State law allows a legislator to spend most of his time in Sacramento and still list another city as hisofficialresidence.

By BRIAN JOSEPH
The Orange County Register

IN THE CAPITOL: “I fly down and work in the district as much and as hard as anyone in this building,” says Assemblyman Van Tran, a former Garden Grove city councilman.

FILE PHOTO: MARK AVERY, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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SACRAMENTO – They say home is where you lay your head, but for California lawmakers it can be more complicated.

Assemblyman Van Tran lives in a new West Sacramento home he owns and shares with his wife, Cindy.

But in the eyes of the law, Tran, a Republican, doesn’t live there. He lives in Westminster – with his parents.

State law says lawmakers live wherever they’re registered to vote, and lawmakers can register anywhere they please, even if they spend little or no time at that address.

Some experts say this is good because it lets lawmakers live near the capital where they work.

But others say it opens the door to carpetbagging, weakening the very foundation of representative democracy.

It’s what allowed former Sen. Ross Johnson, a Republican, to represent Irvine when he and his wife and two daughters lived in Gold River, near Sacramento.

It’s why Assemblyman Tom Umberg, a Democrat, rents a condo in Santa Ana when he and his family own a five-bedroom house in a neighboring Republican district.

And it’s how Tran, a rising star in the Republican Party as one of the nation’s first Vietnamese-American legislators, was planning to run for termed-out Sen. Joe Dunn’s 34th state Senate District seat when his parents live in the 35th.

Two households

Tran, an attorney, freely acknowledges his West Sacramento home, registering at his parents’ house and briefly changing his registration to a studio apartment in order to qualify for the 34th Senate District seat. He says none of those things harm his connection to the community he represents, the 68th Assembly District.

“I fly down and work in the district as much and as hard as anyone in this building,” the 41-year-old said in an interview this month at his Capitol office.

The former Garden Grove city councilman owns several pieces of property in and around Sacramento, but none in Orange County, according to documents on file with the state.

His wife is from the Sacramento region and is registered to vote in West Sacramento. They were married in a Sacramento church shortly after he was elected to the Assembly in November 2004.

Meanwhile, in Orange County, Tran has changed his registration three times since October – first to his parents’ house in Westminster, then to the studio apartment in Garden Grove, then back to his parents’ house.

The dates of the changes correspond to when Tran flirted with running for the Senate and then dropped out to seek re-election in the 68th Assembly District.

Tran’s opponents in the Assembly race think residency is an issue. Long King Pham, Tran’s challenger in the June 6 Republican primary, and John Paul Lucas, the Democratic candidate, both say he is too disconnected from the district to accurately represent it.

“Meeting the spirit of the law and the letter of the law are two different things,” said Lucas, who lives in Costa Mesa. “If his wife’s primary residence is in Sacramento, I would assume his primary residence is with her.”

Making it legal

Tran disagrees. Asked if he felt his registration changes opened him up to charges of carpetbagging, Tran said, “It’s not like I’m from Nebraska and one day I want to run for state Senate in California and therefore I just move over and then say, ‘OK, I’m here! I’m running.’ … I have a long, deep-running relationship with the city” of Garden Grove.

Tran said he decided to move in with his mom and dad in Westminster, after selling his home in Garden Grove, when his older brother, Henry, unexpectedly died of cancer in January 2005.

“After my brother’s passing, I realized everybody’s time here is temporary and short. And my parents are in their mid-70s. And I want to spend more time with them – as much as I can, given the nature of this job,” Tran said.

Tran says he stays with his parents whenever he returns to Orange County, which he says he does every weekend. He estimates he spends 60 percent of his time at his West Sacramento home, with the rest spent living with his parents in Westminster. He said his wife joins him at his parents’ house two or three weekends a month.

And when the Legislature is out of session in fall, Tran said, he and his wife live with his parents full time.

“It’s a non-issue,” he said.

Tran was only registered at his parents’ house for four months when he changed again, to an address in the 34th Senate District.

Tran said he only changed his registration “to make it legal” for him to run for the seat. He registered at the Garden Grove home of Margaret Zuliani, who told The Orange County Register that Tran rented a room from her. The next day, Feb. 24, he pulled papers for the Senate race.

But four days later, Tran announced he was opting out of the Senate race to seek re-election to the Assembly. The next day, on March 1, he re-registered at his parents’ house. Tran said he dropped the Senate bid because he was concerned Democrats would pour a lot of money into the race to protect a seat their party controls.

