Viewed from the nation's capital, President-elect George W.
Bush's nomination of a Democrat to his Cabinet is only mildly
significant in terms of partisan politics.
But viewed from the nation's most Asian city, the selection of
prominent Democrat and Asian-American Norman Mineta to be secretary
of Transportation is a real air-gulping surprise.
That's because Mr. Mineta is no paper-thin Democrat. He is
regarded as a party stalwart, with a track record of fighting for
civil rights and opposition to several high-profile Republican
initiatives in his home state of California.
Though no parallel is exact, political analysts say his
nomination is akin to having a prominent African-American leader
like NAACP president Kweisi Mfume join the Bush team.
In short, say several political analysts, the Mineta appointment
is a major event in the nation's history of minority politics,
representing a move across party lines that is rare for blacks,
Hispanics, or Asian-Americans with deep roots in the opposing
"Folks are definitely surprised," says Theodore Wang, policy
director of Chinese for Affirmative Action in San Francisco. "His
stature in the Democratic Party and his moderate-to-progressive
views make it surprising."
Mineta already held the distinction of being the first Asian-
American to serve in a presidential cabinet. He was named secretary
of Commerce last year by President Clinton.
But his nomination for a spot in a Republican administration is
evidence of how Asian-American politics differ from that of other
A group with new clout
First and foremost, Asian-Americans are only now beginning to
exert their influence politically. Historians note that while
African-Americans and Hispanics have sought power through the
political process, Asian-Americans have traditionally focused their
efforts in the economic arena.
But that is changing. One new Asian-American group, called "80-
20," came together last year to encourage Asian-Americans to vote
in bloc in November's election, to increase their clout.
Yet it is the community's political diversity that has made it
something of an anomaly in minority politics. While blacks and
Hispanics vote strongly Democratic, Asian-Americans have shown less
inclination to line up behind either party.
"The Asian-American community is still very competitive in
political terms," says Daphne Kwok, director of the Organization of
Chinese-Americans in Washington. …