Sam S. Meas, the first Cambodian American to run for a US Congress.
As an active community member in the 5th District in Massachusetts,
Meas has seen first-hand the unique systemic obstacles that
weigh down minority communities, and is ready to step up to
the challenge of changing this reality so that all
Americans can have equal access to the American dream.
S A M S. M E A S f o r U . S . C o n g r e s s
by : Krisna Kay
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I am excited for the opportunity to interview Sam S. Meas, the first Cambodian American to run for a US Congress. As an active community member in the 5th District in Massachusetts, Meas has seen first-hand the unique systemic obstacles that weigh down minority communities, and is ready to step up to the challenge of changing this reality so that all Americans can have equal access to the American dream. The challenge does not intimidate Meas, who is no stranger to adversity. Despite his humble beginning in the US, as a Killing Fields survivor and a teenaged orphan, Meas was able to beat the odds and become an excellent scholar and successful financial consultant. Time and again, Meas has proven to be unstoppable in accomplishing what most people wouldn’t even dare to dream. His next aspiration, a seat in the US House of Representatives, is one he is confident he will achieve in the upcoming 2010 election. But whether he wins or loses, Meas’ campaign will inspire progress in the community and introduce long-term reforms. This interview is intended to allow our readers to learn more about Meas and his campaign: his background and values, his political stance on important issues, and his plans for reform. Mainly, we just want to get to know Sam Meas a little better.
1. What does a typical day in the life of Sam Meas look like?
Even though I am a Congressional candidate, I still carry out my normal routine as a husband and as a father to my two daughters. On a typical day, I wake up at 6:00 a.m., make coffee for me and my wife, Leah, walk the dog, shower, and shave. Then I wake the girls and help Leah get them ready for day care. I prepare breakfast for the girls and send them off with Leah by 7:30 a.m.
After Leah and the girls are gone, I turn on the computer and review my calendar for the day and the week. I answer emails from constituents and am out of the house by 8:00 or 8:30 to have breakfast and meet and greet constituents and business people -- at a diner, coffee shop, office, nursing home, senior center, soccer field, bar, private home, or business. I go where the people are. By 1:00 p.m., I return to my office to make phones calls to potential donors and to schedule meetings with them. I will spend about 2-3 hours making these phone calls. Then I go out to meet and greet constituents and business people again.
2. Can you describe the moment when you knew you wanted to run for US Congress?
It was November 2, 2008, and I was in the voting booth staring down at the ballot. What I saw was disheartening: all the candidates were incumbents. And all were running unopposed. I thought to myself: I am living in the United of America, the freest country in the world, but I have no choice for representative because there is no one willing to challenge the incumbent. Where was the fundamental right to choose? I decided to run for office to give myself and thousands of other Americans in my Congressional district a choice. I also wanted to let people know that public office is not only for the rich or powerful. Government belongs to the people. We are the government.
3. Why are you the best candidate?
4. What do you think has been the most rewarding thing about running for the congressional seat?
Meeting so many Americans who are just as patriotic as I am. They care deeply about their community and their country.
Sharing ideas, concerns, and solutions to the current economic and social issues facing our country and the district. We Americans, regardless of political affiliation, are proud to be Americans. Most American want to help those who are less fortunate and expect those who receive help to help themselves as well.
5. What challenges do you face while running for US Congress?
The biggest challenge is raising money. All candidates, incumbents and newcomers, face this hurdle.
I have had to resign from my position with State Street Global Advisors to campaign full time.
Last but not least, is not having enough time to spend with my two little girls, Monique and Sydney, and my beautiful wife!
6. What does your family think about you running for US Congress?
I am very lucky that my wife, Leah Suan-Meas, supports me 100% in this endeavor. Without her support, it would not be possible for me to run for Congress.
