Newcomer Hwang challenges third-term incumbent for House seat
What Justin Hwang sees as a lack of leadership from the current representative for House District 49 inspired him to run for the seat.
Hwang, a Fairview resident nominated as the district's Republican candidate in the Primary Election in May, will face Mt. Hood Community College incumbent Chris Gorsek, D-Troutdale, in the Nov. 6 General Election.
District 49 includes the communities of Troutdale, Wood Village, Fairview and parts of Gresham and Northeast Portland.
A Korean native, Hwang immigrated to the United States when he was 4 years old.
In 2003, Hwang opened Korean restaurant Joy Teriyaki, with his father. They started using his grandmother's recipe, and Hwang, now 33, has now opened 12 more locations in the Portland metropolitan area. If elected to the House, it will be Hwang's first public service position.
The Outlook recently met with Hwang at his campaign office to discuss his priorities if he wins in November.
THE OUTLOOK: Why are you running for election?
JUSTIN HWANG: I think we've been missing leadership for the past six years, and it feels like nothing is getting better. It feels like we're missing opportunities with all these bad burdensome regulation policies, and I think my opponent votes along party lines almost 95 percent plus. He's an educator, and I was wondering where's our representation. (Gorsek is) an educator at Mt. Hood Community College, and I don't think our community college is equally treated. The community college is the backbone of this community, and I'd like to bring in more funds for our community college.
Let's say this: A good idea is a good idea, regardless of the party line, and we need someone who can work on both sides of the aisle who is pushing those good ideas. So that's why I'm running.
OUTLOOK: Do you think it's an uphill battle running as a Republican in a pretty blue state?
HWANG: I believe (both sides of the) aisle, Democrat and Republicans, have good ideas. I'm socially Democrat and fiscally Republican. I don't see any problems with it. I've been knocking on doors since February. I tell the voters why I'm running, and people just start accepting me, not as a Republican, but accepting me as a business owner in our district and as a community member. So I don't think it's going to be that difficult, and I've been working behind the scenes for a few years in the community.
OUTLOOK: If elected, what would be your priorities in the House?
HWANG: Like I said, community college funding. Promoting trade programs in high school, and getting more funding for it, that's my top priority. Education is my priority because I hate losing our teachers, and I hate seeing us losing funds for the community college. I am also focused on veterans' issues.
OUTLOOK: What is your focus on veterans?
HWANG: I'm with the Korean War Veterans Association. I think there's a lot of difficulties getting their benefits like assisted living. The benefit is there and they can get it, but the process is kind of complicated. I think they feel forgotten when they served overseas and came back. There's a lot of veterans having mental problems as well. I've been meeting a lot of veterans, and seems like they're not getting the same treatment medically. So if we can help assist them with better medical assistance or program assistance, that's something I really want to do.
OUTLOOK: Why file for House (without experience), instead of a more local position such as city council?
HWANG: When I first started thinking about running for office, I started thinking about my own problems like taxation or regulation for my employees. It was more related to state law. It kind of shifted when I was talking with all these voters because there were so many issues and problems that I never thought about, but City Council could be a good fit too. I think at the state level, I can help people in a better way. There's lots of laws that are related to my current situation.
OUTLOOK: Why should people vote for you?
HWANG: I know how to get to work on time. I know the value of hard working, and I want to make sure (constituents') hard work is not going to waste by the government. I am confident that I can do that for them.
OUTLOOK: What would you do to help low-income families in Oregon?
HWANG: Low-income families in East County deserve a strong voice in the state Legislature. We are suffering from a housing crisis. Families in East (Multnomah) County are seeing the cost of rents rise. I fully support House Bill 4007 (passed during the 2018 short session) that incentivized Oregonians to set up an account that would be directed towards the downpayment of their first home. It's these types of policies that I think could be beneficial for East County residents. Low-income families also benefit from the Medicaid system in Oregon. While I am not in favor of the expansion of Medicaid, I want to maintain the system that benefits many Oregonians and prioritize our tax dollars to benefit families and our children in the classroom.
OUTLOOK: Anything else you want to say about your run for House District 49?
HWANG: I am just ready to do things for my community. I'm ready to not get into party lines. I might cast my vote forward on what's good for my community. I'm not a politician. I've never been in office. I'm just a regular guy running for office. The biggest thing between my opponent and me is my willingness and eagerness to learn about the issues in East County.