Episode 109

Sam Cho ·  A Passion for Public Service

“I was really encouraged by despite everything is that there was a huge mobilization of our community across the country that I actually have never seen in my lifetime.”

Sam Cho first ran for office and was elected to the Port of Seattle Commission in 2019 to become the youngest Port commissioner in its history at the age of twenty-nine and the only person of color on the commission. The Port of Seattle manages the 3rd largest container seaport and the 8th largest airport in the United States. In his day job, he leads Public Policy in the Pacific Northwest Region for the rideshare company Lyft. 

Prior to the port commission, Sam was the Founder and CEO of Seven Seas Export, an international trading company that exported to Asia. He identified an opportunity to export US egg products to Asian countries at the height of Asia’s avian influenza (bird flu) epidemic in the winter of 2016. He exported more than 2.5 million pounds of eggs. 

Prior to his entrepreneurial endeavor, Sam was a political appointee under President Barack Obama. He also served as a Legislative Assistant to a member of the United States Congress. Sam received his Bachelor’s degree from The American University in Washington DC and his Master’s of Science from The London School of Economics. 


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Podcast Transcript

Sam Cho

[00:00:00] Maggie Chui: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Asian Hustle Network Podcast! Today, we have a very special guest. His name is Sam Cho. Sam first ran for office and was elected to the Port of Seattle Commission in 2019 to become the youngest port commissioner in its history at the age of 29 and the only person of color on the commission in his day job, he leads public policy in the Pacific Northwest region for the rideshare company, Lyft. Prior to the port commission, Sam was the founder and CEO of seven seas export and international trading company that exported to Asia. prior to his entrepreneurial endeavors, Sam was a political appointee under President Barack Obama. He also served as a legislative assistant to a member of the United States. Sam received his bachelor’s degree from the American University in Washington, DC, and his Master’s of Science from the London School of Economics. Sam, welcome to the show. 

[00:00:58] Sam Cho: Thank you so much for having me. Maggie, Bryan, it’s good to see you both. 

[00:01:02] Bryan Pham: Yeah. Sam, we’re excited to have you in the podcast, but before we dive into your awesome political career, we want to hear more about your childhood. Did your parents ever expect you in groomed me to be a politician? And what did they want you to be when you grow up? 

[00:01:14] Sam Cho: The answer is absolutely not. And I think that’s probably the case for most Asians with Asian parents or Asian-American parents. My parents come from very humble beginnings. They immigrated to the United States from South Korea back in the eighties. Growing up there were dry cleaners. So I always joke my parents used to scrub white collars for a living, and now I wear white collars for living, which is, for some people, the American dream. Humble beginnings, my parents were also very aggressive when it came to school and education.

It’s interesting that my parents actually never imposed a career path on me. They really did allow me to figure my way out. But obviously, they secretly hoped that I would become a lawyer or a doctor or an engineer someday. Never in their dreams would they have expected their son to become a politician. And so it’s all-new for my entire family, really, for me to be in politics. 

[00:02:00] Bryan Pham: That’s so cool. I had aspirations and dreams of being a politician when I was younger and I somewhat did for a bit too. I think we talked a bit last year about running for a city concert or something. And I really appreciate that.

When I come to realize that there’s not a lot of Asians and politics in general because you’re probably getting a handful of people that can turn to you. That’s willing to give me advice. A lot of people out there because there are so few politicians and representation out there, you’re so busy that you can’t even get their times like talk to you and suggest anything. So why politics and why should Asians care about politics? 

[00:02:37] Sam Cho: Yeah first and foremost, for me, it’s about service and public service. And I feel like I’ve always had a servant’s heart. And I dunno when I think about what makes me happy in life, oftentimes it’s helping others and knowing that what I’ve done has improved their condition or their circumstance. And so that’s why I started to think about public service. Honestly, I didn’t think I would ever run for office. In my future. I was, as Maggie read in my bio, people might’ve picked up that I was a staffer. I worked for a member of Congress. I worked for President Obama. I always envisioned myself as the guy who worked for politicians. Not a guy who became a politician myself. But when the opportunity presented itself in 2019, and a lot of folks within my circles encouraged me to run for many of the reasons you just outlined, there’s not enough representation, et cetera. I was just kinda you know what, why not?

And so, that’s why I ran. As far as why others in anyone else should care, especially Asian-Americans, there’s a saying, it’s a little cruel, but there’s a saying in politics it’s if you don’t have a seat at a table, you’re probably on the menu. And in a really short way of saying that is that representation matters.

And especially for us, if anyone’s listening, the children of immigrants. You’re not encouraged to go into politics for the most part. In fact, most Asian immigrants escaped political oppression, oppressive governments, or communities regimes, that’s the experience of a lot of API immigrants to this country.