Public perception

Experts say residency issues don’t necessarily affect candidates politically because voters understand they maintain homes near the Capitol and could own property elsewhere. What’s critical is that candidates be upfront about their living arrangements, they say.

“To me, it’s not an issue of legal or not. It’s whether a legislator feels he or she can properly represent the district,” said Peggy Kerns, a former Colorado legislator and director of the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Center for Ethics in Government. “The public’s expectation is key here, that they be properly represented. It’s up to them to decide.”

In Orange County, the issue is often brought up, but candidates are elected anyway. In the 2004 primary for the 69th Assembly District, for example, Democrat Tom Umberg faced accusations of carpetbagging because he was renting a condominium in Santa Ana while his family owned a home outside the district, in Villa Park – Republican Assemblyman Bob Huff’s district.

Umberg won and is now running for the Democratic nomination in the 34th Senate District. He still owns the Villa Park home and continues to rent the condo, which is in the 34th.

Residency wasn’t a problem for former state Sen. Ross Johnson, who moved his wife and two daughters from Orange County to Sacramento after he called home one day and learned one of his daughters had lost part of a finger in an accident. Johnson said he was heartbroken he wasn’t there for her.

Johnson was open with voters about moving his family to Sacramento and maintaining a condominium in Irvine so he could continue to represent Orange County.

“I think spending time with your family is important,” Johnson said last week from his Sacramento-area home, where he now lives full time. “I don’t think it affected anything at all. I think I was a pretty accurate representation of my constituency.”

CONTACT US: (916) 449-6046 or bjoseph@ocregister.com

Ly Tong’s stunts in fight for democratic government split Vietnamese.By MARTIN WISCKOL
The Orange County Register

Ly Tong again finds himself in a Southeast Asian prison. And if things don’t break his way, there’ll be at least one more cell ahead.

The first stint for the folk hero, self-styled freedom fighter and international lover came when his South Vietnamese A-37 fighter jet was shot down at the end of the Vietnam War. He was captured by the North Vietnamese and hustled into in a “reeducation camp.”

Five years later, after several attempts, he finally succeeded in escaping. In a 1985 account, he described 1-1/2 years spent tramping out of Vietnam, through Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia. Walking, bicycling, riding buses and, finally, swimming across the Johore Strait to Singapore, where he hailed a cab and arrived, still wet, at the U.S. Embassy to request asylum.

The legend and theatrical stunts were just beginning for the cocky, ponytailed man who now sits in a Bangkok prison. Next would come renegade flights over Vietnam and Cuba to dump anti-communist leaflets, a single-handed attempt to launch a revolution in his homeland that led to another extended stay in a Vietnamese prison and two convictions for hijackings.

He is a household name in Little Saigon, a reminder of the dream for a democratic government in Vietnam.

“Everybody knows that he’s a hero,” said Anaheim’s Nguyen Phuong Hung, a friend and supporter of Ly Tong. “It’s important to have him as a symbol, to send a message to the Vietnamese people and the Vietnamese government.”

But even Nguyen readily concedes that Ly Tong’s quixotic methods are more symbolic than practical, and acknowledges the view of some Vietnamese-Americans that the renegade doesn’t have all 52 cards in his deck.

“Fifty percent think he’s crazy,” said the 60-year-old Nguyen, an activist who also fought alongside U.S. troops in Vietnam. “Fifty percent like him, and 50 percent don’t. He’s very aggressive. Sometimes I’ve called him and said, ‘That’s a stupid action. You have to obey the laws.’

“We’re both freedom fighters. I (go about) it in a different way, but I support him.”

After winning asylum and settling in New Orleans in 1980, Ly Tong worked as a security guard, received two degrees in political science and became a U.S. citizen.

Then, in September 1992, he went to Thailand and boarded a flight from Bangkok to Vietnam. As the plane approached Ho Chi Minh City, Ly Tong threw a noose around a flight attendant’s neck, falsely declared he had a bomb and ordered the pilot to fly low over the city.

He forced several passes over the city, flinging 50,000 homemade leaflets onto the streets and rooftops.

“People of Saigon-fill the streets!” they commanded, according to a translation in the Philadelphia City Paper. “Occupy the radio and television stations! Ask the police to join the revolution or return to their barracks. An overseas invasion force is on the way! I will soon be there to lead the fight. Await instructions!”

By the fourth pass, Vietnamese soldiers and air force crews were launching fighter jets and ratcheting anti-aircraft guns to pull the plane tight into their cross hairs, according to the City Paper account. Then Ly Tong climbed through the cockpit window and parachuted to his homeland to lead the coup.