7. How did the community in the MA 5th Congressional District respond to you when you announced your candidacy?
At first people were shocked to find out that there was someone, a Republican, willing to challenge the Democrat incumbent. They were even more shocked and surprised that I am not your stereotypical Republican. I am a member of a minority group. I am a fiscal and social conservative. And my candidacy is for a Congressional seat that has been held by a Democrat for a long time – nearly 30 years.
8. What do you see as the most pressing concerns in the US today? How do you plan to address these issues?
The lack of jobs is the most pressing issue facing the US today. Every day I meet people who are unemployed and who are desperately looking for work. I speak to small business owners who want to hire, but cannot due to economic uncertainty, burgeoning regulations, and the high cost of health care insurance. My district is made up of a diverse population of 650,000 people in 29 towns and cities, including urban immigrants and bedroom community suburbanites. In two of these cities the unemployment rate hovers around 18%, compared with the national average of around 10%. To get people back to work we need to cut taxes across the board, lower the capital gains tax, and reduce the red tape that impedes economic growth. Putting more money into the hands of Americans will stimulate spending and hiring by businesses.
Healthcare is next on the list of concerns. The cost of healthcare is skyrocketing out of reach for many families and businesses. We need reform that addresses the root causes of the runaway cost of healthcare. For a start, we need tort reform, competition across state lines, and transparency in pricing. Healthcare should be in the hands of the private sector, not the government. I don’t believe in socialized medicine. Socialized medicine has never worked in other countries and will not work here.
Immigration is on everyone’s mind right now. Most Americans strongly support legal immigration – as I do. They overwhelmingly oppose illegal immigration. But before we can address the issue of illegal immigrants who are already in the US, we MUST secure the borders and all points of entry to the US. The federal government must enforce the immigration laws already on the books. And we must take away the incentives that encourage people to cross our borders illegally.
9. Please give a brief biography of yourself. Looking back how do you feel about your life?
I am a survivor of the Pol Pot Khmer Rouge. Like most Khmers who grew up during the brutal regime of Pol Pot, I don’t know my exact age. I am approximately 38 years old. My father was arrested by the Khmer Rouge soldiers, his own students, and sent to be “re-educated.” He was never seen or heard from again. I lived in the refugee camps on the Khmer-Thai border with my mother and siblings. When the camp was overrun by the advancing Communist Vietnamese and Vietnamese-backed soldiers, I escaped to another refugee camp, called Kao-I-Dang, inside Thailand. I lived there for nearly three years, surviving by living with a fellow Khmer refugee’s family. In exchange for food, shelter, and clothing, I cooked, cleaned, babysat, carried water, chopped wood, sewed, shined shoes. I also managed to study Khmer and English. I was sponsored to the US by Catholics Charities of Richmond, Virginia, in November 1986 and was subsequently adopted by an American family. I grew up in a loving and supportive home. I went to Virginia Tech and graduated with a degree in Finance in May 1996.
I married Leah in 2002. We have two adorable daughters, Monique and Sydney. Until recently I was a Principal with State Street Global Advisor. I managed a group of Performance Analysts who provided analytical support to portfolio managers. On April 1, I resigned so that I can concentrate on my campaign full time.
Before becoming a Congressional candidate, I was on the Board of Directors for the North Suffolk Mental Health Association where I had the pleasure and privilege of serving as the chairman of committees such as Finance, Compensation, and Compliance & Audit.
10. It is extraordinary that you were able to overcome such adversity in your life, having been a Killing Fields survivor and an orphan in a foreign country, then going on to achieve a very successful educational and professional career. What allowed you to be so successful, despite your tremendous obstacles? What advice would you offer to others who are facing similar problems?
The impact of the Killing Fields will always be with me. I live with it every day. As horrific as the experience was, it has shaped me to become the person that I am today. I am thankful to be alive. I am profoundly grateful to be an American and to be a citizen of the United States of America, the greatest country the world has ever known. This is one of the reasons why I am running for Congress. I want to make sure that America will NEVER become a socialist or communist state. We the people must keep the government small and at arm’s length. Pol Pot Khmer Rouge promised an egalitarian utopian society. But what the Khmer people got was a proud and prosperous nation reduced to the Stone Age, absolute poverty, and two million people slaughtered like animals.
