Interview with Derek Tran, who will beat the awful Michelle Steel!

This story better be good, I had to resign my position as Vice President of the Anaheim Democrats Club to write it! Like every patriotic American, I want to see Michelle Steel out of Congress, and her husband Shawn out of power. And this month it’s important for voters in the majority-Asian 45th Congressional District to pick the strongest and best candidate to do that. And I’m afraid the DPOC and State Democratic Party made a hasty choice and picked a weak candidate for that important task.

And that’s what a lot of local and national political leaders were thinking as well, last September, when they recruited Army veteran and consumer rights attorney Derek Tran, who jumped into the race October 1, too late to get the official Party’s endorsement. Jumped into the race with a splash I should say, outraising Party-endorsed Kim Bernice Nguyen-Penaloza by SEVEN TO ONE, and racking up plenty of his own endorsements. (And some groups like the Asian-American PAC Aspire have moved from endorsing Kim to “dual-endorsing” both Kim & Derek.)

Maybe Kim’s anemic fundraising is not her fault. Not only is she going through a lot personally but the folks and groups who gave to her in the past are experiencing “donor fatigue” after her two losing races for OC Supervisor, the last one to the worthy Vince Sarmiento. (I’d forgotten about that first Supe race in 2020, when Kim came in 4th out of 4, but that was sort of by design – she was in the race to bleed Little Saigon votes from Sergio Contreras for the benefit of Miguel Pulido, a scheme that failed doubly as Sergio beat Miguel in the primary and then went on to lose to the scandalous Andrew Do – a result the County is still suffering from.)

Enough about Kim (almost.) It’s telling that Derek has been getting attacked by not only Kim (who tried to claim falsely that Derek’s not really a veteran) but also by the Steels and Republicans – who are NOT attacking Kim – which is a dependable way to tell which candidate the Republicans consider a threat. Yes, wealthy personal injury attorney Shawn Steel has been blasting Derek because HE TOO has practiced personal injury law (along with other types of law.)

The Steels are at least consistent in their shameless hypocrisy, having slandered their last opponent, the Taiwanese-American Navy veteran Jay Chen, as a Communist Chinese plant when it was actually Shawn Steel who was paid by REAL CHINESE COMMUNISTS to introduce them to Donald Trump. How many times, in this one district, must we watch “Irony cough up blood?”

Jay Chen himself looked long and hard at both Kim and Derek, and endorsed his fellow veteran Derek. So let’s talk about Derek. He showed up at Anaheim’s “Black History Parade & Unity Festival” last weekend looking very Congressional in his blue suit. I recognized him right away. He told me he’s “not a politician,” something folks running for the first time like to say.

“Well you’re a politician NOW,” I responded. But of course what he means is, he has lived his life in the real world, serving in the Army for eight years, working public safety in LA, practicing law, running his own business, bringing up three kids. “You must have an interest in politics at least. What made you open to running against Michelle Steel, what did you know about the Steels?”

“Well you can’t very well live in this district without being aware of Michelle & Shawn’s corruption and lies. Michelle has voted against everything good President Biden has done or tried to do for the people of this country. The Infrastructure and Jobs Act, which was great for our economy and environment, she said no. She voted against the CHIPS Act, which helps American companies build new chip manufacturing plants here.”

“There she goes, helping the Communist Chinese again!”

“Yeah,” Derek laughed. “So many bad votes. And now she’s signed on to the ‘Life at Conception Act, which would criminalize abortion nationwide, no exceptions. You know that, you wrote about it. And they can’t do anything without lying about it.”

“It’s like a nervous tic with them.”

“Right? Michelle’s spokeswoman is still claiming she wants exceptions for rape, incest, health of the mother, etc. But you have to believe what these people do, not what they say – the bill she signed on to includes no exceptions.”

“Yeah, it was you that pushed her into that, by pointing out how she’s been avoiding the issue. So now she’s shown either what she believes, or which group of voters she’s most afraid of losing.”

“It doesn’t matter how pro-choice California is, if we don’t take back the Congress and codify Roe v. Wade, women will be losing their reproductive rights even here.”

“For sure. What other issues are big ones for you?”

