Once I lost my will to live. [Chosun Ilbo]

I was elected to the US House of Representatives three times; as the first Korean to accomplish this, I made headlines both in America and Korea. However, my fall came suddenly. As the US media called my fundraising into question every day, I finally lost a bid for reelection. My marriage was already on the rocks, and the company that I had worked hard to develop also fell apart.

I had nothing left – only $200 in my pocket, the same amount of money I brought with me to the US 50 years ago. I didn’t even have enough money to buy a gun and commit suicide. Politics, as its price, took everything I had achieved with my blood and sweat. I asked myself over and over if my political career had been worth the price. I had gone from the highs of public service into the depths of despair, and it was the first time in my life where I thought that there was no hope for me. I could not find a way out; there was no light and nothing to offer salvation. I even lost the will to live.

When a person is in a place like this, the only place they can go is to their homeland and their hometown. I boarded a plane to Korea and went to Inwangsan Alley, where I’d lived as a kid. As I entered the alley, memories illuminated my mind like a revolving lantern. I remembered leaving for the US after my military service, against the wishes of my parents, after being accepted to Chaffey College in California. I dreamed of a new life in a foreign land, dealing with an unfamiliar language and environment, delivering newspapers in the morning and disposing of trash in a hospital at night. I studied sewage treatment in graduate school, and eventually got a job at a sewage treatment company.

At that time, with the beginnings of the environmental protection movement, the business of building new sewage treatment facilities was booming in every state. Thinking that the time was right, I started Jay Kim Engineers, an engineering company for the construction of highways and sewage treatment facilities. I started the company with just a part-time secretary, but by getting contracts during the day and designing the facilities at night, developed it into a company with 150 employees.

When I got a chance to run for the city council of Diamond Bar, a city near LA, I seized it without hesitation. I was elected despite being a major underdog; soon, I was successful in running for mayor. Then I decided to run for the House of Representatives, despite living in a white district of over 600,000 people, only 6 percent of which knew my name. I was told that it was impossible to win, but in 1992 I defeated the Democratic candidate and became a Representative of California.

I remembered the camera flashes and applause of the day where I was sworn into office, and seeing my mother raise her arms into the air and cheer in the gallery of the House of Representatives. I was envied for my undefeated record as a politician. When I left office, I berated myself so many times – “How could this happen to me? I was the one who did what everyone said was impossible…”

Suddenly, I found myself back in Inwangsan Alley. I could see the flowers that were no longer just a part of my memory. Were the azaleas and golden bell trees along the ridges of the mountain and magnolias on the side of the road really this beautiful? I walked very slowly along the alley, where the spring flowers began to bloom. I suppose those flowers had always been there, and I had just never noticed them as a child. The younger Jay Kim, with a mind focused on the future, did not have the time to pay attention to flowers and trees.

It took losing everything for me to see those beautiful flowers; only losing the bright shell of success could allow my empty heart to be filled with those flowers. Suddenly, the image and voice of my mother sprang to mind. “Chang-joon, I like spring. How wonderful it is for it to bring life to a world frozen all winter.” I remember that she would leave the doors to our home wide open once spring began, allowing the scent of golden bell tree flowers and azaleas to float through the house. I realized that my desire for success had been superseded by a need for modesty in my life, and I found peace of mind. In Inwangsan Alley, I felt like I had a chance to truly live again.

It will be spring again soon. I will return to Korea in spring, as that season makes me yearn for my homeland.


Chosun Ilbo 1/13


Jay Kim gave a welcome speech at a Korean American meeting held by Korea Economic Institute in celebration of ‘Korean American Day’ on January 12. The participants of the event, including a former Korean Minister of Health and Welfare, 9 members of National Assembly, and the Korean Consul General, discussed the Korea-U.S. FTA and overseas Korean voting which will start from 2012.

Hankook Ilbo 1/11


‘The first conference of Korean American politicians and next generation leadership forum’ will be held on March 24 for three days. Jay Kim is invited to this conference where current and former Korean American politicians and government officials, and Korean politicians will attend. During the event, they will discuss the ways to increase the political power of Korean American community, to bring along the next generation of Korean American leaders, and to cultivate the rights of overseas Koreans.


