An Interview With Garden Grove City Councilman and 1st Supervisorial District Candidate Chris Phan

Chris Phan at Bao Victory Party Photos

Garden Grove Councilperson and Bao Nguyen ally Chris Phan speaks at Bao’s victory celebration at the end of November.

Elsewhere, I’ve given an initial impression of the First Supervisorial District race (to replace Janet Nguyen, who is leaving for Sacto.)  DPOC endorses tomorrow night (Monday, December 15), two hours after filing closes.  Under one interpretation of the rules I, even as an ex officio member of the Central Committee, am not supposed to say anything nice about competitors to endorsed candidates (as is the most likely outcome.)  For fear that this interview with candidate Chris Phan (Garden Grove Councilmember, Deputy District Attorney, and former Navy JAG (Judge Adjutant General — a military lawyer) might somehow seem “nice,” though I think that my questions and his answers speak for themselves, I thought it was best to publish this before that meeting.  So, here we go.


OJB:  Filing for this position ends on Monday.  You seem to be the only candidate who has completed the filing process.  The only other candidate who has done more than received signatures in lieu forms is Chuyen Van Nguyen, who I understand from some random story I saw to be a former aide to State Senator Joe Dunn.  Among others who have started the process are former State Senator Lou Correa; Andrew Do, former Chief of Staff to Janet Nguyen; Minuteman leader Lupe Moreno; former Santa Ana Mayoral Candidate Mark Lopez; and perennial candidate Steve Rocco (who I’m henceforth going to ignore.)  Any surprises here in who has and who hasn’t filed for this seat?

Phan: I had heard talk that Miguel Pulido, Claudia Alvarez, or Jose Solorio might run, but their not wanting to do so isn’t a big surprise.  I was surprised by Moreno — I have  No idea why she’s running.  The County doesn’t have jurisdiction on immigration issues.  I’m not “black-and-white” on those issues — I’m pro-reform, but not in favor of sending everyone back.   I don’t think it’s realistic.

OJB: Who do you see as being your biggest competition in this race?

Phan:  Everyone, in that they could all pull people’s votes away.  Lou and Andrew are the most formidable.  Chuyen seems in there to pull votes from me.

OJB: What distinguishes you from the other candidates?

Phan:  For one thing, I’m the only one with a military background, who has served our nation.  My desire to serve does not come from self-interest; I don’t care for people who run for office for self-serving reasons.   I already have had a different successful career going, but I came back from the military to serve my community.  I think that I’m energetic and fresh — which will give people a choice.  We need new ideas — Lou keeps talking about taxpayer equity, bringing money back into OC — but when we had the refinancing of debt that started this problem he was one of those who messed it up originally.  We’ve lost opportunities to prevent our current problems.

OJB: So you’re a “candidate of change”?

Phan:  [laughs]  Sort of.  I think that bring a fresh new perspective to the district.  Flip-flopping positions between Janet and Lou wouldn’t change much.  Also, I want to serve for as long as I can, and I’m not confident that Lou will stay there if Loretta steps down or if another higher office opens.  Right here is where I wants to be; I have a young family, my son will be born in few months.  I could be in office for just under ten years if reelected twice.

OJB: How does your job as a Deputy DA affect you when it comes to County law enforcement issues — especially when things go wrong?

Phan: Being a Deputy DA is all about law enforcement, following rules and regulations.  You want people who will do things the right way.  You will have a JAG/Deputy DA in me to address issues.  I am not going to give everyone a pass.  You have to investigate everything thoroughly; people can make mistakes.  I don’t think that excessive use of force is a current problem for the OC Sheriffs Department; to keep it that way you really need to emphasize training of rank-and-file.  They have to thoroughly understand the rules and guidance.

OJB: How do you feel about militarization of the police?

Phan:  I think that it may be appropriate to accept what the federal government offers, but we should be hesitant to use it.  And when it is used, in extreme conditions, we need to investigate that use, because we don’t want it to be used too casually.  I think it’s best to humanize the approach of law enforcement — I care much less about promoting use of armored vehicles than good communication with the community.

OJB:  My understanding is that you are very friendly with newly elected Garden Grove Mayor Bao Nguyen.  Do you know who, if anyone, among the other candidates endorsed him?  Do you know if any endorsed Broadwater?

