The question boggles Filipino American politicos intrigued about one of their own who is seeking to replace the district’s current representative to the United States Congress. Would she represent the interests of Filipino and other communities of color? Does she understand district demographics and the issues confronting residents? What makes her think she's qualified to drive inside the Beltway?
I’ve interacted sporadically for over 20 years with the now-candidate in encounters barely beyond professional; but surprised about her present ambition, I can’t say I am.
The prize, District 14 (formerly District 12 prior to the post-Census 2010 remap), spans San Mateo County. Home to some 772,000, including Filipino Americans most notably in Daly City, the sprawl has been a Democratic bastion for over 60 years.
Osmeña, 49, is the Republican bet for the seat occupied by her fellow Hillsborough resident Jackie Speier, 68, who was first elected to the San Mateo Board of Supervisors in 1980, the State Assembly in 1986 then the State Senate. She lost a bid for Lieutenant Governor before topping a special election when Congress member Tom Lantos died in 2008.
The Fil-Am contender has not held public office. Her field of expertise is finance, her avocation writing.
She was an aspiring journalist when she first contacted me in the late 1990s to join the pool of correspondents for our weekly broadsheet Philippine News. Her last name was not a factor in her recruitment, but neither did it hurt.The paper, after all, marked its golden years as the voice of the opposition to the Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos dictatorship. Osmeña, then in her late 20s, was an ideal fit, particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Philippine political refugees resumed their common fight to free the homeland from tyranny.
They came from all parts of the Philippines, their passion for liberation clothed in various degrees and tactics. Some were famous leaders forced into exile, or former students who might have lost their lives had they remained in the Philippines.
Some were children of oppositionists operating under, or right on the radar of the repressive regime, including six-year-old Cristina and her brother Sergie IV, who arrived in 1975. Their father, Serge Osmeña III, had been imprisoned since 1972 along with other enemies of Marcos, most prominently industrialist Eugenio “Geny” Lopez Jr. Their 1977 escape from military detention to the United States is documented in a full-length film, “Eskapo.” After People Power ended martial law in 1986, Osmeña III served three terms in the Senate.
The young Osmeñas and their mother Marilita Barreto resettled in Southern California, where Cristina in 1987 graduated from Beverly Hills High School.Osmena describes her childhood as “unstable and tempestuous with many changes in our family configuration.” She sums up her relationship with her father as “none,” with her mother, “volatile but engaged.”
“My biggest disappointment in life was the dissolution of my parents’ marriage,” she said.
Searching for stability, she audited classes at Ateneo de Manila for three semesters only to drop out and return to California sans diploma.She said she supported herself from age 20, got accepted and earned a BA in English at UC Berkeley on financial aid.
The nascent writer then detoured into the world of money at the turn of the new millennium, gaining her certification as a chartered financial analyst. The road led to equity research, work that averages almost $100K annually in this country. The job requires attention to detail, insight and analysis, to submit accurate information to clients on the verge of investments and mergers. An investigative reporter’s skills come in handy.
“I originally wanted to become a reporter and thought I would write for the rest of my life,” she tells her former editor now. “I was consumed by a career on Wall Street and this took 200 percent of my attention,” hence her recurring sojourn in journalism.
Finance most fascinated Osmeña, pulling her into circles of influence.
Twenty years later, married to Steve O’Rourke, mother to Julian and Lizzie and stepmother to Christian and Alec, and co-owner of a solar energy company, my former mentee re-emerged in my orbit. She had accomplished her “greatest achievement of raising a family with stable childhood peppered with good memories and lots of stimulating experiences.”
She coveted sacred space in the publication of which I am now editor-at-large, paving her return to the unapologetically liberal Philippine News as the voice of the “Crunchy Fiscal Conservative,” also the name of her column, borrowing the Rod Dreher coinage for “non-orthodox Republican.”
Here’s her motivation for registering with the Grand Old Party: “The critical reason I am Republican and the background to my platform comes from over 20 years of participation in the equity markets. When you are involved in the equity markets, you experience a market’s price finding mechanism in real time, often without intervention.
“After 8 years of a very charismatic president who did not believe in free markets, I think the liberals have opened up to the ideas of central planning. There are already major parts of our country that are centrally planned. The controlling entity always, over time, accumulates more power within its domain. So it is not just about money…it is the antithesis to freedom.
“My family left the Philippines to flee a power-hungry dictator and came to the land of freedom. For me, defending that freedom is worth the trouble. That includes not being micromanaged by the government or one of its faceless regulators, not being told when to have lunch or how long it should be, not being told how to drink my soft drinks and what size they should be.”
Osmeña identifies with neither the Tea Party nor the right wing. While declaring herself proudly Republican fiscally, she calls herself a “classic liberal” socially. “Crunchy,” remember?
