C(API)TOL CORRESPONDENT: 2016 brings new growth opportunities, challenges for AAPIs in California politics


The number of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders serving in California’s state legislature is at a historic high with nine Democratic members and three Republican members. These members include: Assemblymembers Rob Bonta (D), Ling Ling Chang (R), David Chiu (D), Ed Chau (D), Kansen Chu (D), Young Kim (R), Evan Low (D), Phil Ting (D), Das Williams (D), Senators Carol Liu (D), Richard Pan (D), and Janet Nguyen (R).

The opportunity to grow the number of AAPIs in key legislative seats in 2016 shines bright with only Liu terming out in 2016 and numerous viable AAPIs declaring candidacy.

The most viable AAPI candidates for state office include:

• Education advocate and regional parks board member Mae Torlakson (D/Filipina American) is running in California’s East Bay community that includes Contra Costa County and parts of Solano County to replace termed-out Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla.

• San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim (D/Korean American) is running against fellow supervisor Scott Weiner to replace termed-out state senator Mark Leno, who represents San Francisco and Daly City. This will be a fierce multi-million dollar proxy-battle between moderate and progressive political factions in the City by the Bay.

• San Diego city councilman Todd Gloria (D/Filipino American) is running in a race that should be a shoo-in to replace termed-out Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins. Gloria does not face significant opposition for this safe Democratic seat.

• Former state Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada (D/Japanese American) is running in a rambling rural Senate district to replace termed-out senator Lois Wolk. Yamada is relying on the strong voter base in her home city of Davis to help her defeat sitting Assemblyman Bill Dodd, who is competing with her for this hotly contested Senate seat.

• Former Irvine mayor Sukhee Kang (D/Korean American) is taking on Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang (R/Chinese American) for the open state Senate seat being vacated by termed-out member Bob Huff. This is one of two AAPI-on-AAPI races that will test community loyalties in 2016. This Republican-leaning district includes the cities of Anaheim, Brea, Buena Park, Chino Hills, City of Industry, Cypress, Diamond Bar, Fullerton, La Habra, La Habra Heights, La Palma, Placentia, Rowland Heights, Stanton, Walnut, West Covina and Yorba Linda.

• Assemblywoman Young Kim (R/Korean American) is facing a spirited comeback attempt by the legislator she upset in 2014, educator Sharon Quirk-Silva (D/Latina). This partisan toss up district includes Anaheim, Buena Park, Cypress, Fullerton, La Palma and Stanton. Extreme low voter turnout contributed to Quirk-Silva’s defeat in 2014. The higher Democratic voter turnout expected in the 2016 presidential election could conversely deliver a defeat to Assemblywoman Kim.

• Former state Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D/Japanese American) is also mounting a comeback campaign after low Democratic voter turnout and unprecedented negative campaign mail led to his defeat in 2014. Muratsuchi’s team is depending on higher Democratic voter turnout in a presidential campaign year to boost his hopes in this Torrance-based district in southern Los Angeles County.

• Former Los Angeles deputy film czar and current executive director of the Multiple Sclerosis Hope Foundation Rajiv Dalal (D/Indian American) is running in a crowded field of candidates for a safe Democratic seat in Northern Los Angeles to replace termed-out Assemblyman Mike Gatto.

• Former Assemblyman Warren Furutani (D/Japanese American) is running against former Assemblyman Steve Bradford (D/African American) for a state Senate seat vacated by Isadore Hall, who is running for U.S. Congress. This district was an African American stronghold in the past, but is now trending toward Latino dominance. There is also a Latino candidate in this race, but most political insiders think that this race will result in Furutani facing Bradford in a Dem vs. Dem runoff in November.

• San Jose City Councilman Ash Kalra (D/Indian American) is facing off with former San Jose Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen (D/Vietnamese American) to replace termed-out Assemblywoman Nora Campos for this San Jose-based safe Democratic seat. This race is expected to be a proxy battle between organized labor and corporate business interests. School Board member Darcie Green (D/Latina) is also in this race, but most insiders expect to see Kalra and Nguyen make it past the primary and battle it out in a November runoff.

Federal Races
In addition to the plethora of state legislative races to watch, there are a number of federal races that will be fiercely fought out. Most of California’s AAPI congressional members are expected to face easy re-elections (Judy Chu, Ted Lieu, Doris Matsui and Mark Takano).

However, veteran Rep.  Mike Honda (D/Japanese American) faces another well-financed challenge from Silicon Valley tech attorney Ro Khanna (D/Indian American) in a Democratic jungle primary while Rep. Ami Bera (D/Indian American) will face a well-funded Republican threat in his partisan toss-up seat from Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones.

State Attorney General Kamala Harris (D/Indian and  African American) is running against Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D/Latina) for an open U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Barbara Boxer who is retiring next year. This race will test the voting power AAPIs, African American versus Latinos as well Northern and Southern voters. If this turns out to be a Dem vs. Dem runoff in November, political insiders think Sanchez — who served on the House Armed Services Committee — will have an advantage wooing Republican crossover voters.

Outside of California, decorated Gulf war hero and Rep.  Tammy Duckworth (D/Thai American) is targeting the most vulnerable Republican U.S Senator in the nation, Mark Kirk, to score an upset win for Democrats and AAPIs in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Mazie Hirono from Hawai‘i is the only AAPI in the U.S. Senate.

Bill Wong is a political consultant with nearly 30 years of experience and is the political director for the Asian American Small Business PAC. The views expressed in the preceding commentary are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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