Year of political shakeup in US

By Jay Kim

A Republican has been newly elected as the 53rd speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. With the Republicans recapturing a majority of the House, it will be a stage thoroughly dominated by that party.

Republicans will be the chairs of all the House committees and subcommittees, and with a 49 seat majority (242 to 193) over the Democratic Party, almost every bill can be passed through at will as long as the House Republicans unite.

The Republicans are planning to repeal the bills passed by the Democrats in President Obama’s term, one by one. One of them they plan to repeal is the historic health-care reform law. Since the Republicans plan on repealing a bill signed by the President into law, things have the potential to get loud.

The Democrats are scoffing at this plan, but the Republicans are serious. If the repeal does not pass the Democrat-controlled Senate, the Republicans intend to cut the budget for the health-care reform plan piece by piece.

And even if the repeal does get through the Senate, Obama has already stated that he will veto that repeal bill.

So even though there is no chance the repeal will become law through constitutional channels, because this was one of the campaign promises of the Republican Party in the last midterm elections, they have no choice but to go ahead with the plan.

The final showdown on this issue was supposed to start Jan. 10, but the tragic Jan. 8 shooting of Arizona House Representative Gabrielle Giffords brought it to a halt.

Instead, both parties turned the debate time into a shared time of prayer, and agreed on refraining from violent rhetoric against each other.

However, the debate over healthcare reform will be particularly virulent in 2011. Members of the hard-line conservative Tea Party are planning rallies in support of the repeal, and the Democrats have already stated that they will strongly oppose the repeal.

During the midterm elections, the central campaign promises of the Republicans were to reduce taxes, drastically cut down government spending, and repeal the healthcare reform plan.

The 82 first-term Republican representatives, in particular, are holding a firm, non-negotiable position on the last promise. Those Republicans make up 34 percent of the House Republicans, the largest proportion of 1921.

Republican lawmakers have attacked the Obama administration as the most corrupt in history, and have demanded investigations into six separate issues.

They want to investigate the role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the foreclosure crisis; the failure to identify the cause of the financial crisis; corruption in the war in Afghanistan; the State Department allowing sensitive U.S. government information to be disclosed on Wikileaks; the issues surrounding the Food and Drug Administration; and, finally, the impact of stricter regulation by the Obama administration on businesses.

In addition, the Republicans have claimed that the reduction of government spending should begin immediately, and announced that they would cut $60 billion off the budget for the remaining half of this fiscal year, returning to 2008 budget levels.

It is rare to cut the budget passed by the Senate and the House in the middle of the year. Furthermore, the change in House rules made it difficult to increase the current debt ceiling of $14 trillion. It has now become more likely that the 1995 government shutdown in the Clinton era might happen again.

Next year is a presidential election year, both in the U.S. and Korea. In the U.S., preventing the reelection of President Obama is the most important target of the Republican Party’s strategy.

In Korea, the ruling party will go through drastic changes as the presidential election draws near, with both pro-Lee Myung-bak and pro-Park Geun-hye lines. Korean-Americans will surely also be involved, stirring things up in the U.S.

In North Korea, 2011 is when full-scale transfer of power from Kim Jong-il to his youngest son Kim Jong-un begins, and nobody knows what will happen during that process. It looks to be a year of political upheaval.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. Congressman. He serves as chairman of the Washington Korean-American Forum. For more information visit Kim’s website (www.jayckim.com).

(16) Gun problems in US

By Jay Kim

The issue of gun possession was one of the most difficult I faced as a politician. It is the type of sensitive social issue that, as soon as one supports one side, he is met by strong (almost violent) opposition from the other side. There is no way to take a non-committal issue on gun control; it’s either for or against, with nothing in between.

Because of my foreign accent, many Americans doubted I was a genuine American. They felt that because I had not attended high school in the U.S., had never been a Boy Scout, and had never served in the U.S. Army (I have served in the Korean Army), there was not a trace of traditional American values in me.

