C(API)TOL CORRESPONDENT: 2014 election gains obscure real challenges faced by AAPIs in the political world

The number of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the California State Legislature grew by one after Election Day in November. At 12, the Asian Pacific Islander Caucus is at its highest number in state history. With three members who are Republicans, the API Caucus is the most bipartisan caucus in the legislature. In addition, the state’s voters approved five AAPI congressional members and four AAPI constitutional officers.

By most standards, this could be perceived as the AAPI community’s growing influence in the world of politics. A closer look tells a different and cautionary story.

Underneath the historic growth of the API Caucus lies the upset defeat of Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi in the 66th District. Incumbents typically have the advantage in elections. However, millions of dollars in political attack mailers that flooded the district combined with unprecedented low voter turnout resulted in a loss for Muratsuchi. Further upstate in Sacramento’s 9th Assembly District, retired police captain and Sacramento City Councilman Darrell Fong lost a bid for state Assembly again at the hand of low voter turnout and over a million dollars in political spending.

According to the “California Target Book,” in the 66th, approximately 16 percent of the voters are AAPI. In the 9th, 13 percent of the voters are AAPI. The combination of incumbency and large AAPI voter population should have buoyed Muratsuchi’s re-election. In the 9th, Fong lost to an African American candidate despite AAPI voters outnumbering African American voters 13 to 5 percent. Muratsuchi’s and Fong’s opponents were no slouches and their campaigns were very tough to beat.

The question is: Would Muratsuchi and Fong have won if AAPIs had a stronger political machine, and is the AAPI community prepared to consistently win really tough political fights?

Both Richard Pan and San Francisco Supervisor David Chiu were in the toughest political fights this year, and they both won. But did they win because of the AAPI community, or did they win despite the AAPI community? Sure, AAPIs contributed to both campaigns in money and volunteers, but the truth is that Pan and Chiu benefitted greatly from the unrelated efforts of different non-AAPI political action committees that spent millions in support of both candidates. Would Pan and Chiu have won with only AAPI support? Probably not. Pan and Chiu’s wins are good news for the AAPI representation but in no way an indication that AAPI have “made it” in the world of politics.

Some would argue that the AAPI community is still maturing and it will take time to become a true machine in American politics. Does the AAPI community even know what a political machine looks like?

According to the California Secretary of State’s Office, AAPI Political Action Committees spent nearly $320,000 in this election cycle on state-level races. The Asian American Action Fund spent $300, the Asian American Small Business PAC spent $131,000, Asian Americans for Political Advancement spent $3,650, Asian Americans for Good Government spent $17,400, the California Asian Chamber of Commerce PAC spent $6,100, CAPA 21 State PAC spent $8,000 and the Golden State Leadership Fund spent $153,000.

In political campaigns that involve millions, are hundreds of thousands enough? Can the AAPI community scale up? Only time will tell. But if the AAPI community wants to start to build a true political machine, here are suggestions for a few New Year’s resolutions in 2015:

1. Resolve to financially support more AAPI candidates and political action committees that support AAPI candidates.

2. Resolve to learn how campaigns are really won and spend AAPI political dollars accordingly.

3. Resolve to hire and support the development of professional AAPI political consultants and campaign operatives.

4. Resolve to hire and support the advancement of more AAPI staff in the offices of elected officials.

5. Resolve to register more AAPI voters.

6. Resolve to help AAPIs secure jobs and advance in mainstream political organizations, labor organizations, and corporate government affairs.

7. AAPI elected officials, PACs, staff, campaign professionals, labor leaders, and corporate government affairs staff resolve to work together for the greater good of the AAPI community.

Happy new year.

Bill Wong is a political consultant with nearly 30 years of experience who was the campaign manager for the Darrell Fong for Assembly 2014 campaign and the political director for the Asian American Small Business PAC.

 

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