Republican Kim Is First to Lose Re-Election Bid
By Gebe Martinez
WASHINGTON Embattled Congressman Jay C. Kim, R-Calif., became the first incumbent casualty of the 1998 election year after losing his party's nomination Tuesday to state Assemblyman Gary Miller.
Kim, the first Korean-American elected to Congress, received only 18 percent of the vote against 32 percent for Miller, amid continuing legal, political and personal problems stemming from his recent conviction of accepting illegal foreign and corporate campaign contributions.
Forced by a federal court to wear an electronic monitoring anklet as part of his two-month "home confinement" sentence, Kim's movements were restricted to Capitol Hill and his Fairfax, Va., apartment and thus, was prevented from traveling to his California Inland Empire district to campaign for re-election to a fourth term.
"The mistakes my campaign and I made in 1992 which ultimately resulted in my plea and adjudication made this re-election effort an uphill battle from the start," Kim said in a prepared statement that was laced with sentimentality.
"Unlike others in Washington, I stood tall and took responsibility. ... I tried to make amends by working even harder. I ignored the cheap-shots from other politicians and the media," he added.
In the months and weeks leading up to Tuesday's California primary, there was little doubt Kim would become the latest member to leave Congress.
From the start of the campaign season, the California congressman's criminal indictment and subsequent sentencing in March was the focus of Miller's challenger campaign.
The Republican congressman also faced opposition from his wife of 36 years, June Kim, who also pleaded guilty in the campaign finance case. She filed for divorce and agreed to cooperate with an ongoing House Ethics Committee investigation of Kim. The House panel recently expanded its probe to consider Kim's fundraising practices in all four of his federal campaigns.
Eventually, the National Republican Congressional Committee, which was formed to help incumbents win re-election, decided not to back Kim. Miller also received endorsements from the GOP's gubernatorial nominee, state Attorney General Dan Lungren, state Treasurer Matt Fong, state Senate Republican Leader Ross Johnson and others.
Privately, national GOP leaders indicated their preference for Miller, who would be able to campaign for the November general election without being overshadowed by scandal.
The head of the NRCC, Rep. John Linder, R-Ga., said Wednesday that he personally tried to persuade Kim to step out of the race, but "he said `no,' this was his opportunity for vindication."
Linder said the message from voters was that "people who elect you and send you to Washington would like you to keep your hands clean."
With Kim's fund-raising diminished and his ability to campaign in person removed, there were ominous signs that his own camp was not very optimistic about pulling out an election victory. On election eve, his staff said the congressman would not be available for comment after the polls closed or the following day.
Kim's only official response came in the form of the prepared statement, in which he took credit for maintaining a 100 percent voting record in the House and for capital improvements he brought to the district, such as expansion of the Ontario Airport.
The congressman also thanked California Republican Congressmen David Dreier and Jerry Lewis who "stood with me despite the political attacks to which they have been unfairly subjected. They could have done the politically expedient thing and walked away."
Miller's primary victory almost ensures his election to Congress from California's 41st District a fact conceded by Democrats who have no plans at this point to target that race for the November general election. Miller will face Democrat Eileen R. Ansari, a member of the Diamond Bar City Council.
"It's a Republican seat," said Olivia Morgan, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "We made a concerted effort to focus ourselves on where he had a good chance of winning. ... It's a Republican district."
A spokesman for Miller said Wednesday that the campaign "was never personal. It was about what's best for the Republican Party and the voters of the 41st District." Miller and Kim served together on the Diamond Bar City Council and also lived two blocks apart.
Kim's service in Congress during the last three terms has been low-key, largely because of the campaign finance allegations that surfaced early in this first term. He resisted interviews and rarely engaged on Capitol Hill in the camaraderie generally shared by other Republicans.
Though he still awaits the outcome of his ethics investigation, GOP members rarely criticized him openly, and until this year, were instrumental in helping him raise campaign money.
In a sign of trust despite the federal conviction, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., appointed Kim this year to the high-powered House and Senate conference committee that had to work out the messy details of the pork-filled $216 billion transportation bill.
As the highest-ranking Californian on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Kim secured $1.8 billion for transportation projects in the three counties in his district: San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Overall, California received $20.3 billion, according to a statement released by Kim when the bill was completed almost two weeks ago.
"This represents the highest amount of federal transportation funds ever received in the Inland Empire," Kim proclaimed.
The congressman also served on the House International Relations Committee.
© Copyright 1998 LEGI-SLATE News Service