C(API)TOL CORRESPONDENT: New Year Ushers New Frontier for APIs in Politics

The New Year always brings new challenges and triumphs. A decade ago, assemblymembers George Nakano, Wilma Chan and Carol Liu established the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus. Today, the caucus has grown to 11 members and three constitutional officers.

Over the last 10 years, the API community has worked successfully to recruit and elect qualified API candidates for local, state and federal office. Ironically, the API community may have been too successful, such that the next 10 years may see a growing number of API candidates running against other API candidates. Already, 2010 will see a battle royale between major API candidates running for Attorney General of California.

San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, Assembly Rules Committee Chairman Ted Lieu and Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico are in a pitched battle to win the Democratic nomination for state Attorney General. Harris has raised more than a million dollars with Lieu and Torrico close behind. Each candidate boasts an impressive list of endorsers and top gun consultants running their campaigns.

(From left to right) Assembly Rules Committee Chairman Ted Lieu, Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico, San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris - photos courtesy of campaigns

Harris leads with Obama-like celebrity status and big-dollar fundraising, Lieu has built an impressive base of support from local and state elected officials, while Torrico is leading in endorsements from public safety organizations. Harris’ top strategist is Ace Smith, who engineered Jerry Brown’s successful Attorney General race; Lieu’s advisor is Gale Kaufman, who has dominated statewide ballot elections over the last 10 years; and Torrico has Eric Jaye, who masterminded Gavin Newsom’s successful San Francisco mayoral election.

Prominent API leaders have split in their support for Harris, Lieu and Torrico. Harris is supported by former U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and state Sen. Leland Yee, Lieu is supported by State Controller John Chiang and Congresswoman Judy Chu, and Torrico is supported by API Caucus Chairman Warren Furutani and Assemblywoman Fiona Ma.

In a low-turnout partisan primary with a large number of candidates, any of these candidates has a legitimate shot at winning the Democratic Party nomination and going on to face the sole Republican candidate, Sen. Tom Harman, in November’s general election.

Naturally, many active members of the API community are concerned about the discomfort and threat to the perception of API unity caused by three APIs candidates running against each other for a single coveted statewide constitutional office. This concern obscures the silver lining of the situation: For the first time in history, the API community has three legitimately viable candidates for a single statewide constitutional office. More importantly, any of these API candidates can realistically win despite the possibility that each candidate will split off a portion of California’s nearly 900,000 API Democratic and Decline-To-State voters.

African American and Latino candidates have been running against each other for elected offices for years. So much so, not much is said in the Latino community about Assemblyman Torrico (who is half Latino), Assemblyman Pedro Nava and former Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, who would conceivably split the Latino vote in this primary race for state Attorney General. African American and Latino communities continue to survive and thrive in the aftermath of numerous contested local, state and federal elections. APIs should be no different. Elections contested by multiple API candidates are a good thing and the API community should celebrate it as a sign of having arrived in the world of politics.

Bill Wong is a political and strategic consultant with more than 20 years of legislative and campaign experience. He currently advises candidates, political action committees and major corporations. He can be reached at Bill@billwong.net. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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