I learned that nothing in life is fair or free. In order to be helped, I first have to help myself. Like the old saying goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Once you understand and accept that, your potential to succeed in life is limited only by your own abilities.
My worst day in America is better than the best day I ever had under Khmer Rouge. Here I have a home, food, freedom, and liberty
My advice to others is nothing new:
Study hard. Never stop learning.
Remember the story of the grasshopper and the ant.
Don’t dwell on the past. Don’t forget it, but use the experience to strengthening your resolve.
Don’t be afraid of failure. Without failure, there can be no success.
Learn from the mistakes of others so that you can avoid them.
Be yourself. Your true colors will show no matter how hard you try to hide them.
Understand that you define and are in complete control of your life.
Help others and become involved by serving in your community.
Always dream and aim high.
Seize the opportunity to make a good first impression. Your first impression is the last impression.
Live life to the fullest, as if this were your last day on earth.
Always be grateful to your country and proud of it.
11. I understand that you are a big proponent of education and of after-school programs. Can you explain?
In order for America to maintain its economic strength and provide social services, we must have a vibrant and robust economy that will produce a healthy flow of tax revenue. But to have this, we need an educated workforce.
Our school curriculum was designed at the turn of the century, and it has not changed since. The curriculum must be brought up to date.
Competition fosters innovation and excellence. I would like to see competition in public schools and an increase in the number of charter schools. Competition in the form of charter schools will force public schools to compete for our limited tax dollars just as private companies compete for our business.
12. You had an interesting family life growing up. Can you explain what happened to your family in Cambodia, and your process of growing up with new adopted families in the US? What was it like being raised by them? How did it affect how you assimilated to the American culture?
As I stated earlier, I was separated from my family when the refugee camp on the Khmer-Thai border was overrun by the advancing Vietnamese Communist troops. In the confusion and fog of the war, we were caught in the crossfire between the two opposing forces. I escaped with my older cousin and others to a refugee camp inside Thailand.
Initially, like most immigrants, I had a difficult time adjusting to life in America. But because I was young, I was able to assimilate successfully to American culture after about a year and a half. I had few Khmer friends. I was surrounded by Americans. So I spent most of my time speaking and thinking in English. I went to Trinity Episcopal High, a private high school in the middle-class community of Richmond, Virginia, where my adopted family and I lived. My first job was at a grocery store pushing grocery carts and making $3.25 an hour. I saved up enough money to buy my first car, an orange 1978 Ford Pinto.
My adopted mother has always provided me with love and support. My adopted grandparents mentored me. My adopted grandfather was a cardiologist and tutored me in English and other school work. With his encouragement, I studied and read diligently.
Looking back, it seems to me that within a span of 48 hours, I escaped hell in Cambodia and a refugee camp in Thailand and arrived in heaven, the United State of America. On November 16, 1986, the date my plane landed in America, my life was profoundly and forever changed.
13. You have gotten a chance to live two extremely different lifestyles, as a laborer in a Cambodian work camp, then as an adopted member of an affluent White American family. What did you learn from this experience?
I appreciate being an American and living in the greatest country on earth. America is the land of hope and opportunity. One can achieve any dream if one is willing to work hard. Americans are kind, generous, and compassionate people. Our system of government and free market capitalistic system may not be perfect, but they are the best there is in the world. My success is proof that the American dream is alive and well. My family and I would never have achieved the level of success that we have come to enjoy had we lived in a different country.
14. You’ve been through so many changes in your life. Has there been anything that has remained constant?
My faith in our Lord Buddha and his teachings. My faith in the kindness of a human heart. And I have never forgotten where I came from.
15. How do you envision the state of our country at the end of your two-year term? What would be different? What will it take to achieve this vision?