And so it’s not something that’s encouraged for us to go into. Growing up, my parents told me there are three things in life you should never do. The first thing is drugs, The second thing is gambling, and the third thing was politics. Again, it was never something that was encouraged.

But I think representation matters. And with the recent, anti-Asian hate as a result of COVID-19 and the pandemic, we’ve learned the lesson here that representation matters and not just in politics. I think the anti-Asian hate. Has become a mainstream issue because we now have representation in Hollywood to a lot of celebrities and a lot of folks who are making it up in that industry who were able to use their influence to shed light on the fact that our communities were being targeted during the pandemic. 

So yeah, representation matters. 

[00:04:43] Bryan Pham: I absolutely agree. Reputation does matter a lot. And at the same time, it’s like when you look at these Asian celebrities, Asian politicians, even though we’re making progress, but not making enough progress because we still represent a very small percentage of the people that you see. Most of the time you see the same Asian politicians, you see the same Asian celebrities.

So it’s still a long way for us to go from. And I do agree with, the three things that our parents never want us to be. When I talked to my mom about potentially running for city council, the first thing she said to me was why would you make your life so hard? And I didn’t really get, because I thought it was a privilege and honor to serve the communities, and be a voice. So I know like you’re also like one of the youngest elected politicians in Seattle, and congratulations on that.

What was going through your mind? Yeah, I forgot how old you were at the time. 

[00:05:38] Sam Cho: It was 29, 29 when I first ran. I won fortunately my first time around. I think the biggest thing is that you realize that when you run for office, and there are certain politicians, I’ll be honest, that don’t understand this as well, but it’s not just about you anymore. A lot of things like, starting a small business working in a corporate world a lot of times it’s like about your performance. It’s about how you do relative to others. But when you’re a politician you’re representing. You represent, in my case race is a county-wide race and there are over 2 million people in King County and over 329,000 people voted for me.

That’s a huge burden because, at the end of the day, these people vouched for you with their vote, but they also donated to your campaign. One of the worst things that I ever had to go through is asking people for money because I needed to fund this campaign. The fear of, what if I run, I, raised hundreds of thousand dollars for this race. There’s no ROI there for them if I lose. So it’s an extremely stressful endeavor. And I think there’s a lot of things about it that I understand people just don’t want to mess with. Shaking hands, going and giving speeches, putting yourself up for scrutiny. Literally everything about your life is in the spotlight now. You can not make a wrong move, especially as a politician. There are things that, I’ll be quite frank, my white colleagues get away with that I could never get away with because I’m the minority on the commission.

And so there’s a lot to think about, and your mom is very wise. Like why would you put yourself through that? But I think at the end of the day the reason I do this is because one it’s greater than myself, but secondly, because I want to do things that will outlast myself. And I think a lot of the guests on your show are very like-minded people who do things that are bigger than themselves and who want to create a legacy that outlasts themselves. And so this is just my way of doing that. 

[00:07:23] Bryan Pham: I appreciate your way of getting this. Really, thank you so much for being the trailblazer for our community, especially our generation to see more and more people, especially in millennia generation. Being able to hold public office is, as you alluded before, it’s really important to have representation everywhere. And as we know, we are the Asian Hustle Network. Most of our listeners are business people interested in business. So I want to ask you this question, how does politics tie back into business and entrepreneurship? Because they’re extremely interrelated. And from a politician that would be like, how does everything connect?

[00:07:58] Sam Cho: Let me tell you how I started my business.

It was called Seventies Export and I export it to Asia. I exported eggs to Asia, like literally chicken eggs. And at the time when I was starting this business, I was in DC and I was working on policy. My specialty was actually trade policy. And so in 2016, I don’t know if you remember, there was a huge bird flu outbreak in Asia, avian influenza when ran rampant, a lot of Asian governments were starting to kill off their chicken stocks to chicken flocks because there was a spread of bird flu.

Obviously, if you. Kill off your bird, you don’t have enough eggs. So there was a huge egg shortage. What happened was the government put in a policy that reduced tariffs on egg imports to 0% from 20%. So before you had to pay a 20% tax on importing eggs, now that was gone. And then in South Korea, they even started to subsidize the cost of freight.

And so I saw that policy shift happened in Korea. I saw the market go from $3, a carton of eggs to $10. And I saw an arbitrage opportunity that no one knows, I’m sure other sites, a lot of government people aren’t really entrepreneurial. So it didn’t immediately occur to them that, oh, this could actually be a business, an export business.

So when the Obama administration ended and Trump came into office and I was basically asked to leave, because I was a political appointee. They were like, thanks. But no, thanks. I was like, at my lowest and my career. No one wanted to hire an Obama person. Everyone was looking for Trump people.