Phan:  I was officially neutral in this race, but we are very friendly and I’m happy that he won.  I don’t think that Correa endorsed in the Mayor’s race, though he did endorse the guy who finished fourth in the Council race.

OJB: Democrats are considering endorsing Lou Correa, or possibly another Democrat if anyone else applies for the nomination, on Monday night.  Why do you think that the Democratic Party should not want to endorse anyone against you?

Phan:  Lou and I are both moderates.  Some differences are that I’m a fresh face and can offer longevity in the position, where he has had his chance before and left — and could again end up being a short-timer.  Ideologically, I’m a fiscal conservative, but I’m open on social issues.  I’m not far right.  I’m a pragmatist — I want to do whatever makes sense.  For example, I’m not in favor of the Republicans’ “No Union money pledge,” especially given how many Republicans are in Public Safety unions.  And I’m not in favor of “No-Tax” pledge because it’s conceivable that in some circumstances there could be no better option — and I won’t promise what I don’t think I can deliver.  I save my absolutes for things like moral integrity.

OJB: Why do you think that rank-and-file Democrats in particular should want to vote for you?  Shouldn’t they be scared of you?

Phan: No, there’s no reason to be scared of me.  I’m all for the common good.  I’m not just out for my party, which I want to be more inclusive.  Both parties have their strong and their weak points, and I want to find middle ground.  It would be better to move people to the middle and to create coalitions.  Lou, though he’s moderate, may get more pushback from his base because of concern over his positions.

OJB: Correa has support from organized Labor; don’t you think that he’d be more supportive of them than you would be?

Phan: I don’t think necessarily that I would necessarily be less supportive of Labor.  Labor has its important place: to protect rights in the workplace, to fight for a reasonable income for workers, etc.  My problems are when Labor starts using muscle by asking for unreasonable or over-the-top requests.  But I’ll support Labor when they’re being fair.  I’m not hesitant to engage with workers and listen to their issues.

OJB: But do you think you can connect with workers?

Phan: Look at our campaigns!  I’m running mine on scraps, while Lou has millions of dollars in big contributors.  I think that I’m closer to understanding workers’ plight and their hardship.  I fit in well with those with desire to succeed.

OJB: You got some flack when you appeared at one or more fundraisers for Democratic members of the Santa Ana City Council.  Can you describe your relationship with them?  How does political party enter into it?

Phan: I just don’t look much at someone’s party.  I knew David Benavides from our both being involved in community and charitable events.  I don’t attend fundraisers just based on party affiliation.  In this case, I wanted to hear more about what Benavides had to say.

OJB: Are you seeking a Republican endorsement in this race?

Phan:  I had planned on it, but then I learned that they wanted to clear field the for Do, I guess because of Janet.  So I didn’t apply.  It’s a non-partisan position, anyway.  I have gone to visit the homes of the most high-likely voters in district, of every party and NPP.

OJB:  Why do you think that Republicans in particular should want to vote for you?

Phan: Take a look at what I’ve done and stood for in my life.  I have stood for service, not self.  I’m patriotic, a lifelong GOP member.  If someone is so far to right like Lupe Moreno, they won’t support all my beliefs.  But being willing to work both sides to solve problems can help Republicans.

OJB:  Why do you think that voters with no party preference in particular should want to vote for you?

Phan: Because I’m not ideological, I’m pragmatic.  No special interest owns me.  I’m going to do what’s right.  I think that that’s what they want.

OJB: Let’s talk about some of the less leading candidates.  What are your thoughts on Chuyen Van Nguyen and Mark Lopez?

Phan: Chuyen never ran for office before, so I don’t think that he thinks he can win.  He’s just there to take votes away from older Vietnamese, which ends up helping Correa.  I don’t know much about Lopez.  I am aware of Pulido’s ethical problems, so I admire him for running in the Mayor’s race.  And I admire that, when he saw that he’d just be splitting the reform vote, he decided to get out of the way and withdraw.

OJB:  Are you getting any endorsements from people on the Santa Ana Council?

Phan:  I don’t have overt support from Santa Ana politicians.  I’m not sure if they’re supporting me.

OJB:  What would you do differently in this seat than Janet Nguyen has done?

