Content warning: This article includes references to rape.
This interview is part of a series with candidates for California’s 16th Congressional District.
Evan Low, a California state assemblymember, is running as a Democrat in the crowded open primary to replace Rep. Anna Eshoo, who has represented the district including Stanford for the past 16 terms. The top two candidates in the March 5 primary will advance to a general election on Nov. 5.
Evan Low was born and raised in San Jose, where he attended De Anza Community College and San Jose State. In 2010, at the age of 26, he was elected mayor of Campbell, making him the nation’s youngest Asian American and openly gay mayor at the time. He went on to serve in the State Assembly for ten years, where he chaired the California Legislative Tech and Innovation Caucus, the LGBTQ+ Caucus and the Asian and Pacific Islander Caucus. He was a national co-chair for Andrew Yang’s 2020 presidential campaign.
The Daily spoke to Low about his work in the assembly, generational change and LGBTQ+ and Asian American political representation.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): How did you decide to run for Congress?
Evan Low (EL): It’s time for a new generation of leadership. It’s important that this generation answers the call to public service.
It’s about the issues that disproportionately impact young people. We’re talking about issues that I face, for example. As a millennial, I struggle to afford a home in the community that I worked for and grew up in. It’s a challenge and a struggle, but these are not unique experiences. This is something that everyday individuals face.
Previous generations purchased their homes when it was affordable. Interest rates for this generation [are] at an all-time 25-year high. The cost of housing and rent is at a 45-year high.
You pause and think, “Is our generation better off than the previous generation?” Historically, in American society, the answer is always yes. The fundamental key to the American dream is that we’re supposed to leave this a better place for future generations. We scratch our heads [and] say, “I don’t know if this is true or not.”
So how do we ensure that, given these lived experiences I face, we can also apply them in real-time in public policy?
TSD: The Sacramento Bee once named you one of California’s most prolific lawmakers. What are one or two achievements from your time in the state assembly that voters should know about?
EL: The most recent one is [about] fundamental human rights. Roe v. Wade was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, rolling back protections that have been afforded for over 50 years. So I co-authored Proposition One, which enshrined reproductive freedom in constitutional protections in the state of California.
Similarly, I’ve authored a constitutional amendment to enshrine protections for same-sex couples to marry, as well as interracial marriage. I know that sounds crazy, as we’re talking [in] 2024. But the Supreme Court cited court cases that stated those two would be on the chopping block next. So you’ll see that on the ballot [in November 2024].
TSD: What are your main policy priorities at the federal level?
EL: Foremost is delivering for our district. The name of the game, and the way Congress works, is seniority and tenure. In other words, it takes time to be in a key position on a key committee and build seniority.
So [it’s] having a long runway to develop the relationships and expertise, to then be on key committees to effect a policy change or [amend] existing policy that can get to the President’s desk. As well as being [in] a key appropriations position to get funding [for] infrastructure projects for our district.
TSD: What specific policy measures do you support to address climate change?
EL: A just transition. So much of what we enjoy here in Silicon Valley happen[ed] because we had grant funding and incentives for the state of California. I hope to utilize technology in an effective manner, to incentivize individuals to get similar technologies.
We also need to build infrastructure. As much as we’d like to help promote California across the country, we’re dealing with political realities. How do you, in a divided Senate, actually accomplish something? Even with, for example, a Joe Manchin Democrat in West Virginia?
How do we make sure there’s a just transition, bringing together workers that may be in good-paying union jobs, predominantly people of color as well? That’s the perspective I bring as the chair of the California Legislative Technology Caucus.
TSD: You grew up in this district and passed through its education system. How has growing up here in the Bay shaped your policy goals?
EL: I’m a product of public education all the way through. It provided me [with] an opportunity to do what I am doing right now.
In 1960, there was something called the California Master Plan for Higher Education, essentially the guiding principle and document for the state of California. Part of that [said] tuition was free, because [California] wanted to lower barriers to entry for everyday Californians to become productive members of society.
Fast-forward to today, the cost of tuition is exorbitantly high. How do we help reform the system to provide access and equity for everyday Californians?
That’s why at the state level, we’ve made college tuition-free at community colleges. That has shaped my perspective as it relates to an equity lens. How do we make sure we’re thinking about policies that help transform the lives of those most vulnerable in our communities?
TSD: So would you support federal legislation to make community college free nationwide?
EL: Yes. We’ve done that in the state of California and it’s reaped great rewards.
TSD: What do you have to say to the Stanford community specifically? Why should voters on this campus support your candidacy?
EL: There was a major issue in recent memory — the Stanford rape case, in which a student was raped [while] unconscious and the perpetrator received a very light sentence. This [was] the Brock Turner case.
As a result of that, I authored legislation to make sure the punishment fits the crime. Rape is unconscionable, and there now is mandatory sentencing for a rapist in the state of California.
[The case] made nationwide news. When people were debating whether the judge implemented the right sentence, I just leaned in and said, “Let’s fix it.” That’s emblematic of how I approach things — just get straight to the point. Ignore the noise and get to fixing problems.
TSD: If you were elected, you would be the first Chinese American and openly LGBTQ+ representative of this district. How has your identity informed your candidacy?
EL: Yes, I would be the first. That’s significant, especially [with the] conversation we just experienced [around] stopping Asian hate, coming directly from Donald Trump saying COVID-19 was the “Kung-flu” or the “Chinese virus.”
I’m still in certain circumstances seen as a perpetual foreigner. And yet, I am a fourth-generation Californian, speaking more Spanish than I do Chinese. But again, people do not see that.
I think [my experience] is an important characteristic in helping to advance the equity lens on stopping hate. It’s not just hate to the Asian American community — it’s xenophobia, antisemitism, Islamophobia and attacking women and LGBT people.
You referenced that there’s never been an openly gay person elected to Congress from Northern California. The San Francisco Bay Area is home to the largest concentration of openly LGBT families in the United States. What we’re seeing right now in Congress is [that] the MAGA Republicans are targeting members of the most vulnerable in the LGBT community. But you cannot legislate LGBT people out of existence. That’s what they’re trying to do, and that’s why it’s important we have representation. The best way to counter the most homophobic [House] speaker in recent history is to send more gays to Congress.
TSD: How confident are you feeling in your chances of winning this election?
EL: Oh, I’m very excited. When you look at the demographics of the district, it has [an] incredible capacity of bright young individuals, including [at] Stanford. Look at the demographics of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, the temperament and tone of what voters are looking for in this climate.
I’m hopeful that my track record will prove it [to voters]. We have an embarrassment of riches in these candidates and our district is going to expect exceptionalism. Therefore, [my campaign] will work [even] harder to hone in on our message and to earn the trust of the district.