For Assemblymember Steven S. Choi, it’s just the end of the first chapter of his political career.
Choi has represented the 68th Assembly district — an area that encompassed Villa Park, Orange, North Tustin and Lake Forest — since 2016.
But redistricting, a once-every-decade process that changes district boundary lines based on updated U.S. Census data, moved his district to include Costa Mesa, Irvine and Tustin. The new 73rd Assembly district came with a noteworthy voter registration advantage for Democrats and was the only Assembly race in Orange County that pitted two incumbents against each other during the 2022 midterms.
Democratic Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris emerged victorious.
And Choi, a Republican, is set to leave the statehouse at the end of the month.
“It has been my pleasure serving my community as an immigrant,” Choi in an interview with the Register as he packed up his Irvine office.
Third time’s a charm
Choi, who was born in South Korea and served as a 2nd lieutenant in the South Korean Army, is passionate about education, himself a longtime student.
He immigrated to the U.S. in 1968, working as a language instructor for the State Department in Hawaii. From there, he became dedicated to continuing his education; he holds a master’s degree in library sciences from Louisiana State University and a doctorate in library information science from the University of Pittsburgh.
Outgoing Assemblymember Steven Choi reviews materials as he packs up as he prepares to vacate his office in Irvine on Monday, November 21, 2022. Assemblymember Choi is departing the statehouse after losing in November’s election. Choi was first elected to the statehouse in 2016. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)
He’s worked at various colleges and universities, including teaching Korean at UC Irvine and working as a librarian at Henderson State University in Arkansas.
So, after settling in Orange County, when positions became open on the Irvine Unified School Board, it was only natural that those who knew Choi suggested he run.
But Choi declined — multiple times.
At first, he wasn’t interested. The second time he was asked, he considered it, but backed down when he realized he would not be able to properly devote his time while also starting a new tutoring business.
The third time he was approached, however, he visited the Orange County Registrar of Voters and weighed the odds. No one else had applied to run for the two open seats. So he put down $1,200 and filed the paperwork.
By the last day of candidate filing, 10 people, including one incumbent, had formally submitted their declarations to run for the two school board spots. He was the only non-White candidate. Choi’s wife told him to get his money back.
And so he did, which meant his 250-word candidate statement to be printed in the State Voter Information Guide was retracted.
And yet, Choi came in second place, securing his sport on the IUSB in 1998.
The first chapter of Choi’s political career had begun.
Education exemplified in the legislature
Choi is a devout Christian who said he aligns with “conservative and traditional” values. He describes his political philosophy as working to make “government more effective, accountable and transparent.”
Choi left his post on the school board after he was elected to the Irvine City Council. He served there for eight years before being elected mayor in 2012.
Throughout his three terms in the Assembly, Choi has championed a bevy of successful bills related to education.
One bill signed by the governor this year directs CSU schools and requests UC schools to allow students to reenroll if they have left their bachelor’s degree program for an extended period of time. The idea is to give students an easier pathway back to higher education if they’ve needed to take time off to care for a child or deal with an extended illness or COVID-19.
Another bill requires CSU schools and California Community Colleges (as well as requests UC schools) to include campus or community mental health hotline numbers on student identification cards.
Outgoing Assemblymember Steven Choi in his office in Irvine on Monday, November 21, 2022. Assemblymember Choi is departing the statehouse after losing in November’s election. Choi was first elected to the statehouse in 2016. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)
“He has a heart and passion for service that few can compete with,” Assembly Republican leader James Gallagher, who has served alongside Choi for three terms in the statehouse, told the Register. “Dr. Choi’s background as an educator was exemplified through in his legacy in the Assembly as he advocated for policy that makes education more affordable and accessible for everyone.
“He has been a fine statesman and excellent representative for Orange County.”
Perhaps the legislation Choi is most proud of is his bill, signed by the governor in 2019, that provides certain protections for children who were adopted overseas. It implemented safeguards and checks when parents file for re-adoption, meant to prevent child trafficking or other abuses.
“He has been a completely selfless and tireless servant on behalf of the people of Irvine and his district,” Orange County GOP chair Fred Whitaker said. “He always thinks of others above himself. He’s definitely going to be missed.”
On Nov. 17, Choi posted two photos on social media. One of himself in an airplane seat, and the other of a vast and cloudy sky, a plane engine visible, a poetic symbol of new beginnings.
“The first chapter of my political career is ending,” Choi said. “I made my last flight home from the Capitol last Wednesday after attending a couple of Budget Committee hearings and taking care of personal chores. Thank you all supporters in the past 24 hours of my political journey.”
So what’s next for Choi? A religious man, Choi said he doesn’t yet have an answer but will rely on his faith in the meantime.
“I’m going to take time with my family and figure out where (God) will lead me,” Choi said.
Choi is also passionate about the next chapter of leadership — in politics and the community — for younger generations, especially immigrants.
“My message to all immigrants is: Get involved,” Choi said. “Have your voices heard, and the children can see you as a role model.”
The next legislative session begins on Dec. 5.
Palin’s next act unclear after Alaska House race losses
These Southern California candidates will make history with election wins
10% of the California Legislature identifies as LGBTQ
Supreme Court OKs Trump taxes being released to committee
King Charles III welcomes South African leader to the UK