I would use my two-year term to introduce and/or co-sponsor legislation to stimulate the economy and lower the unemployment rate, revise the healthcare bill, secure our borders and reform immigration law and regulations, reduce red tape, and work on a sound energy policy.
16. How do you envision the US in ten years? The world?
I envision the US as a strong country with a healthy economy, a foreign policy leader that will facilitate peace around the world. I envision a world of less conflict and suffering than we have today.
17. What do you think about your opponent, the incumbent Niki Tsongas?
I don’t know her personally. We have met only briefly and exchanged only a few pleasantries. However, from talking to more and more constituents, I believe that she is an ineffective representative of the people of the Fifth District. She is tone-deaf to the needs of her constituents as exemplified by her voting record. She has voted along party lines 98% of the time. She does whatever Speaker Nancy Pelosi tells her to do. For example, despite overwhelming opposition from her constituents, she voted for the healthcare reform bill, for cap and trade, and for the continued funding of ACORN. She is seen as the most vulnerable Democrat up for re-election and is targeted to be defeated by the National Republican Congressional Committee.
18. Some Cambodian groups in Massachusetts have been long-time Democrats and supporters of your opponent. Why is that? Do you plan to win their vote, too?
My opponent ran and won the election as a result of strong name recognition. Her late husband Paul Tsongas was a Congressman and a Senator. Paul was a good man and a fiscal conservative. To the best of my knowledge, my candidacy represents the first time that an American of Khmer descent has ever run for Congress under the GOP ticket. So naturally, Cambodian groups have supported the Democrats and Niki Tsongas. My team and I are working hard to win the hearts and minds of the Cambodians – and ultimately their vote. I believe that I can best represent their interests in Congress. No other person can understand their pain, their suffering, and their struggles as well as I can.
19. Although you have always emphasized that you are independent in your political views, there have been rumors that you are a supporter of political groups in Cambodia, such as the CPP and the Sam Rainsy Party. Is there any truth to these rumors? Why do people say them if they’re not true?
So that there will be no hint of any confusion, I would like to make it completely clear that I am running for a political office in United States of America. I am not running for a political office in Cambodia. I do not belong to nor do I support any political party in Cambodia. These rumors are just rubbish made up by people with ulterior motives. I attend functions in the USA hosted by supporters of all political parties in Cambodia. I attend these functions to:
Get my name out to the community.
Ask people for their votes – I see all people who attend these functions as potential American voters. Their party affiliation in Cambodia is irrelevant.
Solicit contributions for my campaign.
20. Why run now? What makes now the right time for you to run for this position?
In order to be successful in any venture, one needs resources, planning, and timing. Without the right timing, the venture will most likely fail. I believe that November 2, 2010, is the perfect time for any Republican to challenge the incumbent with an extremely good chance of winning.
The domestic and foreign policies of President Barack Hussein Obama and Congress are very unpopular. Based on various opinion polls, most Americans oppose the health care bill, cap and trade, bailouts and a whole host of other issues. As a result, there is a strong anti-incumbency sentiment across the country, particularly in my district where my opponent is not well regarded at all.
21. Your professional and educational background is in finance and business consulting. How will this inform your choices as a congressman?
I will spend your hard-earned tax dollars wisely. I will be very frugal. I understand that money (billions and trillions) is not just an abstract concept; it is real. I will fight to rein in spending and pork. I understand the difference between a deficit and debt, which most Congressmen, including my very own, do not understand.
22. In a VOA Khmer interview, it was stated that once you win the election, your focus will be on tax reduction and immigration issues. Why?
Tax reduction stimulates the economy by putting more money into the hands of consumers. The US economy is in a deep recession. I believe that more government spending is not the answer. We need the private sector and individual Americans to get this economy up and running again.
Our borders are porous. We need to secure them. I welcome legal immigration. I want to reform the immigration rules and regulations so that those who want to come to America to pursue the blessings of liberty and contribute to this great country can do so legally. I want to make the legal immigration process less cumbersome and reduce red tape.