And so instead of settling. And taking a job that I really have a passion for. I said, you know what, let’s try it. Let’s try running a business. Let’s start becoming an entrepreneur. And that’s how I got my business started. And I’ve had failures along the way and I’ve had to adapt and pivot and go through all the things.

But I guess this is my point. The point is it doesn’t matter what kind of business you run, whether it’s a mom and pop shop, or a restaurant, or an expert business you are affected by regulations, you are affected by policy. Whether you are opening a restaurant and you need to apply for permits or alcohol beverage handling licenses those are all policies that come from your local city council from your accounts or your county, your state, the federal level.

So this idea that you can somehow, stay in your corner, run your business, and not be affected by politics or policy is actually exposing yourself to a huge risk as a business owner and as an entrepreneur. And I think every responsible business owner is that, especially if you’re in the startup space, I’ll tell you right now, start-ups are starting to catch on to the fact that policy affects them, because what is a startup? A startup is an unproven idea. That’s trying to disrupt an industry, right? And governments are slow to react or regulate these things. And so if you have a startup like Lyft or any other startup that or Airbnb and it has consequences effects to local market or economy, regulators, policymakers are all going to start turning your head and their heading.

Wait what’s going on here, does this need to be regulated? And if you’re not proactive and you’re only reacting, this is how you end up with regulations that could kill businesses and stuff. 

[00:11:08] Bryan Pham: You’re absolutely right with us, a huge fan of Airbnb and Uber and Lyft, because you’re disrupting something that hasn’t existed before, most of your barriers in politics, and it’s great to be aware of how everything’s interrelated and I really appreciate those point of view.

[00:11:25] Maggie Chui: I love that you seize that opportunity. You identify that opportunity for exporting the eggs into Asia. And just for context for our listeners, Sam exported more than 2.5 million pounds of eggs. That’s amazing. Yeah. That’s a lot of eggs.

So I want to know how does one get into politics, Sam, and to add on to that question, there’s like you mentioned, you were working for politicians, right? I know you were working as a legislative assistant and you thought you would be working for politicians your whole life. But then you became a politician.

So for the first part of the question, how did you get into politics? And then the second part is for someone who is working for a politician, how did they make that transition from working for a politician to becoming a politician? 

[00:12:11] Sam Cho: So for the first part, in some ways, I’m a very traditional politician, which was unintentional.

Like you said, I worked for politicians and then make that jump untraditional in the sense that I’ve been going back and forth between politics and then business. I spent my first five years of my career in DC working for politicians and policymakers, and then I started my own business and now.

Working for a public agency, the Port of Seattle, which is very actually a business ask. It’s not like a city council. What I would say for anyone else who doesn’t, or hasn’t taken the same path as me that is working for politicians. One of the philosophies that I have and that a lot of good politicians have, I would say is that all politics is local. So what I would say to anyone who’s thinking about getting into politics or doesn’t, or wants to understand how to get into politics, start locally. And this is what I would do if I were anyone else in that show, I would say, think about the areas of policy that you find interesting or you’re very passionate about.

Okay. So for instance, a climate. If you’re passionate about climate change, maybe you’re interested in climate change or sustainability, possibly education. If you care about what our kids are learning in K through 12 education, maybe that’s the area of policy you need to be in transportation. Maybe you’re a cycler, you ride bikes and you really pissed off that.

There aren’t enough bike lanes. That’s an area of local politics and policy. And then what I would do is I would look for organizations or groups or nonprofits that do advocacy in those spaces. So again, climate change, if you’re a thing, if you’re all about, a zero-emissions climate, Fighting climate change.

I guarantee you that there are local groups wherever you live that work on those issues and advocate on those issues. And so get plugged in, send a cold email and say, Hey, I want to get involved. I want to become a member. I’m going to advocate with you. And so that’s the civil society, the civil approach to it.

The other part is everyone thinks about politics in terms of running for. But the reality is there are a lot of policy positions and political positions that you can actually get appointed to. And it doesn’t actually require you to go run a campaign and, or fundraise and be on the ballot.

Planning commissioner’s transportation committee. CA permission on Asian American, Pacific American affairs. If that’s, what if that’s your jam? That’s how I started in Washington. Politics is I got an appointment from the governor to serve on the commission on Asian Pacific American affairs.

And I’m still on it. I’m on my second term. Didn’t have to run a campaign. Didn’t raise any money. I just, you just make sure that you apply for those positions that when they open up and Just to recap real quick, one, get involved locally, start locally to know what issues you’re passionate about and you want to work with, and three, try to get appointed to any local positions or commissions that might be to your second question about how you make the jump from being a staffer to a politician.

I think that actually is the easier jump for a lot of people because when you work for a politician you learn how to be a politician. You learn, if you work for a member of Congress or in my case, you worked for both of them or Congress and the president you learn from the best. And so it’s really just understanding the process and learning the process.