But he landed in a swamp and was quickly captured. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison but was granted amnesty and released in 1998 as part of the normalization of relations between the United States and Vietnam.

He returned to a hero’s welcome in numerous Vietnamese-American meetings across the country, including an Orange County event that attracted 600 people.

But already, mention of his name was causing some people to roll their eyes – something that has become increasingly common.

“To many, he’s an eccentric with a penchant for spectacular deeds,” said Thu-Huong Nguyen-Vo, a UCLA Asian- American studies professor.

Ly Tong was back in the U.S. in 1998, but his spectacular deeds were far from over. He continued to live up to his reputation as the Vietnamese James Bond – a moniker that reflects not only his adventures but also his love life, which he hasn’t been shy about. He’s never married, but describes himself as an international father for siring three children in different countries.

Ly Tong’s next big stunt came in January 2000, when he rented a Cessna in Miami, flew it over Havana and dropped leaflets calling for the overthrow of Fidel Castro. U.S. officials took Ly Tong’s pilot’s license upon his return.

That November, he left Bangkok in a single-engine plane with a flight instructor. They flew over Ho Chi Minh City, and Ly Tong again scattered thousands of anti-communist leaflets. Thai authorities arrested Ly Tong promptly after the plane landed in Thailand.

“He offered the pilot $10,000 to make the trip,” said Assemblyman Van Tran, R-Westminster, who visited Ly Tong in December and is lobbying for his release to the United States. “He claimed the Thai pilot cooperated, but the Thai pilot changed his story once they landed and politics took over.”

Ly Tong, whose accounts put his age at anywhere from 55 to 60, was convicted of hijacking and is to be released from Thai prison May 17. But officials in Vietnam – who have called him a terrorist – have requested his extradition to face charges there.

“We don’t want to see him extradited to a country that has no real rule of law,” said Paul Berkowitz, a special assistant to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, who made the December trip with Tran. “He’s done his time – he should not be handed over to some thugs.”

Rohrabacher has called Ly Tong “a great American.” Berkowitz said that while Ly Tong should be punished for crimes committed, he remains a hero to the congressman.

“Dana likes people who stand up to government, to communist countries,” Berkowitz said. “(Ly Tong) is a freedom fighter, absolutely. The risks he takes – the guy has guts. It’s amazing to watch.”

Thailand is caught in the dilemma of wanting to keep good relations with both its neighboring country and with Uncle Sam. And while Rohrabacher and Berkowitz praise Ly Tong with little reservation, Tran seems in a position something like Thailand’s – hoping to avoid offense. Tran supports Ly Tong’s release and a democratic Vietnam, but stops short of praising the renegade’s actions.

“I don’t place a moral judgment on him, whether he’s eccentric or not,” said Tran, who is in a tight race for the state Senate. “I did this (trip) for humanitarian reasons. He’s served his time.”

Does Tran support Ly Tong’s freedom-fighting ways?

“I don’t want to go there,” Tran said.

The People’s View

An alternative audio-visual group launched recently a video documentary about Basilan and the effects of the presence in the island of at least 8,000 Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) soldiers and, later, the U.S. troops. Presenting the issue from the point of view of the residents, the group did what the government has failed to do: listen to the voices of the people of Basilan.

By ROWENA CARRANZA
Bulatlat.com

Dubbed “Basilan: Siklab ng Digma (Spark of War),” the documentary was produced by Kodao Productions, a multimedia production house engaged in video and radio production, training and outreach programs.

“Siklab” focuses on the reactions of the residents on the menace wrought by the massive and continuous military operations and their fears about the presence of U.S. troops. It features both Christian and Muslim residents, including Fr. Cirilo Nacorda, parish priest of Lamitan town. Nacorda earlier charged the military of colluding with the ASG in kidnap-for-ransom activities.

“Our community used to be peaceful. We could plant crops, coconut, bananas and various vegetables. We could raise chickens, ducks, goats and carabaos. Now, danger looms over us…” Uttered by a resident, these words represent the general feeling of despair among Basileños.

Witnesses recalled how soldiers allegedly let Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) members escape during the Lamitan siege last year. ASG members assaulted the town and were already cornered by AFP soldiers in the Lamitan hospital when they were suspiciously pulled out from their position at the back of the hospital. The bandits then retreated through the back, walking casually, said town residents.

