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Pearl Kim fields a question during her talk at Chestnut Hill College on Monday.
Pearl Kim fields a question during her talk at Chestnut Hill College on Monday. Photo: David Maas / AL DÍA News

Pearl Kim: Pennsylvania’s Republican Upstart

With her campaign for U.S. Congress, former prosecutor Pearl Kim aims to make history on Nov. 6.

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Pearl Kim is full steam ahead, ready to make history as the first woman of color ever to be elected to U.S. Congress in Pennsylvania.

An upstart Republican candidate in Pennsylvania’s 5th District, the 39-year-old Flourtown native is an independent-minded former prosecutor, driven by her history as a survivor of cancer and sexual assault. She is the daughter of South Korean immigrants, and should she win in November, she would also become the first Korean-American woman ever to serve in Congress.

The weight of her candidacy is not lost on her.

“I do not take this opportunity lightly,” Kim told her audience at Chestnut Hill College on Monday. “I put in my life savings for this race and I am in it to absolutely win it.”

She has received no support from the national Republican party since declaring her candidacy. She has become something of a media darling, however, as she has campaigned.

Vice was in Chestnut Hill Monday, filming her appearance for an upcoming documentary centered on female candidates running for office across the country. Early on in her campaign, Kim was interviewed by the Washington Post and BBC, and just last month she was invited to speak at the New York Times’ New Rules Summit.

However, her appearance on CNN’s "The Van Jones Show" has clearly stuck with her most.

“That was an absolutely incredible experience, where I got to be on 'The Van Jones Show.' To have someone like Van Jones reach across the aisle and say, ‘hey people take a look at Pearl Kim, rising GOP star, we’ve never had a woman of color elected into Pennsylvania Congress.’ He gave me a fantastic platform to get my name out,” she said.

Prior to running for office, Kim spent more than a decade as a special victims and domestic violence prosecutor in the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office, where she would eventually go on to head the office’s Human Trafficking Unit.

“What I was actually known for in law enforcement was securing the first human trafficking conviction in the state of Pennsylvania,” she told the Chestnut Hill College audience.

In a quirky set of circumstances, Kim will be on the ballot in two congressional districts on November 6. She will be running in Pennsylvania’s current 7th District in a special election to fill the seat left by Republican Pat Meehan, who resigned earlier this year due to a sexual harassment scandal. Should she win this election, Kim would be sworn in immediately to serve out the rest of the term, until January 1.

Of more consequence is Kim’s race in the state’s new 5th District, where she is running against Democrat Mary Gay Scanlon. This district comprises all of Delaware County, parts of Chester and Montgomery counties, and sections of south and southwest Philadelphia. Should she win this seat, she would serve the normal two-year term beginning in January.

Kim has placed the opioid crisis at the top of her agenda. She would take a multi-faceted approach to tackling the issue, centered on “trauma-informed care,” she told AL DÍA.

“Trauma-informed care really helps get to the root of the problem. By doing that, I’m hoping it will help individuals know that there are other avenues than numbing themselves by turning to maybe alcohol or drugs,” she said.

“We have to reduce the stigma around it. I think addiction is a disease, and I think that type of education will also help individuals moving forward. And then, from a prosecutor’s standpoint, I firmly believe in continuing to prosecute traffickers.”

Kim identifies as a fiscal conservative, supporting the recent Republican tax cuts, for instance. In general, however, she keeps a safe distance from the current Trump administration. This is most stark when it comes to immigration.

“I do not agree with the current administration and a lot of the stuff that they have indicated they want to do, or have done with our immigration. We are the United States of America, we are a country of immigrants,” she said.

“I believe that, of course, we have to enforce our borders, but that there is a compassionate way of doing so, so I did not agree with the family separation. Generally speaking, I think that we should have more legal avenues for immigration, not less. I think there is an economic basis for that,” she said.

Front and center throughout Pearl Kim’s campaign has been her openness about surviving a sexual assault when she was in college.

“I ended up going through the criminal justice system as a victim, and I did not get the justice that I was seeking. I was very displeased with my prosecutor, and I was very displeased with the criminal justice system, so I decided to become a special victims prosecutor,” she said.

Kim later told AL DÍA: “To be honest, I wasn’t necessarily going to share it on the campaign trail at first because of the magnitude of the type of race I was running in, it was pretty intimidating to make the decision to share that. The problem was, as I was campaigning, everyone kept asking, ‘why do you want to run for Congress?’ and it felt like kind of an incomplete story without sharing my whole history.”

“As I was stomping on the campaign trail, it still felt sometimes uncomfortable, but I started to integrate it more and more because it got easier the more I said it,” she added. “And then I recognized that, wow, I can help people just by even disclosing that as I’m campaigning. I went from being really shy to saying, ‘please, get my story out, this is my time.’”

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