by Mitch Lehman
If 2013 San Marino High School graduate Nathaniel Tsai is able to defeat incumbent Chris Holden next Tuesday for the 41st State Assembly District seat, he will not be old enough to legally celebrate with a glass of champagne or other alcoholic beverage.
Spray his friends and supporters with a two liter jug of Cactus Cooler?
Hardly seems appropriate.
Time has flown for the eighteen-year-old, who last spring decided to toss his hat into the prverbial political ring, basically, on a dare.
When Tsai and a few of his fellow Government students were researching internships for the 2014 election campaign, discussion turned towards an empty space across from incumbent Holden.
“I spoke to a few people, met with a couple of my professors and decided to run,” said Tsai. “I missed the filing date and was a write-in candidate for the June primary. Three other write-in candidates entered the race and I defeated them all, so I am the official Republican nominee.”
Just a couple months earlier, not only was Tsai not yet a candidate, he was not yet even a Republican.
“I was with some fellow students at the Democrat State Convention in Los Angeles,” Tsai said. “There was a lot of infighting, people running over each other. This is where I decided I wasn’t a Democrat. I felt that the Republicans had a better idea of what the real problems were and better solutions for those problems.”
Now, on the eve of the election, exit polls show Tsai trailing Holden – a lifetime politician and former Pasadena City Councilman – by just one percentage point, 41% to 40%.
“We are just a point behind,” Tsai said over the phone earlier this week.
The 41st Assembly District includes South Pasadena, Altadena, Sierra Madre, Pasadena, Monrovia, LaVerne, San Dimas, Claremont, Upland and Rancho Cucamonga.
“I have been extremely busy,” said the Claremont resident, who has garnered the support of Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich and counts among his supporters Newt Gingrich, Tim Donnelly, Neel Kashkari, Pete Wilson, David Dreier and Chris Cox.
Tsai has also been been endorsed by the Los Angeles County and San Bernardino County Republican Parties, the Pasadena Republican Club, the Mountain View Republican Club and several other organizations.
With only $7,000 in his political war chest, Tsai embarked on a pedestrian campaign of shoe leather, handshakes, eye contact and…social media, of course. After all, he is a teenager.
“Money is only an issue if you want to advertise big,” said Tsai. “It’s more important just to reach out to people. The lack of money encourages me to get out and try to make a personal connection. My committee and I were sitting around talking the other night and I said, ‘if I had hundreds of thousands of dollars, I wouldn’t know what to do with it,” Tsai quipped.
He plans to send more than 30,000 emails to voters by the end of the week to remind people to get to the polls.
“Facebook has been a big part of the campaign,” said Tsai. “I was waiting for a lot of people to say, ‘hey, you’re just 18 – who do you think you are?’ but I have received a lot of support through Facebook. My professors are very interested and they support my candidacy.”
Tsai is an Eagle Scout from San Marino Boy Scout Troop 358, a member of the Stags’ swim team and a Cadet in the United States Army ROTC. He is also a member of San Marino High School’s athletic Hall of Fame (he qualified for the CIF finals all four years).
Tsai sees the big issues as education, transportation and affirmative action – especially the failed SCA-5, an initiative that would ask voters to consider eliminating California Proposition 209’s ban on the use of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in recruitment, admissions and retention programs at California’s public universities and colleges. Proposition 209 prohibits state government institutions from considering race, sex, or ethnicity, specifically in the areas of public employment, contracting, and education.
“Affirmative action is a band-aid solution to a problem that is much larger,” Tsai said. “SCA-5 is unfair to so many people. Letting people into colleges based on their ethnicity instead of their merit is just wrong. If the State is truly interested in getting more people into college, they should provide more resources to lower-performing districts.”
The bill was withdrawn in March.
Tsai is the only child of Tom and Elizabeth Tsai, who, their son says “were pretty skeptical at first, but they later gave me their full support.”