C(API)TOL CORRESPONDENT: This year will be an unprecedented test of AAPI political power


More viable Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) candidates will be running for state and federal offices than in any other time in U.S. history. The Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS) recently reported that 19 AAPI candidates have filed to run for Congressional offices in 2012. In 2010, only eight AAPI candidates filed to run. In California alone, three AAPIs will be running for re-election to Congressional seats and four others will be vying for open seats. In state races, five legislators are running for re-election and 10 AAPI candidates are running for open seats.


Warren Furutani. file photo

Races To Watch In 2012

Furutani vs. Buscaino for Los Angeles City Council: Assemblymember Warren Furutani (D-Long Beach) made it into the runoff with Los Angeles Police

Department officer Joe Buscaino for the coveted LA City Council seat representing Harbor Gateway, San Pedro, Wilmington and Watts. Buscaino is strong in San Pedro where most of the voters in this district reside. Furutani has countered by winning endorsements from key San Pedro leaders and influential organizations, like Sierra Club and the Los Angeles League of Conservation Voters. However, Furutani still has a steep hill to climb to overcome Buscaino’s current fundraising advantage and San Pedro base of voters. AAPI voters, despite their low numbers in the district, will have a huge impact if they turn out to elect the first AAPI to Los Angeles City Council since 1993 in what is expected to be a low-turnout special election on Jan. 17.

Hirono vs. Case vs. Lingle: Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawai‘i) is running to replace U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, who is retiring. Currently, Hirono is running in the

Rep. Mazie Hirono. Rep. Hirono’s Office

Democratic primary against former Rep. Ed Case. Both Hirono polling and fundraising has outpaced Case. In fact, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) is endorsing Hirono. However, Hawai‘i politics is notoriously unpredictable and Case may have a shot as the non-incumbent playing the role of outsider. If Hirono wins, she will face much stiffer competition in November against former Hawai‘i Gov. Linda Lingle. Lingle left office with low popularity, but she is a proven fundraiser and is the darling of the Republican Party. As such, a ton of outside money will be flowing into Hawai‘i for this pivotal race.

Takano v. Tavaglione: Riverside Community College District Trustee Mark Takano is now in an open Democratic-leaning seat due to redistricting. Having run twice before in what was a Republican seat, 2012 may make his third time a charm. The new 41st district is now 42 percent Democrat, 35 percent Republican and 18 percent Decline To State. However, John Tavaglione is a popular Republican county supervisor with an established record of winning races in this area. Expect a battle royale in November in this race.

Bera v. Lungren: Democrat Dr. Ami Bera is running again to unseat Republican Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.). Bera lost two years ago when the Sacramento-area seat had a Republican advantage. The new redistricted seat is evenly split 39 percent Democrat and 39 percent Republican. Bera has proven to be a strong fundraiser and the anti-incumbent sentiment among voters may play to his advantage. This race is a top targeted seat for Democrats to take and Republicans to defend.

Tammy Duckworth. courtesy of Tammy Duckworth for Congress

Duckworth v. Krishnamoorthi: Decorated war veteran Tammy Duckworth is running against fellow AAPI Raja Krishnamoorthi for the Illinois 8th Congressional District. Illinois AAPI insiders are struggling with this intra-AAPI political dilemma that pits two good AAPI candidates against each other. Regardless, political leaders seem to be lining up behind Duckworth in this suburban Chicago seat.

Outlier Races. South Asian American Republican prodigy Ricky Gill is challenging Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Pleasanton). Gill has raised more than $400,000 to challenge McNerney, but the district leans Democratic by 9 percent. Korean American mayor of Irvine Sukhee Kang is challenging Republican Rep. John Campbell. Republicans have a 17 percent advantage in this district, but Kang may be able to win over Republican AAPI voters and some of the 22 percent of Decline To State voters that call this district home.

California Legislative Incumbents: Five legislators are running for re-election in the state: Sen. Carol Liu, Assemblymember Paul Fong, Assemblymember Richard Pan, Assemblymember Das Williams and Assemblymember Mariko Yamada.

Termed-out Assemblymember Anthony Portantino is challenging Liu. Portantino, who previously positioned himself to run for Congress, has raised approximately $900,000 in various campaign accounts and could be a serious threat. However, he is known in the Assembly as a rogue Democrat, so many of his detractors will likely come to the defense of Liu, who is generally well-liked in the Legislature. Fong and Williams have the easiest re-election races, while Pan and Yamada are running in significantly different districts than the ones they currently represent.

San Francisco City Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting. file photo

California Legislative Open Seats: At least 10 AAPI candidates are running for open legislative seats in 2012. Torrance, school board member Al Muratsuchi is running for the 66th Assembly District, San Francisco Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting is running to replace termed out Assemblymember Fiona Ma in San Francisco, Alameda City Councilman Rob Bonta is running for the 18th Assembly District in Oakland, Dr. Jennifer Ong is running to replace termed out Assemblymember Mary Hayashi in the 20th Assembly District, and Sid Voorakkara is running to replace Assemblymember Marty Block in the 79th Assembly District that includes parts of San Diego.

In the San Gabriel Valley, El Monte Union High School Board Member John Tran, Montebello Unified School District Board of Education member Ed Chau, Monterey Park City Councilman Mitchell Ing, former mayor of San Marino Dr. Matthew Lin, and former chairman of the Los Angeles County Assessment Appeals Board John Wong are running for the 49th Assembly District that is being vacated by termed out Assemblymember Mike Eng.

With so many viable candidates in key races in 2012, the AAPI community will be challenged to prove that they have the will and resources to grow as a political force like Latino, African American, Jewish and LGBT communities have. It will take thousands of volunteer hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars to win these challenging battles. Victory will lead to greater respect for Asians and Pacific Islanders as part of the American democracy and a stronger voice on issues that matter to the community. Defeat will lead to more of the same alienation and marginalization that the community has bemoaned for decades. AAPI community engagement in these key races will determine whether 2012 will be watershed or Waterloo.

Bill Wong is a political and strategic consultant with more than 20 years of legislative and campaign experience. He 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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