Underdog Yamada vying be first Nikkei woman in CA Senate

Mariko Yamada. photo courtesy of Mariko Yamada for Senate 2016

Mariko Yamada. photo courtesy of Mariko Yamada for Senate 2016

Former California state Assemblymember Mariko Yamada and freshman Assemblymember Bill Dodd are vying to replace termed-out state Sen. Lois Wolk’s seat in Senate District 3 in the state senate. Yamada, who termed out of serving in the Assembly in 2014, is the perceived underdog in the intraparty race against Dodd, who garnered endorsements from the State’s Democratic Party and Gov. Jerry Brown ahead of the Nov. 8 election.

According to Bill Wong, political director of the Asian American Small Business political action committee, Yamada would be the first Japanese American woman elected to the California state Senate and could potentially join a historically large Asian Pacific Islander Caucus. “The API Legislative Caucus is currently at 12,” Wong wrote in an e-mail to the Nichi Bei Weekly. “It will lose two to term limits.

Assuming Yamada (leans Dodd), Ling Ling Chang (favored), Jane Kim in San Francisco (toss up) and Warren Furutani (toss up) all win Senate and Ash Kalra or Madison Nguyen win in Silicon Valley, we lose (Assemblymember) Young Kim (toss up), pick up Vince Fong (R), Phil Chen (R), Al Muratsuchi (D), Mae Torlakson (D), (and) Todd Gloria (D) we would grow to 19 members.”

Wong described Yamada as “a strongly progressive member of the state Assembly that did not go along, just to get along.” He described her as a “fierce advocate for progressive policies that protected the environment, women, the poor, seniors, workers and the disabled.”

Yamada, a Sansei, remains committed to those priorities, saying her three biggest priorities, if elected, would be aging and long term care; the state’s agriculture, water and environment; and social, economic and environmental justice. “I refer to it as my three legs on my public policy stool,” she said. “There’s many other very important issues — transportation, housing, education, health — but it’s all interrelated,” she said in an interview with the Nichi Bei Weekly.

If elected, she said she will work on establishing the first standing committee on aging and long-term care in the state senate. “There is no committee, no policy locus for these issues in the state Senate,” she said. As for agriculture and water issues, she said protecting the Delta is a top priority as well as insuring “the integrity of our food systems” through both land use and the protection of workers from abuse and exposure to pesticides. She also noted that climate change is a priority, and said she is wary of “big oil” interests in the state capital. As for social, economic justice, she said “skyrocketing tuition” and law enforcement training in de-escalation are of top concern.

Yamada said her perspective and policies as a lawmaker come from the 42 years she has spent working as a social worker. Since graduating from the University of Southern California with a master’s in social work, Yamada said she has been guided by the “core ethical principals that the social work profession is based upon.”

“I am someone that has pretty much dedicated her life and career to helping others and to providing for common basic human needs, focusing on prevention, on education, on protecting and preserving the environment and addressing social justice issues and focusing on systems approaches on improving people’s lives and lifting people out of poverty,” she said. She added that much of those values aligned with those of the Democratic Party.

To Yamada, it is clear what it means to be a Democrat, but she said the party is currently split between a “corporate wing” and “progressive wing.” Yamada said she aligns herself with the progressive wing of the party. Citing California as a “blue state,” she said that those wanting a more conservative or corporate-minded lawmaker have started to fund certain Democrats “to create winners and losers within the Democratic Party,” Yamada said. Despite differences forming even within her party, Yamada said it is not a matter of working out differences to “get things done,” but to “keep hammering away” until progress is made.

“I think lots of things have gotten done, but I don’t know about getting past political differences as much as insuring that the voices of people that are traditionally left out of the discussions of the hall of power. That’s who I stand for,” she said.

Yamada’s foray into elected office began after the 2003 California recall election. She was initially asked to fill a vacancy on the Yolo County Board of Supervisors. She she was the first person of color to sit on the Yolo County Board of Supervisors. From there she won a seat in the California state Assembly in 2008 and remained there until she termed out in 2014. Since then, she said she has been campaigning full time for a bid to the state Senate.

If elected, she would become the first or among the first Japanese Americans to be elected to the state Senate. Yamada noted that former Assemblyman Warren Furutani, in Southern California, is also making a bid for the Senate. “As it was in the context of my first appointment and first election to the Board of Supervisors in Yolo County in 2003, it certainly would be an honor to have that distinction,” Yamada said. However, she noted that she did not run for the Senate under that premise.

“Being Japanese American and being a woman is part of who I am, but it’s not the extent of who I am,” she said. “When we have multiple hats, we don’t want anyone to typecast us, to stereotype us, to put us in a box or to try to assign certain values to who we are, based on that first impression. All of us are a lot more complex and have a lot more life experience than sometimes meets the eye initially.”

2020 Japanese Culture Guide

2020 Japanese Culture Guide

Nichi Bei Mailing List

Kyplex Cloud Security Seal - Click for Verification