I was once invited to dinner at the house of my wealthy white friend, who also happened to be my key financial contributor. During pre-dinner cocktails, he proudly showed me his collection of over five dozen various types of guns, explaining their history and background. When he asked me my opinion on his gun collection, I was embarrassed not to be able to say a word.

I knew nothing about guns at the time, as there was not nearly that much variety of weapons in Korea and my experience was limited to my military-issued M1 and Calvin guns. When shown a Winchester rifle, it is typical to hold and aim it and mention its good balance or how light it is, but I didn’t even know how to hold most of the guns and couldn’t say anything.

I wanted to have a quick dinner and head home as soon as I could; instead, I was led to a room with walls filled with his hunting exhibits, including the stuffed heads of animals including bears and deer and even buffalos that he’d killed himself. Since I hate hunting, all those stuffed animal heads made my blood run cold.

While I stared at the heads, all of which seemed to be glaring at me, he kindly explained the story behind each one and boasted that they’d mainly come from his hunting trips to South America and Africa.

He explained how the heads were brought back ― once the animals were killed, the brains were removed, the head dried and treated with preservatives, and the eyes were chemically treated and put back into the head. He kept boasting about this collection, and all I could think about was leaving. When he asked for my opinion, I feared that my timid reaction would reflect that I am not a traditional macho American male.

The right to possess guns is guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. What would happen if I opposed gun possession, which had played an important role in shaping and defending our country? My mind boggled at the idea. During the Revolutionary War, the American army under George Washington was a group of volunteers, typically called Minutemen, with no formal military training and only armed with guns that they themselves owned.

Certainly those guns, during a time with no organized military and an insufficient arms supply, had been pivotal in the U.S. securing its independence.

To those Americans, guns were most important in the Midwest, protecting families against wild animal attacks and also providing meat for the table, and they had proved just as important in protecting the fledgling nation. So it’s small wonder that the Constitution had clearly provided a guaranteed right to possess guns (or bear arms) within its text.

The typical stance of the Republican Party has been to oppose arbitrary gun control, claiming that it is not right to mistreat a right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

The Democratic Party, by contrast, claimed that the 200-year-old reason behind that right was anachronistic and no longer applied to current reality; since guns were no longer being used to fight for independence against the British military, but rather for robberies and gang fights, gun possession should be regulated to protect the safety of the people.

Once I was invited to the house of a person whose father was killed in combat during the Korean War. Next to the picture of his father, killed honorably in combat, was a picture of his grandson, who had been shot during a gang fight.

The people gathered in his house were members of a civic group that demanded a solution to the serious problem of juvenile gangs. They asked me if people could buy guns in Korea as easily as in the U.S. I explained that in Korea, possessing, buying and selling guns were all illegal. They then earnestly pleaded with me to help make the U.S. a gun-free society like Korea.

At that time, the major issue in Congress was the passing of the Brady Handgun Control Act. While they waited for my definite answer about my position on gun control, I did not have the heart to tell them that I disagreed with them. I could never say that I supported gun possession to the teary parents and family members in a room full of pictures of their slain children.

However, if I took their side there, I would’ve been in newspapers the next day and I, who was supported by the National Rifle Association (NRA) at the time, would’ve received an unpleasant call from then-NRA President Charlton Heston. So I told them I would review my gun position.

I agonized over the issue for several weeks, but when the time came I ended up voting against the Brady Bill. I felt that the constitutionally guaranteed right is more important. Otherwise, the right to freedom of religion could be invaded and eroded by trying to identify which religion was to be protected. I felt that any gun control should be done through a constitutional amendment.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. Congressman. He serves as chairman of the Washington Korean-American Forum. For more information visit Kim’s website (www.jayckim.com).

(15) Lobbyists and fundraising – The Korea Times

By Jay Kim

Among the numerous hotels in Washington, D.C., the Willard Hotel might be the most historic and beautiful. Built in 1850, it is often called “the crown of Pennsylvania Avenue” because it is located on Pennsylvania Avenue, right next to the White House.

In the luxurious French-style decorated lobby, there would always be gentlemen in suits conversing about something or other; most of these men were lawyers deeply involved in politics. Since they were always in the hotel lobby, people began to call them lobbyists.

