Without question, the dominating ethnic story of the 2010 elections was how Nicky Diaz and Latino voters handed billionaire Meg Whitman a stunning loss in the gubernatorial race. The less obvious but significantly interesting back story is about the continued rise of Asian Pacific Islanders (APIs) in politics.
APIs represent the second largest ethnic voter bloc in California with 1.3 million voters. Approximately 450,000 are decline-to-state voters, 405,000 are Democrats and 392,000 are Republicans. In comparison, three million of California’s voters are Latino and nearly 500,000 are African American.
Recognizing the growing strength of API voters in California, the California Labor Federation invested more than $650,000 to reach API voters and urge them to support Jerry Brown for governor. The campaign involved 15 unique pieces of mail, a Website, Web ads, volunteer phone banks and automated calls all in English, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese. It was an unprecedented effort that resulted in swinging API voters that voted for Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger 62 percent to 37 percent in 2006 to support Democrat Brown by 55 percent to 38 percent in 2010 — a 42-point swing proving that targeted in-language outreach to API voters wins campaigns.
In California, voters elected four API constitutional officers: State Controller John Chiang, State Attorney General Kamala Harris, and State Board of Equalization members Betty Yee and Michelle Park Steel. State Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye won her first election and joins State Supreme Court Justice Ming Chin, who was re-elected to serve another term.
In addition, two new APIs were elected to the State Assembly: Das Williams and Dr. Richard Pan. A number of API Assemblymembers were re-elected to serve two more years: Mike Eng, Paul Fong, Warren Furutani, Mary Hayashi, Fiona Ma and Mariko Yamada. Leland Yee was re-elected to the State Senate and State Senator Carol Liu was not up for re-election. In total, 10 APIs serve in the State Legislature, making them the second largest ethnic caucus in the Legislature. Three APIs were re-elected to the United State House of Representatives: Judy Chu, Mike Honda and Doris Matsui.
On the local level, APIs made significant gains as well. In San Francisco, Jane Kim won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors joining Carmen Chu, David Chiu and Eric Mar. San Francisco Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting won easy re-election. To the east, Jean Quan won a historic upset victory to become mayor of Oakland, making her the first woman of color to occupy that post for the city. In San Jose, Madison Nguyen won re-election to city council and was subsequently appointed to serve as vice mayor. Margaret Abe-Koga and Evan Low easily won re-election in Mountain View and Campbell, respectively. In Alameda, Rob Bonta and Lena Tam earned spots on the city council. In Alameda County, Wilma Chan won a seat on the Board of Supervisors. In Cupertino, former mayor Michael Chang won a seat on the County Board of Education. In Sacramento, Darrell Fong won a hard fought race for city council and Darrel Woo won a seat on the city school board.
In addition, the election victory of Gavin Newsom has opened up an opportunity for San Francisco to elect the first API mayor in its history. Yee and Ting have both announced candidacies for mayor and Chiu is rumored to be also considering a run.
Outside of California, Hawai‘i State Senate President Pro Tem Colleen Hanabusa won one of two congressional seats and will join Rep. Mazie Hirono in D.C. Bangladeshi American Hansen Clarke was elected to Congress in Michigan and Nikki Haley was elected as governor of South Carolina. She joins Bobby Jindal as the second Indo American to be elected governor in the United States.
These highlighted candidates join hundreds of other notable API candidates elected to local, state and federal offices throughout the country. The amazing growth in the number of APIs serving in office and their continued election victories has made this back story almost a non-story. Almost, but not quite yet.
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.