“Education, and the Economy. Inflation is hurting everybody. We need more bills like Biden’s “Inflation Reduction Act.” Inflation is NOT just caused by ‘impersonal market forces,’ there’s also GREED involved – GREED-FLATION is really a thing. Remember how the price of eggs skyrocketed recently? It turned out that was due to PRICE-GOUGING by egg suppliers. You see that too in insurance and health care. We need the Attorney General to really go after things like that, with stiff penalties.”

“Eggs, Economy, Education…”

“I think Public Education is the bedrock of America. I’m a product of public schools and I’m proud of it. I send my kids to public schools…”

“Did you know that Thomas Jefferson, who rightwingers like to think is one of theirs – our third President, wrote the Declaration of Independence, doubled our territory with the Louisiana Purchase, but the only thing he wanted written on his tombstone was that he founded the University of Virginia and kept it free to the public?”

“I like that, I’ll have to remember that! I hate how our public schools lately have been turned into a battleground in the Culture Wars, banning books, censoring history… I want to keep politics out of our schools. We need more quality teachers, we need to make higher education more affordable, not saddle our students with tuition debt.”

“What should be done about Citizens United?”

“That’s funny, I just met with those people!”

“What people?”

The End Citizens United group. We’ve got to overturn that decision one way or another. It is destroying our democracy.”

The Viet Candidate, for Little Saigon.

I’m not the most race-obsessed commentator. Not race-obsessed like the Steels, who won this district in ’22 by turning Korean-Americans against ethnic Chinese, while gambling that most Vietnamese-Americans would keep voting Republican. But this District 45 is dominated by Little Saigon, which covers most of Westminster, Garden Grove and Fountain Valley. And Derek is the only candidate in the race who speaks fluent Vietnamese, as it was his first language. (Should be an advantage at least when looking at electability.)

He grew up poor, his parents having come over from Vietnam on a boat in the 80’s. “Is it still okay, in this Woke day and age, to say ‘Boat People?‘” I checked.

“Sure, I don’t see why not,” Derek responded, “I’m proud to be the son of Boat People. Little Saigon wants a Vietnamese-American candidate. And the 45th district in general deserves a candidate who represents the people of the district, not Trump, corporations and the wealthy. Michelle Steel has the loyalty of one faction of Republican politicians in Little Saigon – Van Tran, Tri Ta… but she votes against every good bill that would help the community.”

“Do you know that song from the punk rock years, ‘We’re All Boat People?‘”

“No! Send it to me!”

(I looked that song up later which I hadn’t heard since 1981, it’s a lot more obscure than I realized.)

The Deck Stacked Against Derek

“All my life I’ve had the deck stacked against me.” “Do you want me to write that?” “Yeah, I think it’s important for people to understand…

“My uncles used to tell me, when I was young, that I was stupid and would never amount to anything. I could have let that discourage me, but it just made me want to work harder to prove them wrong. I volunteered in the Army for eight years, learned a lot of skills, went to work doing public safety for the city of LA, started a family, went to college at night…

“And when I was an undergrad I minored in law. I don’t know why, I just loved the law. And I asked a professor, whom I looked up to, how could I go about getting into law school, and he told me he didn’t think I could do it. ‘Your English isn’t good enough,’ he said. THAT really discouraged me for a while, messed with my self-esteem.”

Funny, Derek’s English is perfect now. Very articulate and doesn’t even retain an accent. (Compare to Michelle Steel, unintelligible after 50 years in America, an intelligence thing I guess, but I digress…)

“After a few years I thought, to hell with that professor, I’m going to law school. I went at night, worked in the day. I passed the bar in 2012. I turned down high-paying jobs I coulda got in corporate law, because I wanted to fight for immigrants, workers, sexual harassment survivors, consumers…”

Sure enough, you can look it up – Derek’s legal peers recently recognized him as a “Rising Star” – a distinction shared by a small number of attorneys in California. No wonder fundraising has been easy for him.

“But the point is, when people tell me I can’t do something, I always prove them wrong.” And maybe not having his Party’s endorsement in this race is like that. Wouldn’t be the first time a good Democrat won in spite of the Party. And if you want to help get rid of Michelle Steel and save America, WE think you should vote for Derek Tran this month!

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official political troubadour of Anaheim and most other OC towns. Regularly makes solo performances, sometimes with his savage-jazz band The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.