UC Irvine professor David Pan is running in California’s 46th congressional district. (Courtesy of David Pan’s campaign)
David Pan was a registered Democrat until earlier this year. Now, as a Republican, he is trying his hand at flipping the bluest congressional district in Orange County.
Pan, who has taught German language, history, literature and culture at UC Irvine since 2006, is vying for the 46th congressional district represented by Democratic Rep. Lou Correa in a race that, so far, was on track to go uncontested.
It’s his experience in academia, Pan said, that caused him to switch parties.
“I have been frustrated with the way in which debates in the university have been somewhat constrained,” Pan said. “Particularly in terms of issues like affirmative action. We need to focus on merit, hard work and taking responsibility.”
“Those have increasingly become Republican values than Democratic ones,” he said, “and I really feel that I’ve been in the wrong party for several years.”
While he consistently voted for Democratic candidates for most of his life, over the last several years, Pan said he’d look at candidates and their values, not the party letter next to their name.
“My goal is to find some common ground between the parties to make real change,” Pan, an Irvine resident, said. “Opposition politics doesn’t make room for real change. We need to get moderates on both sides on board.”
“I’m by no means a conservative Republican,” he added. “The issues that I’m running on — public safety, school choice, bringing down inflation — they’re what everybody can sign on to.”
Pan said elected Democrats in the area, including Correa, have not pushed hard enough to rein in crime and homelessness or improve schools and academic performances.
“The 46th district is home to a lot of poorly performing schools, and that’s really upsetting to me,” Pan said. Several Santa Ana, Anaheim and Fullerton schools are rated low on academic performance by the California School Dashboard published by the California Department of Education.
Through a campaign spokesperson, Correa declined to comment.
Before moving to Southern California, Pan taught at Penn State University for several years. He’s the editor of Telos, a quarterly academic journal that focuses on politics, philosophy and cultural and societal issues.
And in the race, education reform remains one of the biggest components of his platform.
Pan supports education vouchers, state-funded scholarships that can be used to subsidize a student’s private or religious school tuition. California does not offer such vouchers, and an effort to establish a fund for students who opt out of attending public schools was defeated in the state legislature earlier this year.
“Parents deserve to make informed choices about the school to put their children in,” Pan said. “A system of school vouchers would help parents, not just wealthy parents, put their children in the school that will work best for them,” he said.
Pan said that giving parents an opportunity to choose where to send their kids will induce “healthy competition” between schools, improving school quality. He said he would introduce legislation in Congress to push for a federal school voucher program.
Another focus of Pan’s is government spending — something he sees as a bipartisan issue.
“The Trump administration wasn’t able to control spending, either,” Pan said, pointing to the national debt level’s $7.8 trillion increase during former President Donald Trump’s time in office. “I want to have a serious discussion about government spending and ways to reduce that. I don’t think either party has really been serious about that because in both the Biden and the Trump administrations there has been deficit spending.”
Before entering academia, Pan briefly found work as a consultant at McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm. From 2019 to 2020, Pan, the son of Taiwanese immigrants, served on the U.S. State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights, a group of academics, philosophers and activists tasked with providing the secretary of state “advice and recommendations concerning international human rights matters.”
The 46th congressional district, represented by Correa, a four-term congressman, covers Anaheim, Santa Ana and Stanton and parts of Orange and Fullerton. Democrats have a stronger voter registration advantage: 49.25% to Republicans’ 21.7%. (No party preference voters are at 23.59%.)
Pan sees his longshot bid as an opportunity to offer CA-46 residents another choice on the ballot next year and says that through canvassing, he has found more conservative residents than what the numbers might indicate.
“Sitting down and having serious discussions about how we should try to govern,” Pan said. “I’d like to have that kind of discussion with people and get that debate moving.”