican Ken Calvert and ran unsuccessfully again for the seat in 1994.

Takano sees his chances as much improved this time. “Now, I have a much better district,” he said. “It is far more diverse, and I can feel that people in my area are hungry for change from the 20 years of Republican representation.” Additionally, as of yet, he has no Democratic primary challengers.

In 1994,Takano said, his “opponent sent out mailers implying [Takano] would make a better representative for San Francisco rather than Riverside.” He expects no such tactics now. “I think times have changed because of the hard work of many LGBT organizations,” he said. “The bar for what is acceptable behavior in campaigns has been raised.”

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