Democrat Andy Kim talks Chris Christie and tells Moneyish why he’s running against Republican incumbent Tom MacArthur in New Jersey
Andrew Kim wants to bring some diplomacy back to Congress.
For much of his adult life, the 35-year-old has been a student of Middle Eastern politics and then a diplomat, culminating in a two year stint as a key Iraq advisor in Barack Obama’s White House. But now, Kim is bringing his focus back home. The child of Korean immigrants has declared his candidacy to become the Democratic nominee for New Jersey’s third congressional district. If successful, he’ll take on Tom MacArthur, the moderate Republican who played a key role in the House of Representatives repeal of Obamacare.
Kim, who claims he had no interest in becoming an elected official until fairly recently, says he’s running because he’s fed up with MacArthur specifically and more generally with Congress. “If he’s able to take a leading role in [legislation] that he knows is going to put so many lives at stake, that’s opposite of the kind of leader we need,” he tells Moneyish. “It’s healthcare but also about the kind of government we want representing us. It’s currently all about partisan politics.” (A representative for MacArthur didn’t return a request for comment.)
By contrast, Kim, who notes his background lies in foreign policy, where there traditionally has been more bipartisan comity. “This is where partisan politics has the least room to operate [as] we shouldn’t be thinking in the way of political gamesmanship,” he says. Kim was educated at Deep Springs College, a liberal arts school in the California desert that trains its students to be cattle ranchers/scholars and went on to study at the University of Chicago and as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford. One of the Democrat’s early jobs was working for then-Sen. Richard Lugar, the revered GOP chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. There, he shared an office with Chris Stevens, later the ambassador to Libya who was assassinated in Benghazi.
Although he opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Kim went on to work for the State Department, where he advised General David Petraeus on Iraq policy. Later, he was promoted to Iraq director on the National Security Council. It was in that latter position that he came to see the promise of good government. In the summer of 2014, about 50,000 Yazidi people were trapped on Mount Sinjar and at risk of execution at the hands of Islamic State. “There was an imminent genocide and within ours, our government worked together on a plan for humanitarian assistance and attacks against ISIS,” says Kim. “We saved thousands of lives. I’ve seen that government can work and inspire.”
But beyond calls for less partisan bickering, Kim can be hard to pin down politically. His campaign’s homepage currently lacks an issues page and he demurs when asked where he stands in the Democratic Party’s schism between populists led by Bernie Sanders and a more moderate wing. “My first step is to meet and listen with the people. That needs to happen before anything else,” he says “The most important conversations are about issues affecting daily lives and brainstorming solutions we can work together on. My approach is missing from the more ideological fights.”
Today, the married father of two young boys lives in Marlton, a suburban community near Philadelphia where his parents also reside. The need to listen, he says, is something he learnt from Vice President Joe Biden. “I was having a meeting with him one day and he was going on about broader politics when he said ‘It’s not right that all politics is local, they’re personal,” recounts Kim. “He really stressed that the importance of listening and communicating is what really lets you move ahead with politics.”
That said, Kim isn’t afraid to pile in on the likes of the unpopular GOP governor of his state, Chris Christie. “He has this tough guy attitude of ‘I know what’s best,’” says Kim of the beach closer who’s moonlighting as a sports talk show host. “His willingness to fight his own constituents is mind boggling. He’s the kind of politician I don’t want to be. If I get elected, a sizeable part of my district will disagree with me and I want to have a dialogue with them.”
On his favored field of foreign policy, he’s also up to zing Trump. “His actions on the Paris climate agreement are a perfect example of how we are abdicating our leadership with this false construction of ‘America First,’” says Kim. “It really means America only. We’re going to find this to be a huge problem when we need support from other countries.”
Still, he will face a tough route to Capitol Hill. One of his primary opponents is likely to be Katherine Hartman, a respected local civil rights attorney. MacArthur also won last year’s election, albeit over an underfunded Democratic candidate, by almost 70,000 votes. Additionally, the GOP politico is a multimillionaire insurance executive who’s demonstrated a willingness to splash the cash on his political career.
But Kim has already raised over $115,000 early in his campaign. Becoming a Congressman he says, will be an additional, unexpected dream come true. “I’m the son of immigrants who worked hard,” he says. “My experiences defined me and we’ll work through this without partisan fighting.”
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