On her website, she states:“Fiscal responsibility and empathy are not mutually exclusive. A society needs to care for its disadvantaged and speak for the silenced. I am an advocate and a contributor to the diversity of our district. The environment must be protected. Finally, the fight for women's equality is not over until a woman is sitting in the Oval Office.”
Don’t assume she voted for Hillary Clinton. Neither did she vote for Donald Trump, whose victory briefly suspended her plans to launch her candidacy.
“When Trump won the election, I decided not to move forward. People were so openly upset, it seemed like a bad idea to admit I was Republican. I also didn’t know what I didn’t know—the new president was not easy to predict in the beginning."
That was the time she popped up again in my world to pitch the column. We rarely talked after she got that spot in PNews. When she emailed a year later, I’d gotten wind of her latest goal. Why now, I wondered. Why not a local race first?
“The town I live in is entirely residential and financially well off,” she explained. “The issues that a candidate would face would likely be related to city infrastructure and building. I would be trying to build name recognition while tackling issues outside my area of expertise. Running for State Assembly would be an interesting idea. There is a lot at stake at the state level. Right now, I would like to focus on giving this congressional run my best shot.”
While her paternal family lords politics in their ancestral turf Cebu, her Wall Street mentor Gerald “Jerry” Gold considered a larger constituency when he first pitched the idea of running for office.
“He said that my personal story—my family history plus my own story of independence and self-reliance in the United States—was really compelling,” she told me.
In the US, her surname tends to polarize Filipinos. A mountain in Cebu has that name, for heaven’s sake. Some, aware of the Osmeña wherewithal, worry that she is being used by the party, which others say is logical because she is the best candidate to emerge. Many think she “may be testing the waters.”
Gold was resolute. He introduced Osmeña to ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform. She signed on with the Manhattan Institute, spreading her wings in the conservative firmament.
A Trump ally convinced her to go all in for the mid-term elections.
“I finally decided to move forward with running a year after deciding against it when Congressman Devin Nunes met with a small group of us and assured us that the Russian investigation would turn up nothing and that Trump did nothing wrong. At that point, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was close to being passed and I really liked that Trump was able to pass tax reform within his first year. I knew that I would not be able to agree with the administration on everything, immigration being one of those issues, but, at that moment, I liked the economic changes that were taking place—and this is one of the issues that matters the most to me.”
Why she took the word of Nunes, whose impartiality has been disputed, shows the intensity of her dream. She sought advice from former Ohio State Rep. Steve Austria, a Fil-Am. She consulted with Clara Del Villar, immigration blogger on Hispanic Post.
Her campaign kickoff on April 4 in San Bruno raised over $5,000 from some 70 people including her cousin Maria Luisa Osmeña, MD, a Democrat who lives out of District 14. The doctor describes the candidate as “extremely intelligent, passionate, and charismatic.”
District 14 resident and political capitalist Ray Satorre thinks Osmeña is wasting her money running against the sitting representative in deep-blue San Mateo.
Speier's story is equally remarkable. She narrowly survived the 1978 attack that killed her boss, US Congress Member Leo Ryan, while their fact-finding team boarded their flight back home from Jonestown, Guyana. She was the first legislator to align with the #Metoo movement, sharing her experience with work sex harassment.
Osmeña lauds Speier’s “constituent responsiveness” but asserts that “after 10 years, she doesn’t seem to have introduced a lot of sponsored bills that have been turned into law…at least that I can find on the public archives.”The candidate notes that the incumbent “misses a lot of votes in Washington DC,” citing a 2015 article on vocativ.com ranking Speier “7th in the House of Representatives for the most number of missed votes.” (Speier’s office declined comment.)
Osmeña vows to "be more of a Capitol-facing representative.”
“I would like to argue the needs of California and the Bay Area inside the Republican caucus where the Bay Area, in particular, could really use an advocate," she stated. "If they do get around to immigration reform, I would like to argue the needs of California, using arguments the Republicans will understand.”
She counts the district's three most pressing issues as housing, traffic, and cost of living. She said she “empathizes with Dreamers,” having been a child immigrant. She does not oppose the proposed border wall.
Hers is an uphill battle by any estimation. She obviously relishes a good battle like her father (who is not an influence in her campaign, she says), his father Sen. Serging Osmeña Jr., who lost his legs in the infamous 1971 Plaza Miranda bombing, and his grandfather Nacionalista Party founder Sergio Osmeña, who became president when Manuel Quezon died in 1944.
Cherie M. Querol Moreno is a Commissioner with the San Mateo County Commission on Aging and executive director of nonprofit ALLICE Alliance for Community Empowerment. She is editor at large of Philippine News, columnist for Philippines Today USA and contributor toRappler and GMA News Online.
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