Running for office takes a tremendous amount of work. And so you just need to be be willing to put in the hustle and do the work. That’s the hardest part. One thing that I would say is find good mentors. I can’t emphasize this enough that if you have good mentors, people who’ve gone through the things that you’ve gone through or that you’re going through.

There is wisdom in an experience that you can build off of some of the mentors that I’ve had in my career, or I’m just so grateful for the right people like Gary Locke, who had worked up the ladder of politics and policy too, as far as any Asian American becoming the secretary of commerce, the governor of Washington, and then ambassador to China, Gary is a tremendous friend and mentor of mine that I’ve been blessed to have next to me.

And as a mentor people like Norman Moneta, who is a pro blazer in many ways for the API community. And so look, we don’t need to reinvent. We do not need to start from square one. We have people, I think it was Newton who says if I’ve seen further in life is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

And part of the reason that I love the Asian Hustle Network is that it creates a space for everyone to really crowdsource knowledge and know-how. If someone wanted to run for office and they posted on Asian Hustle Network, I would jump on that right away and be like, Hey man, this is what you got to do this, you need to talk to, this what you gotta do, same with, if I want to start a bubble tea shop and there’s a bunch of bubble tea shop owners in the group, oh, Hey man, this is how you gotta do it. And this is what it’s all about. This is what the networks are all about

[00:16:27] Bryan Pham: you’re absolutely right. That’s what makes the Asian Hustle Network so special, it’s our ability to share each other’s share knowledge amongst each other without much hesitation. That kind of leads me down. The next question too, out of curiosity, for someone who has absolutely no idea how the political game works or politician stuff works, how does one run for office? What is the step-by-step process? 

[00:16:49] Sam Cho: It’s actually a lot easier than you think. It really varies based on where you are. Every county or city may have different procedures, but for me, I literally just declared, literally. I was just like, I’m going to do this. And then I register. And that was it. And where I run, there’s a fee for registering to vote as a, to register as a candidate. But basically, there should be some sort of elections authority in your local area. You register yourself as a candidate, you pick what position you’re gonna run for. You pay the fee and then you’re taking.

All right. There are some more complications with reporting donations and putting, what you can advertise, what you can spend money on, what you can’t spend money on, who can give you money, who can’t give you money. A lot of those details are based on what kind of disclosures do you have to have, who sponsored this ad, et cetera.

And so those laws, there’s some federal laws, state laws, and local laws that you need to look into, but in terms of literally running, you can literally just throw your name in the hat by registering as a candidate. It’s really that easy. And that’s why you get sometimes some crazy candidates, cause it’s such a low barrier to entry and that’s how it should be quite frankly,

[00:17:52] Bryan Pham: That is pretty crazy. I was looking into the LA county or SF county. It does require a large number of set signatures. Was it, is this something that is required for most counties? Or how did we go? How does one go about acquiring that many signatures, especially if they’re virtually unknown candidates. And unfortunately, that does apply to a lot of Asian candidates out there.

[00:18:13] Sam Cho: I really don’t like that. Quite honestly it’s an equity issue for me. If you run a nine-to-five business, you can’t go out asking people for signatures. Then it’s essentially a barrier to becoming a candidate.

For a policymaker, I would really look at whether or not that specific barrier you mentioned, Bryan is actually contributing to the fact that there are a lot of– no, there are fewer candidates of color. In Washington, for instance, there’s no signature requirement to run for office.

Maybe where you are, it varies significantly based on what county and what you’re running for. But at the end of the day, I think the goal should be to encourage people to run, not create barriers for people to run. 

[00:18:52] Bryan Pham: Yeah, absolutely man. And I do think that’s really important.

And then we keep mentioning representation. That’s so important because you just don’t see enough of us. And frequently, frankly, when I go to the ballot and I see only one Asian option, I’m like, who is this guy? Why isn’t really, I went online and of course, this is very biased and me voting, but you definitely look up other candidates too, already qualify. At the end of the day, you want the best candidate that can represent you, and your needing what you’re about and on a topic of recommendation, how do we continue growing our representation to address the Asian hate? And where does the Asian American community go from here?

Because I think at one point last year, it’s we’re all in. I would say like a huge panic mode where it’s oh my God, our community is hugely under attacked this year. It’s still very much under. But I feel like the media has stopped featuring the crisis in our community as often.

Where does the Asian community go from here? How can we continue being heard and being seen and taking us space because we need to continue taking space in order to drive change? 

[00:19:56] Sam Cho: Yeah, absolutely. I think we need to claim our place in America and the American narrative is what I say.

