C(API)TOL CORRESPONDENT: New year equals new political challenges for AAPIs

As 2013 comes to a close, 2014 promises to bring another political test for the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. The new year brings an election cycle that highlights the continuing political growing pains that all emerging communities face. In addition to the typical match-ups, this year AAPI candidates will be facing other AAPI candidates threatening to open deep rifts within the community in the epic struggle for power.

No race exemplifies this more than in the Silicon Valley, where Rep. Mike Honda faces former Obama Administration appointee Ro Khanna. Honda has represented the area for decades as a school board member, county supervisor, state Assemblymember and member of Congress. Khanna represents a new generation of AAPIs who aggressively pursue their political passions. Khanna is no newcomer to politics, having been a star fundraiser for the Democratic Party. Rumor has it that he respectfully declined an opportunity to run against Rep. Pete Stark and “wait his turn,” only to see Stark beat out by another challenger who decided not to wait. Khanna has already out-fundraised the affable Honda, but Honda has polling that shows his years of service to the community will most likely be rewarded by loyal voters at the ballot box.

Not too far down the road, Campbell City Councilman Evan Low may have to face Cupertino City Councilman Barry Chang in a race to replace termed out Assemblymember Paul Fong. Further south, Diamond Bar City Councilwoman Ling-Ling Chang is in a pitched battle with Walnut Valley Unified School District Trustee Phillip Chen for what will likely be a million dollar race for the 55th Assembly District seat.

These yellow-on-yellow races illustrate the growing viability of AAPI candidates as a result of increased political sophistication, as well as the growing populations of AAPI voters that can produce an AAPI candidate in multi-candidate races. The good news is that AAPI candidates are now more viable. The bad news is that many AAPI communities will have to regularly choose between two AAPI candidates.

Other conventional races also loom in 2014 for the AAPI community. Although they are not yellow-on-yellow races, these campaigns pose choices that are equally difficult. In the 17th Assembly District, San Francisco Supervisor David Chiu will face his colleague Supervisor David Campos who is gay and Latino. In the 9th Assembly District, Sacramento City Council member Darrell Fong faces Elk Grove City Council member Jim Cooper, who is African American, and Sacramento School board member Diana Rodriguez, who is a Latina. In the 6th State Senate District, Assemblymember Richard Pan is taking on colleague Assemblymember Roger Dickinson, where both have strong ties in the AAPI community. Statewide, State Sen. Leland Yee faces State Sen. Alex Padilla for Secretary of State, while Board of Equalization member Betty Yee faces Assembly Speaker John A. Perez for the State Controller’s seat. Yee is in an uphill battle with Speaker Perez, who holds a significant fundraising advantage and recently rolled out the powerhouse endorsements of Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, State Treasurer Bill Lockyer and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. Latinos have never held the Secretary of State or the State Controller’s seat, while both seats have been held by AAPIs previously. These races will undoubtedly strain longstanding alliances and relationships between AAPIs, Latinos, African Americans, white progressives and the LGBT community.

But 2014 is not all gloomy. State Controller John Chiang appears to have a very good shot at ascending to the State Treasurer’s seat and San Jose City Councilman Kansen Chu seems to have an easy run at a state Assembly seat. Current AAPI members of the state legislature all appear to have relatively good chances at re-election. Unfortunately, state term-limits will result in the automatic departure of Assemblymember Mariko Yamada, Assemblymember Paul Fong and State Sen. Leland Yee. As previously mentioned, Leland Yee is vying for the Secretary of State’s office. Assemblymember Paul Fong has decided to run for San Jose City Council. Assemblymember Mariko Yamada is considering a run for State Senate in 2016. These strong numbers prove that AAPIs are here to stay in the world of politics and their future looks bright in 2014 and beyond.

Bill Wong is former political consultant and currently serves as Chief of Staff to Assembly member Anthony Rendon. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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