Politics: Nate Shinagawa Wants to Take Rural Issues to National Stage

June 26, 2012

been keeping an eye on the race for Congress in New York's 23rd District,
a region that encompasses the southern tier counties of Tompkins, Seneca,
Tioga, Ontario, and Chatauqua. 

hydrofracking taking center stage as an issue splitting New Yorkers, seeing an
Asian American Democrat wanting to represent the people of this region against
corporations is both refreshing and inspiring. 

a hospital administrator and county legislator, Nate is well experienced at the
age of 28. After studying sociology at Cornell University, he stayed in the
area to get his Master’s in health administration.

spent the week with him and his campaign team as they toured the district, met
with mayors, received numerous endorsements, and made so many calls that I
couldn’t even keep up.

passion for public service started from a tragic killing in the Bay Area back
in 1997.  Nate's father, Dr. Larry Shinagawa, was a professor at Sonoma
State University, and had a student named Kuan Chung Kao. Kao got into a fight at
the bar while celebrating a promotion with his friends. To sum it up, several
men didn’t like the way Kao looked and harassed him until the police showed up
and only arrested Kao. After the police took him home, Kao’s wife wouldn’t let
the drunken and angry man inside. When police returned, they saw Kao drunk and
waving a broomstick. An officer pulled out his gun and shot Kao in the chest.

father got involved with the Asian Law Caucus and the
Justice Department and ultimately helped to win a fair settlement for Kao’s
family despite government attempts to brush the killing under the rug. Nate was
13 at the time and realized that if elected officials weren't acting in the
best interest of the community and were adversely making decisions and actions,
why not take the reins of leadership yourself? 

As someone who has lived in
Ithaca for more than a decade, Nate knows the most important issues of the
district in and out. One particularly salient issue, hydraulic fracturing,
called "hydrofracking" or "fracking" for short, is a method
of extracting natural gas by blasting powerful bursts of water into the ground
to break up the harder areas. However, the waste water from the fracking
process gets contaminated and easily pollutes the community around the fracking
site. Nate vigorously opposes hydrofracking, and calls it "a threat to the
quality of life for my district."

a health care administrator, he is also a strong advocate for health care
reform. He supports the Affordable Care Act, and if that is repealed, wants a
single-payer healthcare system. This means the government runs insurance for
the country, but still allows for people to choose their own private doctors
and physicians. Nate believes such a system "would just take the profit
out of the healthcare industry without affecting the care, because heath care
should not be about profit."

we stopped at the Open Door Church of God in Christ in Dunkirk, New York, Nate
listened as members of the congregation talk about issues that small towns
face. For instance, although the population of Dunkirk is more than 25 percent
Black and Hispanic, the town has no African American police officers and no
African American or Hispanic firefighters. Due to racial demographics of the
district, this is a common problem in many towns and cities. As a Tompkins
County legislator, Nate is rewriting a plan for diversity and inclusion in
employment - particularly careers in public service. 

two biggest cities in the 23rd district are Ithaca and Jamestown. The rest of
the district is mostly made up of small towns with populations of fewer than
25,000 people. Many of these towns are stricken with unemployment, a problem
that could be potentially fixed by opening up access to these towns. In
Dunkirk, for example, an Amtrak train passes through to Buffalo, but doesn't

Amtrak train is symbolic. It goes through the community but it doesn't stop.
Opportunity is circling around us but it doesn't stop," Nate said.

The primary election on June 26 has three Democratic candidates: Nate
Shinagawa, Leslie Danks Burke, and Melissa Dobson. Burke is a former corporate
lawyer who has worked in Washington DC as a legislative analyst, while Dobson
works as a patent lawyer.

elected, Nate would be the youngest representative in Congress.

Update (June 27 - 12:00AM): As this story was published, Shinagawa was declared the winner in the Democratic primary. He will face off against Republican Congressman Tom Reed in November's general election.


This post was submitted by Juliet
Shen, a student at SUNY Albany studying sociology and political science. She blogs
for Fascinasians and serves on the national board for the East Coast Asian
American Student Union.