POLITICAL NEWCOMER. State representative Chris Chyung (D-Dyer)
listens during organization day at the statehouse in
Indianapolis, Indiana. The 25-year-old political newcomer beat
Hal Slager by 82 votes on Election Day last year. He earned more
than 12,000 votes the hard way, by pounding sidewalks, meeting
strangers, and attending community forums. (AP Photo/Darron
From The Asian Reporter, V29, #01 (January 7, 2019),
pages 8 & 13.
First Asian American takes seat in Indiana
By Jerry Davich
DYER, Ind. (AP) ó On more than one occasion, Chris Chyung had
a front door slammed in his face while campaigning against state
representative Hal Slager.
"They told me, ĎGo back to China!í" recalled Chyung, who was
born in Merrillville and raised in Munster. "Iíve never even
been to China. My parents, who are both physicians, were born in
Korea. So at least get your racism right."
The 25-year-old political newcomer doesnít take such slights
"Iíve lived my whole life in Indiana, so Iím used to being
the only Asian person in the room," he said. "Any room."
Chyung, who lives with his parents, beat Slager by 82 votes
on Election Day last year. He earned more than 12,000 votes the
hard way, by pounding sidewalks, meeting strangers, and
attending community forums.
"The notion that we could actually pull this off was
unfathomable when we began," he said.
Slager, a long-term Republican from Schererville, served 10
years there as a town councilman and three two-year terms as a
state representative. He had name recognition, General Assembly
experience, and a much deeper war chest of campaign donations.
But the young Democrat from Dyer simply out-hustled Slager,
knocking on thousands of doors ó sometimes the same doors three
or four times during his campaign ó while surfing a small blue
wave of voters in the 15th House District, which covers
Schererville, Dyer, St. John, and parts of Griffith.
"So far, everyone has been nothing but pleasant to me. But
itís still the honeymoon period," said Chyung, who is now
officially part of the General Assembly.
Chyung is the first Asian-American state legislator in
"Itís absolutely an American success story," he said. "Still,
at the end of the day, itís all about getting business done for
the state of Indiana."
Chyung has been getting down to business by researching
policy topics, drafting bills, meeting with interest groups, and
listening to constituents. Heís been learning about issues
ranging from child advocacy and Medicaid to taxation and the
annual debate on the stateís time-change controversy.
Chyung recently attended a crash-course orientation hosted in
Indianapolis by the Legislative Services Agency, which offered
one-hour primers on key issues. He is already receiving calls
and texts from constituents, asking about concerns ó everything
from potholes on their street to education reform.
"Iíve got a list of dozens of things to do before I take
office," he said, checking his smartphoneís calendar.
"Iím still digesting my victory. And so is my family," he
Chyungís parents arrived in this country during the aftermath
of the Korean War, eventually landing in Chicago where they
completed their medical fellowships.
They later moved to Northwest Indiana, where they still
They continue to hope Chyung will follow their career paths
as physicians, similar to his two sisters and his
"In grade school, I thought I would be a doctor, too, but I
donít like seeing blood," Chyung joked. I have no plans for
medical school at this time.í"
He also never planned on becoming a public servant or state
officeholder. Raised in an upper middle class home, the Munster
High School graduate leaned more conservative than liberal. His
parents typically voted Republican in presidential elections.
He dabbled in real estate after attending college in New York
City to become an industrial engineer. Heís not married and
doesnít have children.
In 2016, when national politics became the daily
conversation, Chyung began showing an interest in local
politics. He volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and other
endeavors, eventually attending meetings of the Lake County
"My family and I began self-identifying as Democrats," Chyung
He learned that his districtís state representative, Slager,
was "out of step" with its people. Chyung tried contacting
Slager, who never responded to him, Chyung said.
"A lot of people feel their representative is not listening
to them, and so did I," he said.
Chyung tried suggesting that other Democratic candidates run
against Slager, but no one stepped up.
"So I did," Chyung said with a shrug, "even though I knew we
would be outgunned on many fronts by Mr. Slager and the stateís
In 2017, at a local political forum, a college student from
Crown Point asked about his campaign efforts. After talking with
him, Chyung brought on Sam Barloga as his campaign manager.
"Honestly, there were points in the campaign where I thought
it was such an uphill battle that it couldnít be done. But we
made a plan to stick with our message of transparency and good
governance, and bring that message to the doorstep of as many
voters as possible," said Barloga, who knocked on more than
With just over $100,000 in campaign funds, and a few high
school volunteers, Chyung was victorious, stunning Slager and
likely everybody else.
"Chris was quite the candidate," Barloga said. "He had his
heart in the right places, and voters were quite impressed. They
wanted a new voice in Indianapolis."
Chyung notes Slager is a constituent.
"If he wants to talk with me about any issues on his mind or
projects he was working on, Iím available," Chyung said. "Just
like for all of my other 65,000 constituents."