And to your point about, the news media having kind of their foray on this topic, and then moving on that only alludes to the fact that we need to keep the momentum. The one thing that I was really encouraged by despite everything is that there was a huge mobilization of our community across the country that I actually have never seen in my lifetime.

I think in the past this existed, during the civil rights movement and when there was a lot of overt discrimination towards Asian-Americans, but I would say like in the last 10 years or so I have never seen such passion forever for justice and a fight towards, equity from our community, at least then I have in the last two years.

And so the key is to keep the momentum going. I think what we can do better as a community is we can be better allies to our other brothers and sisters in the Latin community, in the black community, because the reality is that the fight for racial justice extends beyond just Asian Americans. And if we start backing each other, in our fight towards racial justice, then that momentum can continue. It’s not just the Asians making a bunch of loud noises because they’re being attacked. It’s a collective effort. Sometimes the squeaky wheel gets the oil because no one wants to hear the squeaky wheel anymore. Let’s make sure that we’re all collectively working together towards that racial justice.

The other thing here is that I think a lot of the anti-Asian hate that we saw comes from this idea of being perpetual foreigners, as you all know, Asian-Americans, it doesn’t really matter how long your family’s been in this country. Like the first question, a lot of people get, and that question stems from this notion that if you’re Asian, you must not be from this country.

When reality, we have Chinese Americans dating back to the 18 hundreds who built the transcontinental railroad, we have Japanese American families who fought in world war two and were part of the most decorated military regiment in the history of the US military, the full 42nd.

And the reason I say all this is because I think there’s a lack of education in our K through 12 system on API heritage, API history, and our contributions to the history of this country. And that’s the reason why a lot of our counterparts think of us as foreigners. And if we did a better job of ethnic studies in our curriculum, then people would understand that, oh man, like Asian-Americans have contributed to American history for over a hundred years now.

And that’s the point, right? We need to make sure that the entire country understands that Asian-American history is American history. And that’s the fight, right? that’s where we need it to start heading. 

[00:22:23] Bryan Pham: I agree with that. And shout out to Illinois for making Asian- American history a requirement.

That’s right. 

[00:22:31] Maggie Chui: Absolutely. I love that. You mentioned that we have to work collectively together towards the fight against racism, Sam. And I definitely agree with you. I think that we definitely need to work together with other minority groups with other ethnicities. But at the same time, I think that there is a lot of pressure on politicians. A lot of civilians are asking for a lot from politicians. And I want to know, how can we collectively work together from like politicians and civilians towards the fight against anti-Asian. 

[00:23:00] Bryan Pham: Yeah. I guess if we get to that question, I just want to finish up your point about Americans being erased in US history is it’s absolutely a fact like we are not in most history books. Just me and Maggie traveling to Denver over the last weekend, we looked up Denver’s history of Chinatown. It literally got erased because of racism and it never had the opportunity to rebuild. So that’s what happens to most of the Asian American history around the United States, not just in Denver, not just in California, but around the United States. There are a lot of deaths and racism that happens to our community, and what we’re seeing right now is history repeating. Yeah, a lot of us act shocked, but there’s nothing to be shocked about because it’s been going on for so long. 

[00:23:45] Sam Cho: And we should not absolve ourselves from the plane as well. I think even Asian-Americans don’t know our own history well enough, and that’s because of the case details and we weren’t taught our own history in school. If I asked everyday Asian-American do you know about the Chinese Exclusion Act? Most people are like what is that? Yeah. And it’s to our own detriment, and this is what we’re talking about. When we talk about systemic racism. When we talk about institutionalized racism, this is exactly what we are becoming victims of our own system.

And that’s why we need to fight back and make sure that our systems are working. Which segues writing Maggie’s questions about how we can work together as we need our systems to work for us. At the end of the day, remember we’re not some sort of dictatorship or authoritarian government.

We are a democracy where people dictate how policy works, how we, who we elect. On a fundamental level, if you’re not voting, if you’re not civically engaged if you’re not paying attention and then you become a victim of institutionalized racism and or racism from anyone else, I’m not saying you’re contributing to the problem, but you’re letting it happen

Whenever I hear someone say, oh, I didn’t vote because I didn’t like whatever XYZ or I didn’t vote. Then I always tell them, okay, then you forfeit the right to complain later. When Trump got elected and I don’t want to give away too much of my political leanings, but when Trump got elected and I heard a bunch of people, my friends say I didn’t like Hillary either so I didn’t. You’re still voting, bro. You’re still making a decision. You’re still allowing X happened over Y so it’s about civic engagement. The second thing I’ll say and I’ve said this a few times. It’s been a little controversial, why not? There’s this idea? There are fissures within the Asian country. Let’s not pretend like all APS are the same. Let’s not pretend we’re all progressive or anything like that. There are definitely some philosophical political differences in our community. And I think Donald Trump and what he’s done has highlighted a lot of that.

