Hwang throws hat in the ring for District 49
Praised as "young, energetic and willing to serve," Justin Hwang formally launched his campaign on Friday to speak for East Multnomah County at the statehouse in Salem.
The Republican owner of 19 Joy Teriyaki restaurants seeks to unseat a six-year Democratic incumbent, Rep. Chris Gorsek, for the District 49 spot representing Troutdale, Wood Village, Fairview and a portion of Gresham.
"My story is just like many others who love this country," Hwang told a crowd gathered at The Troutdale House by the Sandy River on Friday, Feb. 23, explaining that he was born in South Korea but moved here as a young child and became a naturalized citizen. "The reason was simple: To purse my American dream."
Hwang studied hospitality management before taking over the family business from his parents, who opened their first teriyaki joint in Gresham in 2003. If elected, Hwang said he wants to reduce red tape and other government rules that stifle economic growth.
The 32-year-old has embarked on a listening tour in recent days, visiting with local merchants including David Ligatich of Gresham's Biscuits Cafe, Kombi Coffee's Christopher Harvey and Jose Luis Mendez of La Mixteca in Fairview.
"There's so many regulations and policies forced by the state Legislature preventing the growth of entrepreneurs, small business owners and the low and middle classes," Hwang noted. "All the hard work we do is going to waste."
Area Republicans turned out to support Hwang, including former state Rep. Matt Wand, R-Troutdale; Rep. Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles; Sen. Chuck Thomsen, R-Hood River; and Happy Valley Mayor Lori Chavez-DeRemer.
Also in attendance was Hwang's wife of five years, Jeannie, and their close friends and acquaintances. Enjoying a plate at one table, Juan Mendoza said he met Hwang playing pickup soccer games at Buckman Field Park in Northeast Portland.
"He's a pretty cool guy. He cares about everyone," Mendoza said.
As for his soccer skills?
"He's all right," Mendoza demurred while laughing. "I can't lie."
The night was not without its fault-finding of Rep. Gorsek, with some in the crowd saying they did not think the Mt. Hood Community College educator attended enough local events.
Joe Teeny, chair of the Reynolds School Board, criticized Gorsek for sponsoring a bill this session that allows teachers' unions to discuss class sizes during collective bargaining.
Teeny said he and outgoing Reynolds Superintendent Linda Florence had called on Gorsek to fight for more funding for the district, but that the representative said he had to support whatever came out of committee.
"He leaned back in his chair, threw his hands in the air and said, 'You've got the wrong guy,'" Teeny recalled. "The greatest threat to our educational system is our state legislator."
As previously reported, Gorsek has applied to be president of MHCC and would be required to vacate his seat if selected.
Hwang has never held elected office, but serves as a Mt. Hood Community College Foundation board member and belongs to the Gresham Chamber of Commerce. Visit Hwang's campaign website at www.justinhwang.org.