Jack Orswell answered his own phone line and suggested we meet at Rick’s Drive In & Out on Main Street, an odd location to interview a candidate for Congress. Orswell (R) is challenging incumbent Representative Judy Chu (D) for the newly drawn 27th Congressional District, which includes Alhambra and a large portion of the San Gabriel Valley.
Chu has been an elected official for more than 25 years, while Orswell is a reserve police officer, business owner, and former FBI agent without any political experience. Taking a seat inside Rick’s, Orswell told Alhambra Source why he wants to run for Congress and why he thinks you should vote for him.
Why should an Alhambra resident vote for you?
I have ties to Alhambra. My grandparents and father were living in Boston in the 1930s when my grandfather contracted trichinosis and died as a result of some sort of food poisoning. My grandmother’s sister, my great aunt, lived in San Gabriel. So my grandmother and her 11-year-old son, my dad, travelled by car from Boston and landed in Alhambra. My family has lived in the San Gabriel Valley for 80 years.
I was born in Pasadena and live in Arcadia. I’m an Arcadia reserve Police Officer. When I was in the FBI, I worked in Alhambra and Monterey Park. I’m very familiar with the people who live here and what’s going on as far as water quality, smog, traffic, the 710 controversy. I’m familiar with all the areas.
Why do you want to be a congressman? If you are elected, what would you do?
I’ve never been involved in political life because I haven’t seen a need up until the last few years, when the Republicans and the Democrats have played politics at the expense of America. I feel my children and my grandchildren’s future is threatened with the tremendous amount of debt that is being placed upon them.
You’re under 40. What’s the plan for your Social Security? What’s your plan for health care? What’s your plan for Medicare? That’s not in the news, and I think one-third of the voters out there are not being represented in Congress. And it’s my kids and my kids’ generation, and my grandkids and their generation, that the government has just put aside, and I’m concerned about the future of America.
What distinguishes you from Rep. Judy Chu? Why should a Democrat vote for you?
She’s been involved in politics for 27 years. She’s very proud of her career as a politician. In looking at her voting record and in talking to people about her, she stands up for the Democratic Party. That’s her philosophy of being a politician. It’s not speaking for America.
I’m not a politician; I don’t want to be a politician. I want to be the people’s representative. My frustration is with career politicians and the Democrats fighting with the Republicans and vice versa. It’s time that people like me go back there and try to work for Americans, not for political parties.
Some residents are concerned about local businesses along Main Street and in other parts of Alhambra closing down as a result of the recession. How will you help create and ensure jobs in this district if elected to Congress?
Going back to my childhood, I remember we would come down Main Street and go shopping. There used to be Nash’s there, big department stores, and every storefront was a specialty store. And last week when we were walking and talking to all the small business owners, unfortunately many shops are empty right now.
It’s very difficult to be a retailer these days and I think that’s a result of the economic climate. People are postponing buying things, making long-term commitments to projects like rebuilding or remodeling their house or purchasing a car. The weak, struggling economy is clearly reflected here on Main Street in Alhambra.
For the last 22 years I’ve been a small business owner. I’ve always supported small business. My company does environmental assessments of commercial lenders when businesses need loans involving commercial property. So I’m not only involved as a small business owner, I’m also involved in helping small business owners obtain bank loans through our process.
Small businesses are the job creators. But those opportunities aren’t out there now. And the government needs to encourage small business development. The most difficult time for a small business is the first five years. We need to make sure that those businesses get the capital they need to operate their business, so when it comes to cash flow or crunch time that they have sources for financing.
On the other hand, too many rules and regulations are a stifle to business, chase the jobs away, and cause what we see happening on Main Street where businesses are closing.
Alhambra residents have said they feel uninformed and under engaged in the political process, and recent studies shows that minority voters, especially Asian Americans and Latinos, have a lower turnout rate than other groups. If elected, how would you help increase civic engagement in your district?
I want to be the people’s representative, and their ethnic background is of no concern to me. If they live in the 27th congressional district, which is essentially the San Gabriel Valley out to Upland, I want to represent them.
I have the endorsement of the Latino Police Officers Association. I have the endorsement of the California Republican Hispanic Assembly. I have the endorsement of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance in the San Gabriel Valley. So I’ve reached out to the Asians and the Latinos. If you combine the Latinos and the Asians together, that’s a majority of the people who live in the San Gabriel Valley. And they need to have a voice that will represent them in Congress, and I want to be that voice for them as well as everybody else.
What’s your favorite place in Alhambra?
I have to say it’s Ricks. This is the perfect example of what a small business is and what other small businesses could be like. Rick’s is not a franchise operation, it’s a “mom and pop” type shop. They’re active in the community; they have celebrations throughout the year. They cater to the high school people. There’s a group of retired people out here having breakfast. They are the center of the community.
And it isn’t government funded. This isn’t a senior center or after school youth program. It’s a small business. Obviously he needs to make a profit and he needs to pay his taxes. But this is my favorite hangout. It’s the spirit of small business.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell the residents of Alhambra?
I encourage everyone to get out and vote: Democrats, Republicans, Independents. It’s very important to get involved at least in the voting process and let your voice be heard.
The one thing that is a big concern to me is with the Electoral College in play, some say, “Our vote doesn’t count in California.” Well it does count for me because I don’t have an Electoral College. And it counts for City Council. It counts for every candidate who’s running for election. Your vote very much does count.
Interview was edited and condensed. Alhambra Source does not endorse candidates.