But at the end of the day, I think we’re all here, at least my parents and your parents. And I’m sure a lot of our parents are here for the same reason, which is the better condition to pursue that American dream. We may all disagree on how we get there, who we support to get there, but then the day we’re all here to better ourselves and better each other.

But here’s the thing about the American dream that I think we need to really be cognizant of that, there is this myth is it plays off the model minority myth, right? But this idea that somehow if you succeed, make a lot of money or move up in a society that you can adopt. The privileges of being white. Like we talk about white privilege a lot. And we talk about how white people get certain things, get away with certain things, or have access to things. There’s a myth that if minorities just work hard, and succeeded that we can somehow enter that exclusive club of privilege. 

 That’s the Model Minority Myth in a nutshell. And some people call this white adjacent adjacency. But here’s the fact is no matter how hard we work as Asians, no matter how much we succeed as Asians, we can never be one. Okay, so this myth needs to be broken. And I think that having this level set understanding of how our systems are and how they work against us or house, or to better put it, how there are created to preserve existing power, to preserve the powers of people who’ve already moved to the top.

We need to break down those barriers and that is the same, not just for Asian-Americans for black Americans, for the Latin X community, for all minority groups. We understand that we need to break down those barriers as a collective. We, in other words, as Asian Americans, we can not be okay with succeeding at the expense of other minority groups, illustration at this, we cannot walk over our black brothers and sisters, Orlando’s next brothers and sisters, when they’re on the ground when they’re down. And I think this anti-Asian hate was a really rare instance of us being knocked to the ground and other minority groups coming and rallying around us and extending in hand and saying, yeah, don’t pick on those things.

We’ve got to do the same thing. Like we can’t just cry foul when we’re getting picked on and it’d be silent when black lives aren’t being treated equally in this country. And so, to your answer, your question, in a nutshell, we need to show up, not just for us. But we need to show up for the black communities for black lives matter. We need to show up for the Latin X community when they’re being imprisoned. And being put in cages at the border. 

[00:27:55] Bryan Pham: Amen. Absolutely agree. We need to not only stand up for our own community but stand up for other communities as well because it takes all of us every race to really push through these progressive changes. So it’s absolutely important and it’s very off-topic too, if you guys heard it like a couple of months ago, bought this article, came out saying that Asian and white people are like in the same category so that

[00:28:18] Sam Cho: Oh yeah. They like took Asians out of the minority category and put them with the white people. 

[00:28:23] Maggie Chui: And you talked about that, Sam, I think you bring up a really great point because like you said, we’re never going to be white no matter what happens. And the fact that people talk about the model minority myth, claiming that it is the real thing, that we are the model minority, it really downplays the racism and the struggles that we’ve gone through as an Asian community.

Pretty much just like erasing all of the racism that we’ve ever experienced. And it’s so important to actually talk about those struggles. Talk about those experiences with people, know what we’ve gone through as a community. 

[00:28:55] Sam Cho: Absolutely. 

[00:28:56] Bryan Pham: Absolutely agree. And I want to focus on questions on yourself, right?

You’re a politician, you are relatively successful, what are some situations where you felt like you definitely won? You’re like, man, I’m making progress, change my community. What are some situations where you just felt really defeated? There’s really, no one can really understand what you’re going through, because let’s be honest there’s just not enough Asian politicians out there who you were to talk to that understands what you’re going through. What were the moments like and how did you get yourself through it? And then what was your support system? 

[00:29:29] Sam Cho: Yeah. We can get real wonky here and talk about policy, but I’ll try to keep it, as interesting as possible.

One of the things that I think people don’t have a great understanding of is like what politicians do and or what a poor commissioner does. In my instance, oftentimes I get asked to do things. I have nothing to do with me, or I have no control over, they just see a politician, a leader, or someone of influence and they just start asking for things.

And so for me, the challenge has always been to explain to people that it’s not because I don’t care. It’s not because I don’t want to do it. It’s just not what I have any influence over. And this happens oftentimes when it comes to things of like civil rights or policy issues that aren’t in my jurisdiction.

So I’ll just give you a quick example. Okay. There is on the technology side, a huge debate over whether or not the government should use biometrics, right? Like facial recognition, technology, fingerprinting, all these things. Like for instance Right clear uses your eye, scans your eyes, and identifies you. And that’s not controversial because you, as consumers are opting into it, they’re choosing to use it. But the question is to what extent should the government use it, right? Whether it’s immigration or surveillance, et cetera. I’ve always been saying that I think there’s bias in this.

