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1. Please tell us a little about your self:
I am originally from Santa Rosa, California and grew up around the whole Bay Area. After graduating high school, I went on to study Sociology at Cornell where I was part of the Asian Pacific Americans for Action. I actually redid the charter for the Cornell Asian-Pacific American Students Union there too. Afterwards I got my Masters in Health Administration, also at Cornell, and have been working in Hospital Administration while serving as a legislator in Ithaca since.
2. What got you so involved with politics and the run for Congress?
Long story short my father, Larry Shinagawa, was involved with the case of Kuanchung Kao in the nineties. One of his students (Larry Shinagawa is a professor in Asian American studies) got into a fight at the bar while celebrating a promotion. To sum it up, the guys didn’t like the way he looked and harassed him until the police showed up and only arrested the Asian American man. This man’s name was Kuanchung Kao. After he was taken home by the police, Kao’s wife wouldn’t let the drunken and angry man inside. When police returned, they saw Kao drunk and waving a broomstick, upon which one officer pulled his gun and shot him in the chest. Nate paused for a moment before explaining how that case affected him, barely a teenager. My father got involved with the Law Caucus and the Justice Department and ultimately helped to win a fairer settlement for Kao’s family despite governmental attempts to brush the killing under the rug. He worked with the Law Caucus to keep the case from being settled. I was 13 at the time and to see the effect of a killing by a police officer and then seeing the government try to cover it up…it really affected me. And my family has faced a lot of discrimination since; we were actually mentioned in a KKK newsletter once. As for the change from hospital administration to politics, hospital administration is great, especially when you’re in charge of it because you can change the culture. Politics is more abstract because you don’t really see the direct changes of your work. With this race, the current Congressman is completely out of touch. He’s all about the gas and oil companies. It was a call to action for me!
3. How does it feel to be one of the youngest people to run for Congress, let alone the youngest Asian-American?
I’m excited! A lot of people who were previously county and local legislators often have a sense of entitlement when running for higher office. But we take nothing for granted and we know that we’re going to be challenged at every turn. I know we have our work cut out for us and I wouldn’t expect it any other way. We’ve gotten practically every endorsement so far though and we’re doing great.
4. What are some issues that you feel strongly about?
Fracking. It’s not just an environmental issue and problem, but also a threat to the quality of life for my district. I also believe that the money spent on hydraulic fracturing and natural gases encourages a dependence on fossil fuels when we should be looking at renewable energy and greener solutions. I’ve been taking a stand on fracking issues for four years now, way before it really blew up in the political scene. I’m also very sensitive to wards jobs in the area. Ithaca has been devastated by job and population loss. Young people vote with their feet and don’t often stay in the area. I think that as a younger politician who HAS chosen to stay in the area, it shows my dedication to my district. I’m a strong advocate for economic development, specifically for small businesses and universities. I am also an advocate for healthcare. Now that the Affordable Care Act is under attack, I vow to fight for it however I can. The act helps middle class families, seniors, everyone. I also believe in having Medicare for all. If the Affordable Care Act is repealed, I would support having single-payer healthcare. Now that does not mean having government run hospitals or government run doctors; it just means government run insurance. You’d still have your private doctors and physicians, single-payer healthcare would just take the profit out of the healthcare industry without affecting the care.
5. Who has been your biggest influence, personally and politically?
Personally, my grandmother. She recently passed away but she was born and lived in Japan until she met my grandfather and moved to the United States. She was a single mom, she was always a fighter, she told the truth, and she was also a very stylish woman. She was always unafraid to confront someone if there was something wrong and also was down to open a beer at the end of the day. My favorite story she always told me was when she was gardening in front of her house in the 70’s and a middle-aged Japanese American guy rolled up. He said that he was running for mayor and wanted to get her support, well she of course asked “well who are you?” It was Norman Mineta. And she was so impressed and just blown away that a Japanese American was running for such high office. Norman Mineta is one of my influencers as well. He went on to serve as mayor of San Jose, to Congress, to Secretary of Commerce, Secretary of Transportation, etc. But he was always able to find common ground with everyone. So him and Paul Wellstone. Paul Wellstone was the definition of grassroots campaigning and I’d love to be like him as well.
6. Hydrofracking is a huge part of your campaign. What have you done about this issue and what do you plan to do?
As you know, I’ve been very involved in fracking issues both environmental and social for a long time. I’ve been supportive of all fracking bans and of home owner legislation, which would allow the people to vote on whether or not they want fracking to happen in their neighborhoods. Fracking not only makes drinking water in the Southern Tier unsafe, it also harms our families, neighborhoods, land, roads, everything. As a member of Congress, I would ensure that the Environmental Protection Agency has the power and resources (resources are important) to control fracking.
7. Great! So last question. Where were you 10 years ago and where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Oh man. Ten years ago I was 18 turning 19 and a sophomore at Cornell. I was a theater major and just getting involved with student activism. I was that guy in torn jeans and activist t-shirts protesting things and debating the conservative newspapers on campus. And I love that. In ten years…well, hopefully a member of Congress! I’d like to be a part of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Congress, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and be able to support not only people from my district, but also across the country. That’d be cool.
Nate is a Democrat running for Congress to represent the Southern Tier of New York in the new 23rd district.