Editorial: State Rep Race in Lowell’s Highlands

In 2015, the first Cambodian American was elected as State Representative to Massachusetts, Rady Mom, from Lowell. An eastern acupuncturist by trade and an excellence golf player, Rep. Mom has been widely criticized for his lack of public appearances to support his local community and has earned a failing grade in his voting record at the State House, according data from the progressive democrat. But how did he keep winning re-election?

Rep. Rady Mom. File Photo.

The 18th Middlesex district has at least 40,000 people, 32% of the population is Asian (12,000), with 35% born in Cambodia, compared to 39% white and 17% Hispanic. This makes the highest Cambodian American voting block anywhere in America.

When the time comes to voting, many Cambodians vote for Mom because he’s Cambodian. Now, this November, voters will face two Cambodian names on the ballot and who will they choose?

Tara Hong, a recent graduate from the University of Massachusetts Lowell who studied political science, has announced his candidacy on March 5 at Morrey Middle School. In his statement, Hong said he vowed to fight for public school funding regardless of zip codes.

Many voters questioned why Khmer runs against Khmer? It is a clear sign of confusion and lack of understanding of the political landscape in Lowell. Like the Irish immigrants who came to Lowell around the 1820s, they were mill workers, largely discriminated by the English, but they worked overtime and started holding elected offices around the end of the 1890s.

The Cambodian people also experienced discrimination in 1980s when they first arrived in Lowell. After 40 years of hardwork, Cambodian Americans have now entered American politics. Currently, Lowell has elected three city councilors (including a mayor), two state representatives, and a school committee. The election is no longer about simply being a Khmer candidate. There are natural growing and enduring pains in politics, like everyone else. Therefore, the voters need to decide which candidate best represent our moral values and serve our community.

I would recommend our readers consider these perspectives when voting this fall:

  • First, Cambodian voters should change their voting behavior. They should focus on the quality of the candidate.
  • Second, the Cambodian community should choose who best represent our moral values and serve our community.
  • Third, your vote is your voice. Make it count.

The strength of America is in the democratic process that lets you vote in every election. This is what makes America different from Cambodia where there is no free or fair elections.

Many Cambodian American in Lowell were disappointed by Rep. Mom after winning the election, he went to meet with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and praised the strongman publicly and said “he wants to learn from Hun Sen.” After returning to Lowell, Rep. Mom not only refused to apologize for his action, but he continues to attend events held in Lowell by the regime, including the January 7 celebration, a political propaganda.

Rep. Mom attended January 7 Celebration in Lowell, held by Hun Sen regime.
Rep. Mom with Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) leadership in Lowell

On December 25, 1978, one hundred and fifty thousand Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia and defeated the Khmer Rouge on January 7, 1979. Vietnam created a new government called the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) and installed a few Khmer Rouge defectors, including Mr. Hun Sen. Vietnam occupied Cambodia over the next 10 years and fought against Cambodian resistance until the United Nation sponsored the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991 which removed Vietnamese forces and gave Cambodia peace, territorial integrity, election, and economic development. The PKR then changed its name to Cambodian People Party (CPP) in 1993 to enter the United Nations sponsored election. Hun Sen lost that election, but stayed in power because he threatened to secede the eastern part of Cambodia. He later staged a coup in 1997 and removed his co-prime minister Prince Ranariddh. The Vietnamese invasion and occupation in Jan 7 is now perversely celebrated as a day of Cambodian liberation, making Hun Sen a hero.

Cambodians around the world have organized numerous protests and have opposed Hun Sen’s government since the coup. Lowell has been one of the important cities that help raise awareness and support the democratic movement in Cambodia.

Famine in Cambodia under Vietnamese Occupation lasted for 2 years. 

Sadly, after over 2 million lives were lost in the killing field and 1 million lives lost during the Vietnamese occupation, the country continues to suffer from another oppressing regime for the past 30 plus years. Yet, January 7 is celebrated in Lowell every year by those who fall prey to the disinformation.

Mr. Hun Sen has curtailed human rights and freedom in Cambodia in the last several years and his preparation for a totalitarian regime is nearly complete after ousting his opponents in 2017, and taking all seats in a fake election in 2018, and made his son the next premier in December 2021.

Let us be clear. To elect any Cambodian American to public office, voters expect their candidate to understand the complexity of Cambodian politics and be on the right side of history. We have seen many western wealthy countries put their principles aside and do business with totalitarian states. This has allowed autocratic countries like Russia and China to gain wealth and power which they use in return to destroy democratic societies like ours. War in Ukraine is a living example.

Many of us who have known first-hand the atrocities that come with tyrannical regimes, should vote for a candidate not because he is a Cambodian, but because he upholds American democratic ideals.