A lot of these algorithms, misidentify people based on certain facial characteristics that are more prevalent in Asians or black people. And so I’ve always said, we need to make sure that this is not being abused and that certain communities are not being targeted more than. Part of the challenge for me is that I actually, as a port commissioner can only control what happens to the port, right within my jurisdiction. There are other use cases of facial recognition that are being used by the federal government and other entities. And I just don’t have the authority to tell them, Hey, you can’t.

And sometimes this gets lost. And when I ban, for instance, I band facial recognition for our law enforcement at the port, which is like a no-brainer to me. But what I couldn’t do is I couldn’t have been faced with facial recognition for federal agencies, like customs, border patrol, or department of Homeland security, because they’re higher than I am.

But I still got the role. I still got really bad press over it. They were like, oh, like the poor commissioner doesn’t actually care because he didn’t bend all these years. He only banks the police stuff. And I said no, it’s not that I didn’t want to it’s that I literally legally could not.

And so that’s the stuff that I get into the weeds. I know that was a little wonky, but the reality is that I wish I can do everything. But the reality is that in my own little corner, as a port commissioner, I can only do certain things and I do everything that I can in my corner.

I do everything I can within my powers. But it takes a lot more to do it more broadly. And that’s just the case for everything and anything policy area that I reach. And then, taking that criticism, man, like people are. Whether you’re a celebrity, whether you’re an influencer, whether you’re a politician like this keyboard warrior mentality, where they feel like you could just say whatever you want, because you’re behind a keyboard and you don’t actually say it to their face.

Sometimes I wonder if I was in front of you, would you say that? I don’t think so. I’ve actually met people. Who has criticized me online, but a really nice to me in person. It’s funny how that works out, and so that’s the hard part when you take criticism when you’re called out by people, you don’t think they understand or appreciate what you’ve done.

And you’re only one person. So hopefully, you have other politicians and, or family or friends who can provide that support for you on a mental and emotional level. Because honestly, the thankless job, a lot of people don’t, most everyone calls and emails to complain, but they never call or email to. Thank you. It’s pretty tough. Yeah, I want to say thank you. Thank you brother. Thank you. Here. 

[00:32:56] Bryan Pham: You’re not completely thankless. 

[00:32:59] Maggie Chui: Yeah. We’re so thankful for all that. You do it. Yeah. Something about the keyboard and sitting behind a computer desk of the things. People think they’re so powerful, but no matter what you do, if you’re a politician influencer, anything you’re bound to get critiques and you just have to keep moving forward because either way, you will get people who will say good things, bad things, everything. So you just have to keep moving forward. So Sam, what is the biggest misconception about going into politics and being in office throughout your whole experience?

[00:33:27] Sam Cho: Oh man. So I think the biggest misconception that it’s is that it’s like all hunky Dory and that, because you’re a politician, everyone that puts you on a pedestal and you get treated like semi-celebrity. I did, there are definitely instances where I get more attention than others, that’s undeniable. But there’s a lot of work in the background. There’s a lot, like I said, the criticism and the critiques. But on a more general level, I think the biggest misconception about politics and being in the political office most people, when they think of politicians, they think of Congress, people like members of Congress, senators, presidents, et cetera.

The truth is if you want to go into politics or be in politics, it doesn’t have to be your one thing. It doesn’t have to be your end. It doesn’t have to be your full-time job or career. In fact, I would say 90% of politicians are part-time. I would say that most politically elected positions are part-time.

So you don’t have to sacrifice your day job, your nine to five career to be a politician, school board, city council board, and commissions. Those are all, they don’t pay much obviously, but they’re also not full-time. And so this idea that I have to give up my career in X, Y, and Z in order to go into politics or be a politician, it’s just simply not true.

If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re an entrepreneur. You don’t need to give up. Startup to go into public service. They’re not mutually exclusive. And then, obviously, you don’t need to actually run for office or be in politics in order to serve the public. I think there are a lot of other ways to do it.

I think a lot of people start businesses because they want to help people. I know you guys had VA on your inner show and VA is a guy who just cares about other people and. Build businesses that change lives a lot. A lot of your guests are like that who in their own way are changing their lives. If you want to be in politics, that’s one way to do it.

But again, it’s not mutual. Exclusive. You can have a career. You can have a nine to five. Not everyone needs to be a politician. Lastly, if you think you’re too busy to be in politics or to run for office, then support your local politicians, it doesn’t have to be you.

Support the people you do know who want to do this and make sure that they’re getting everything they need to success, be successful so that they can represent you. And yeah, that’s the biggest misconception I would say is it’s not a full-time gig. It’s not, it takes up a lot of hours.

It’s a huge commitment. And again, it’s. But the reality is that you can, you mentioned in my bio, I work at a tech company right now in my nine to five and I’m a port commissioner. And sometimes it’s not clear which one is my full-time job, which one is my side gig. But the reality is that you can do both I think our generation as millennials and we have caught onto the fact that we do not need to do the same thing for 40 years in a career.