Phan:  Of course I’m seen stories about the controversies, and I don’t know what of it is true.  But it seems clear that hiring issues have been a problem, something that we’ve also seen in Garden Grove.  I would maintain the highest level of integrity and efficiency.  That’s what I care about.

OJB: Do you have anything to say about the Cal-Optima problems?

Phan:  Just that we really need transparency.  I would be astute enough to prevent any mishandling of resources.

OJB:  Do you have any criticisms, or points of admiration, for the current Board’s performance?

Phan: [laughs]  I’m not one to burn bridges before I even get there!

OJB: The OC Labor Federation and the Orange County Employees Association have endorsed Correa, describing him as a friend of working families.  What’s your reaction?

Phan:  I come from a working family.  I came here from Vietnam when I was 8 years old.  I understand the plight of immigrants.  I come from a lower-class background; my father brought our family to Indiana, and I grew up in 1-BDR apt in Indiana knowing no English.  But I got good support from others.

OJB: As a State Senator, Lou Correa voted against giving the Insurance Commissioner the ability to block increases in health insurance premiums without showing good cause — something that he had previously supported before Jerry Brown became Governor.  What’s your thought about that issue, which came before voters again this year as Prop 46?

Phan:  I haven’t done enough research on it.  I want to keep health care costs low.  It is a matter of quality of life.

OJB:  What would be your major priorities in office? 

Phan:  I want to be fiscally prudent and sound, to protect people’s resources.  Public safety is high priority.  I’ll be responsible and transparent.

OJB:  How would you address the problem of homelessness?

Phan:  It’s a tough issue for our whole county.  It’s prevalent in First District.  We need not just shelter, but programs for the causes contributing to homelessness.  We’re all in this together; I’ll want other districts to help out, both financially and by housing some homeless people there.  Not all of them have roots here in this district.  I would promote the 1st District’s needs on homelessness with rest of the Board.  We are the dumping ground right now; we should spread out the weight and responsibility across the county.

OJB: What about homeless veterans?

Phan:  We have a responsibility to take care of vets – if they served our country honorably, we need to honor and protect them.  I would be the only veteran on the Board of Supervisors, so it will be my place to explain this to others.  I’ve been there on front lines; I know that war can do bad things to people.  Lots can’t take it, they lose track of how to run their lives.

OJB: How would you address issues of good governance in County government, and what issues do you see?

Phan:  I want to be very transparent.  Not a “good old boys” network.  Actions should be explainable and transparent.

OJB: Second to last question: what have I failed to ask you that I should have asked, and how would you answer?

Phan:  I want to mention my serving on the Horizon Cross-Cultural Center Board, etc. – a voluntary board. — for which I’ve gotten some criticism.  This distinguishes me from other candidates.  Horizon was started to provides services to immigrants, develop citizenship.  Then it had shifted its focus to transportation issues because that’s what the county wanted to pay it for.  Horizon has gotten heat for our transportation program — but we fixed the problems immediately, transparently, and now we’ve gone back to roots.  Here’s the thing: I could have stepped down and avoided any criticism involving Horizon, but I’m there to serve — and if you’re serving you don’t run when things get bad.  I can empathize with the needy and I look forward to have the power to fund those programs.  I’m not sure what Lou has done, like being on this kind of board, to be steward on this issue.

OJB: Last question: You mentioned that Lou has all sorts of money and Do has Janet behind him.  What makes you think you can win?

Phan:  It will probably be a low-turnout election.  That means that word of mouth will go a long way, and I think I have a good reputation.  I’m someone who has had to struggle, as an immigrant, so immigrant services are a big issue for me.  I think that people see my military background, my being a prosecutor, my being an immigrant, and they understand that I am not self-absorbed, but I’m in this for the good the of community, with no hidden agenda.  People will recognize that I’m their best option.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-disabled and semi-retired, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally ran for office against jerks who otherwise would have gonr unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.) His daughter is a professional campaign treasurer. He doesn't usually know whom she and her firm represent. Whether they do so never influences his endorsements or coverage. (He does have his own strong opinions.) But when he does check campaign finance forms, he is often happily surprised to learn that good candidates he respects often DO hire her firm. (Maybe bad ones are scared off by his relationship with her, but they needn't be.)