After decades of exclusion, Democrats are finally awakening to the importance of Asian-American participation in the political process.
Well, sort of.
This month, a group of progressives launched a new political action committee ostensibly promising to court Asian-American voters. Except the ruse was up before the launch party was over. Most revealing, in its announcement, Asian Americans Rising PAC acknowledged that this supposedly Asian-American PAC would also back “non-Asians who support the community.”
In other words, Asian-Americans are welcome to write checks, walk precincts and endorse Democrats’ campaigns. They’re still not important enough to be the party’s leaders.
The sad truth is that, for too long, neither political party offered Asian-Americans a reason to vote. Asian-Americans were ignored during campaign season and excluded from the political process. Republicans, finally, decided to right that wrong, and have wholeheartedly embraced Asian-American communities into our party.
From our state legislative delegation to our County Board of Supervisors, Orange County Republicans have made a genuine investment in Asian-American political participation. Asian-Americans are the leaders of the Orange County Republican Party. The party is also committed to recruiting and backing the next wave of GOP Asian-American leaders on city councils and school boards. Anaheim, Orange County’s most populous city, is led by Indo-American immigrant Harry Sidhu. Our smallest city, La Palma, features two GOP Asian-American members of the city council.
Democrats are actually setting Asian-Americans back in terms of representation. Here’s a contrast: Orange County’s most competitive legislative races in recent years have been contests between Asian-American Republicans against white Democratic men. In 2018, Asian-Americans lost a representative in Sacramento with Democrat Tom Umberg’s defeat of Republican Janet Nguyen. This cycle, Democrats Josh Newman and Josh Lowenthal will once again attempt to defeat Republican State Sen. Ling Ling Chang and Assemblyman Tyler Diep.
Democrats place a ceiling on how far Asian-Americans can advance in their party. During last year’s Big Blue Wave, not a single Democratic nominee in California’s competitive congressional races was Asian American. For years, John Chiang rose through the ranks of state constitutional offices — only to be relegated to a fifth place performance in last year’s gubernatorial primary.
California Democratic Party insiders lock Asian-Americans out of the party endorsement process. California’s unusual top-two primary system has exposed this systemic bias by Democratic Party insiders against Asian-American candidates. During the last election cycle, Asian-American progressives running against fellow Democrats were repeatedly denied the party’s endorsement. In the 9th State Assembly District, Chinese-American Harry He was rebuffed by the California Democratic Party in favor of Jim Cooper. Indian-American Aasim Yahya was no match for the powerful Tim Grayson in the 14th Assembly District. In the 53rd State Assembly race, Korean-American immigrant Kevin Hee Young Jang, a Democratic State Central Committee Delegate, was passed over in favor of Miguel Santiago.
There’s a pattern of Asian-American exclusion from the Democratic Party endorsement process. In 2016, Vietnamese-American Bao Nguyen, the mayor of Garden Grove, was denied party support in favor of career politician Lou Correa.
In some cases, California Democrats pass over the strongest Asian-American candidates. One-in-four voters in Irvine are Asian-Americans. Yet, in a recent special election for county supervisor, Democrats passed over their most formidable candidate, former Irvine Mayor Sukhee Kang, in favor of Loretta Sanchez — who spent two decades representing a different area in Congress. She’s already launched her 2020 campaign for the same Irvine-based supervisorial seat.
Most troubling of all, the progressive agenda silences Asian-American voices and blocks Asian-American communities from success. That’s most apparent with progressive higher education admissions policies that punish Asian-Americans because they’re Asian-American. If progressive Democrats had their way, they would eliminate California’s Proposition 209, a constitutional amendment that prevents discrimination against Asian-American applicants.
There’s no secret to Republicans’ success with Asian-American communities. We’re succeeding because Asian-Americans are in positions of leadership. To match Republicans’ success, Democrats will need to end their systematic exclusion of Asian-American communities.
• Shawn Steel, a former California Republican Party chairman, is California’s committeeman for the Republican National Committee.