Like we can do different things every 5, 6, 7, 10 years. You, if you have an interest in something else, you can do that. Right or do things at the same time. Bryan, Maggie, I know you guys have a lot going on, but you don’t just do the Asian Hustle Network podcast or the Facebook group. You have other things going on.

And so we really need to embrace that and say, okay, I have a nine to five, I have a business, I’m an entrepreneur, but I want to contribute to my community. I want to be going to get into politics or policy. And so let’s break that misconception, get involved, do it, you don’t need to put your a hundred percent, maybe just 30% goes into politics. But I guarantee you if you put 30% in, I put 30% in Maggie puts in 30%. And a lot of people in R to me puts in 30%, that’s a huge growth. And it’s all we need. 

[00:36:40] Maggie Chui: Absolutely. I love that. And just hearing you say it through your words and mouth is just so inspiring because I think a lot of people think if they go into politics, it has to be a full-time job, which is definitely not true.

We see it from your experience as well. Which is a great segue into our last question. And that is if you could give one advice to someone who is training to go into politics, but as also an entrepreneur, if you’re an aspiring entrepreneur and trying to juggle both, what would that advice be?

[00:37:07] Sam Cho: Yeah. I think that the biggest and most important advice that I can give to folks who are in that scenario is to surround yourself with the right people. I cannot look I think it’s been a buzz phrase in our community, in not our community, but in our generation to say I’m a self-made XYZ.

Self-made millionaire. Self-made entrepreneur. Let’s be honest. No one is self-made. No one did. None of your success is achieved by yourself. It is a result of hard work. Let’s not discount hard work, but it’s also a result of the support, it’s a result of community, it’s a result of mentorship all those things.

And so if you want to do both things, whether it’s being an entrepreneur, running a business, plus being in politics, make sure you’re surrounding yourself with the people that you know are going to help be helpful in making you succeed. If being in politics means that you need to take a little bit of a step back from running your daily business day to day like you can’t go into the shop every single day, surround yourself with people who can fill that. Similarly, if you are a little too busy with your business, but you still want to be in politics and you can’t give it your a hundred percent surround yourself with people who are already in politics, learn from them and ask them to help you.

I can’t tell you how many times I went to endorsement meetings or meetings where I had to go give a speech, but I couldn’t go because there were three or four events at the same time. I can’t be in three or four places at the same time, but I leaned on supporters and community and friends. Hey, can you go on my behalf and just talk about me.

I had friends go to events and say, Hey, I’m Sam’s friend. He does all these things. Great things you should vote for them. It’s not as good as maybe being me being there, my in person, but it speaks volumes when other people are vouching for you and they’re on your behalf. And so surround yourself with the right people, whether that’s mentors, whether there are people who supplement areas where you have weakness, having a good circle around you, is extremely important.

And I think when you look at the most successful politicians, presidents, whether it’s Ronald Reagan or Donald Trump, or you can see how info, how they are influenced by their circles, they call the inner circle and how much influence. It has on how successful you are when you have really shitty people around you.

You’re going to get shitty results. If you have good people around you, you didn’t get good results. I can’t emphasize this enough, how important it is to do not just have a network but to have an inner circle that really supports you in ways that you need it. 

[00:39:20] Bryan Pham: You are the sum of five people inhale with, so it’s more important than what people think it is extremely important. You don’t even know. I how much they influenced your thought process as possible. So I highly agree with that. Sam, we really appreciate you being on the podcast. So how can our listeners find out more about you and reach out to you online? 

[00:39:39] Sam Cho: Yeah, man. My Instagram handle is a SamHCho, my Twitter is @samchotweet. I’m also on LinkedIn as Sam H Cho. And you can email at Cho.s@portseattle.org 

[00:39:48] Bryan Pham: awesome. Thank you so much for being in the podcast. Out of curiosity, what does the H stands for? 

[00:39:54] Sam Cho: Oh, my middle name. My legal name is . I go by Sam but my parents being immigrants, they didn’t know what a middle name was.

So they broke up my Korean name. My Korean name is Hey, hon. But they made, say my first name, they con my middle name and chose. So the H is, technically my middle name, but it’s really the second half of my first name in Korean.

[00:40:19] Bryan Pham: Yeah. Thank you so much for being in the podcast today. Thank you so much for what you do for the community in terms of representation and serving the community and for everything that you share today. Highly appreciate that.

[00:40:30] Sam Cho: Thank you guys for all you’re doing. Yeah. Maggie. So good to see you. Thanks so much for having me guys really appreciate it.

[00:40:37] Maggie Chui: Thank you, Sam. 

[00:40:38] Sam Cho: Take care.