Kodao’s documentary also highlights the human rights violations committed by Filipino troops:

“They put pepper on our mouths and buttocks,” described a man of the torture he suffered under the military. He has been in detention for almost a year now for allegedly being an ASG member. “Help us, Sir, we did not do anything wrong,” he implored his interviewer.

On the U.S. troops in Basilan, many of those interviewed believed their presence is unnecessary:

“We don’t need the American forces if you analyze what’s happening,” said Fr. Nacorda, referring to the alleged conspiracy between AFP leaders and ASG. The priest and several other residents said that the AFP could stop the ASG if it really wants to.

On the other hand, retired Navy Captain Dan Vizmanos, who was once deployed in the area, said, “The Abu Sayyaf and this war against terrorism is being used by the American government to justify U.S. military intervention in the Philippines.” He said the United States wants to use the Philippines as a staging area for projection of U.S. military power in Southeast Asia.

For the residents, the problem being brought by U.S. presence in Basilan is simpler and more immediate: “We could no longer continue this cycle of going out our farms to get food and then coming back down. That’s why we don’t want the Americans to come here. The residents of Tipo-Tipo (a town in Basilan) do not want the Americans because they (will further) create disorder,” said a woman resident who described how they have been forced to live in evacuation centers away from their sources of livelihood.

The residents also expressed dismay over President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s words that anyone who is against the RP-U.S. war exercise being held in Basilan is an “Abu Sayyaf lover.”

A version of the video documentary with English subtitles is available, said Kodao producer Bedette Libres. Bulatlat.com

We want to know what you think of this article.

An alternative audio-visual group launched recently a video documentary about Basilan and the effects of the presence in the island of at least 8,000 Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) soldiers and, later, the U.S. troops. Presenting the issue from the point of view of the residents, the group did what the government has failed to do: listen to the voices of the people of Basilan.

By ROWENA CARRANZA
Bulatlat.com

Dubbed “Basilan: Siklab ng Digma (Spark of War),” the documentary was produced by Kodao Productions, a multimedia production house engaged in video and radio production, training and outreach programs.

“Siklab” focuses on the reactions of the residents on the menace wrought by the massive and continuous military operations and their fears about the presence of U.S. troops. It features both Christian and Muslim residents, including Fr. Cirilo Nacorda, parish priest of Lamitan town. Nacorda earlier charged the military of colluding with the ASG in kidnap-for-ransom activities.

“Our community used to be peaceful. We could plant crops, coconut, bananas and various vegetables. We could raise chickens, ducks, goats and carabaos. Now, danger looms over us…” Uttered by a resident, these words represent the general feeling of despair among Basileños.

Witnesses recalled how soldiers allegedly let Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) members escape during the Lamitan siege last year. ASG members assaulted the town and were already cornered by AFP soldiers in the Lamitan hospital when they were suspiciously pulled out from their position at the back of the hospital. The bandits then retreated through the back, walking casually, said town residents.

Kodao’s documentary also highlights the human rights violations committed by Filipino troops:

“They put pepper on our mouths and buttocks,” described a man of the torture he suffered under the military. He has been in detention for almost a year now for allegedly being an ASG member. “Help us, Sir, we did not do anything wrong,” he implored his interviewer.

On the U.S. troops in Basilan, many of those interviewed believed their presence is unnecessary:

“We don’t need the American forces if you analyze what’s happening,” said Fr. Nacorda, referring to the alleged conspiracy between AFP leaders and ASG. The priest and several other residents said that the AFP could stop the ASG if it really wants to.

On the other hand, retired Navy Captain Dan Vizmanos, who was once deployed in the area, said, “The Abu Sayyaf and this war against terrorism is being used by the American government to justify U.S. military intervention in the Philippines.” He said the United States wants to use the Philippines as a staging area for projection of U.S. military power in Southeast Asia.

For the residents, the problem being brought by U.S. presence in Basilan is simpler and more immediate: “We could no longer continue this cycle of going out our farms to get food and then coming back down. That’s why we don’t want the Americans to come here. The residents of Tipo-Tipo (a town in Basilan) do not want the Americans because they (will further) create disorder,” said a woman resident who described how they have been forced to live in evacuation centers away from their sources of livelihood.

The residents also expressed dismay over President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s words that anyone who is against the RP-U.S. war exercise being held in Basilan is an “Abu Sayyaf lover.”

A version of the video documentary with English subtitles is available, said Kodao producer Bedette Libres. Bulatlat.com

We want to know what you think of this article.