23. In a VOA Khmer interview, you were quoted to have said that you want to “change the law requiring deportation of Cambodian children who have lived in the US for 20 or 25 years for petty crimes they committed and were deported just because their parents don’t have citizenship.” This seems to contradict your strict proposed policy on immigration reform (on your website, sammeasforcongress.com). How does being more lenient with these Cambodian children coincide with your push for stricter immigration laws?
Regarding the deportation issue of Khmer nationals who have been living in the US for a long time – 20 or 25 years – I want to have the agreement that the US government has with Vietnam. The US-Vietnam deportation treaty explicitly states that Vietnam will only accept deportation of Vietnamese nationals who came to the United States after 1995. However, there is no such stipulation in the US-Cambodia deportation treaty. Cambodia will accept deportees of Khmer nationals regardless of when they came here. Why is the punishment for the many misdemeanors or felonies committed in the US by Vietnamese residents not the same as that for Cambodian residents?
24. On your website, sammeasforcongress.com, you mentioned that you wanted to increase federal spending on several things: public infrastructure such as highways, bridges, public transits, schools, veterans’ benefits, and increased border security, to name a few. Yet, you want to lower taxes for the middle class majority. Where will the money come from to increase spending in these areas?
The money will come from cuts in pork spending, waste, and fraud; and from consolidating federal agencies and eliminating programs that are no longer needed.
25. Also on your website, you mentioned that you want to “eliminate the current ‘anchor baby’ policy, which confers US citizenship on any child born on US soil.” Why is this important to you?
Too many people know how to use this policy to access our generous social system. Is it fair to use the tax money of hard-working Americans to pay the hospital cost of someone who came to the US specifically to deliver a baby? Someone who, after the delivery, typically takes the baby back to her home country? And when that baby is 18 years of age, the baby comes back to the US and demands all the rights and privileges of a US citizen, such as in-state tuition, healthcare, social security benefits, even though its parents have not been paying taxes. This is outrageous.
26. How do you feel about being the first Cambodian to run for US Congress?
I hope that my Congressional run will inspire other Americans of Khmer descent to be politically active and to engage in the American political process at all levels. Being the first person to do something is difficult, and there are many doubters out there waiting for me to fail. But I am not a bit deterred because I am not afraid to fail. The goal is to win, of course, and I believe I have an extremely good chance of winning in November. However, if I do not win, I will run again in 2012. My Congressional run is history in the making, but I try not to think about that. I have a long campaign ahead of me.
27. Other Cambodians who have earned positions of political influence in your district may have given Cambodian political leaders a bad reputation, such as former Councilor Rithy Uong who had to resign from his position after accepting an unethical promotion in the School Department while sitting on the council. Do you think Uong’s reputation affects you in any way?
I am running for Congress as my own man. The voters can judge me on my record and character, as well as on my professional success. They can judge me on my platform and values. I don’t have sufficient facts to comment on Councilor Rithy Uong.
28. Please list seven words to best describe yourself.
29. What are seven things you would put in a time capsule?
Photographs of my family and my dog
My first I-phone
Newspaper articles of my primary and general election victories
A photograph of my swearing-in as US Congressman
A DVD of the movie, The Killing Fields
A box of Captain Crunch
A 4-headed VCR and VHS of Bond Movies
30. Do you have any final words?
I am very appreciative of and overwhelmed by the support from my friends, relatives, and fellow Cambodian-Americans all across the United States and around the world. But in order for me to be elected, I need more than just moral support. I need votes and financial support.
I strongly encourage those of you who are US citizens and live in to register to vote as Republican or Unenrolled voters so that you can vote for me in the primary election on September 14, 2010. And vote for me again on November 2, 2010. Every vote counts. Asian votes are critical in winning both the primary and general elections.