As a member of Congress, I was visited by several lobbyists a day for various reasons. For example, when they would push for a program, they would bring short reports with detailed statistical data and the names of the civic organizations pushing for it as well. I have even had lobbyists bring in drafts of bills they wrote themselves.

Congressmen would often hold fundraisers aimed at lobbyists; I held several myself. I would send the invitations to the lobbyists that visited my office, as well as those related to me directly or indirectly, then would call them after a few days to request their attendance.

Talking about fundraising cannot occur in the Capitol or the congressional office buildings; they must always happen outside those buildings. Next to my office in the Cannon building was the office building of the Republican Party headquarters and a four-story building for receptions where Congressional Republicans would hold their fundraisers.

The building even had phone-booth size rooms to make the calls inviting lobbyists to fundraisers. Thirty attendees would be a big crowd for my fundraisers; even then, I’d have to diligently make calls personally a week before. My pride was hurt, since this felt like having to beg for money; however, since this is the easiest way to raise funds within the limit of the law, many Congressmen use this method.

One major problem is how to refuse the favors these donators ask later. The press enjoys investigating the relationship between lobbyists and Congressmen; even I think there is something doubtful about using lobbyists to raise political funds. This is the biggest reason why lobbyists are so expensive.

They can bring a check of up to $1,000, which should not be corporate but personal; even a small gathering of 30 people brings in $30,000 without much cost. Raising $30,000 in one’s own district would not only take a great deal of preparation, but would also cost about half that just to put together the fundraising event. This gives lobbyists a privileged right to visit the offices of certain Congressmen freely.

Once, I attended a Korean-American fundraiser in a luxurious hotel. They brought out all the stops, even inviting singers from Korea to perform. I had a great time, but after the event was over, it turned out that the event had only raised $30,000, while costing $40,000.

A newspaper reported that the event would have raised about $50,000, and I was accused of sweeping up all the money myself, but I could not bear to reveal the $10,000 loss.

Unlike presidential candidate fundraisers, where tickets cost $2,000 per person and $100,000 for the “golden table,” congressional fundraisers (at $200 per dinner ticket) can only raise money if at least 400 people attend the event. Out of the 400 attendees, 50 tend to be absent, and 50 actually attend free of charge.

Those that attend for free are mayors, city council members, local dignitaries, and members of the House and the Senate; i.e. people that I am grateful to for their attendance itself. I would have to prepare a report on my recent congressional activity, and visit each table to thank each person for attending the event.

I would also have to answer the sharp questions of reporters after the event, and worrying about these questions tended to ensure that I would not have a pleasant meal.

These fundraisers never brought much substance to offset the whole tiring ordeal; there were usually only 300 paid attendees, and much of the funds raised would go toward paying for the cost of the 50 free guests, tipping the hotel that held the event, getting gifts for volunteers, parking fees, and costs for meals, music, lighting, and other equipment. If half of the raised fund was left, the event was considered a big success.

Compare this with fundraising from lobbyists ― no dinner and speech preparation is necessary; the building to hold lobbyist events is owned by the Republican Party and only a nominal fee is necessary to use the premises; generally a few bottles of soda and plates of snacks would be enough.

Raising $30,000 from those 30 lobbyists would generally cost about $1,000 total. It’s a small wonder that lobbyists are allowed to visit Congressmen’s offices frequently, and a sobering reminder that politics can be influenced by money in the U.S. It’s always important how much money is raised.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. Congressman. He serves as chairman of the Washington Korean-American Forum. For more information, visit Kim’s website (www.jayckim.com).

Hankook Ilbo 12/17

Jay Kim gave a talk in a session held by the Embassy of Korea in the U.S. and Korean American Associations of Greater Philadelphia about the impact of an agreement on the additional negotiation of the Korea-U.S. FTA on the Korean American society on December 16. He emphasized that the FTA would provide more opportunities for Korean Americans, especially the second generation of Korean immigrants due to the additional opening of the service markets in Korea, such as law, finance, and accounting. He claimed that the Korea-U.S. FTA was a win-win game for both of the nations in the long run.