Campaigns cost a lot of money. To run an effective Congressional campaign, I will need $1.5M to $2M. Please visit my website, samforcongress.net, to read about my position on the important issues of the day. And if you believe in my message, my platform, and my values, I strongly encourage you to contribute to my campaign. I need to raise $180,000 for the next two months ending June 30, 2010. If 3,000 people donate only $30/month (a dollar a day) for next two months, I will achieve that goal. ( Sam S. Meas official website : www.sammeasforcongress.com )
My election to a US Congressional office will be of historical importance. I invite you to be part of that history. Help me build a bridge to a strong future for all of us.
MEAS CAMPAIGN SUBMITS OVER 4,000 CERTIFIED SIGNATURES TO STATE SECRETARY
Voters throughout the Fifth District Show Strong Support for Meas Candidacy
HAVERHILL - Sam Meas, candidate for Fifth Congressional District filed more than 4,000 nominating signatures with the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts last week, guaranteeing the State Street Global Advisors Executive a spot on September's primary ballot. Meas’ strong numbers further ensure his status as among the frontrunners in a crowded field.
Greg Page, Field Coordinator for the Sam Meas for Congress campaign acknowledged today that over 4,000 certified signatures had been turned over last week to the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. According to the Secretary of State, the Meas campaign had collected the most certified signatures. The total amount of signatures collected for all the candidates are as follows:
Sam Meas (R) – 4010
Niki Tsongas (D)– 3617
Tom Weaver (R) - 3285
Robert Shapiro (R)– 2812
Jon Golnik - (R) 2339
Robert Clarke (U) - 2156
"With over 40 volunteers who collected over 5,600 raw signatures from throughout the district, we were overwhelmed by the amount of support Sam received from every corner of the 5th Congressional District," said Greg Page, Meas campaign field director. “We had so many good signatures that the State Secretary's office cut off accepting any more certified signatures from us at 4,010. We had a lot more available. I estimate the percentage of signatures (which were certified from the campaign's raw total) at around 85%. Many of the uncertified signatures came from registered Democrats who knew their signatures would not be counted, but wanted to sign anyway in support of Sam. This support is further proof that Sam's candidacy is resonating with voters in the Fifth District," an enthusiastic Page added."
Page stated that over 10,000 campaign "push cards" had been disseminated by the volunteers while they collected signatures and that dozens of new voters had been enrolled to vote for the first time in their lives. "We didn't need to pay for any of the signatures we collected," remarked Page in reference to campaigns that have to hire professional signature gatherers in order to get their candidate on the ballot.
The candidate himself praised Page for his "outstanding" leadership role in organizing the signature drive. "Greg and his volunteers blew me away with their hard work," said Sam Meas, who is working hard to win the Republican primary in September in order to face down in the November general election Congresswoman "Niki" Tsongas (D-MA), the Democratic incumbent. "I am humbled by all the people who have sacrificed their personal time to help me out," Meas said.
Meas himself had personally collected signatures and, in the process, gleamed first hand the issues which concerned the voters to whom he spoke. "Illegal immigration, the economy, and healthcare were the (issues) which generated the most discussion," observed the Haverhill Republican. "The anger over the status quo is intense. Voters like my positions on those issues and other issues. I've told them all that if they honor me with their vote, I will not let them down. And I won't," said an emphatic Meas.
The candidate was pleased with the gradual growth of his field organization and said he is in the process of intensifying his efforts to raise money. "It remains a challenge to me given how tough the economy is for most voters," conceded Meas. "But given an opportunity to present my case to them, I am confident that primary voters will conclude that I am the best candidate to represent the highest ideals of our district and voters in the general election will equally agree that I will represent their interests and not the extremely partisan interests of (Speaker of the US House of Representatives) Nancy Pelosi and the Washington establishment she represents.”
For more information on the Sam Meas campaign, people are encouraged to check out the candidate's website at www.sammeasforcongress.com.
Committee To Elect Sam Meas
P.O.Box 1323 • Haverhill, MA 01831 • 978.482.0752
email@example.com • www.sammeasforcongress.com
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