Asian-Americans Wield Voting Power, Influence

By Decker, Cathleen | The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV), March 30, 2015 | Go to article overview

Asian-Americans Wield Voting Power, Influence


Decker, Cathleen, The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV)


From his new perch in Washington, Ted Lieu has suffered through an East Coast winter and other confounding indignities of life as a freshman member of the House from the party out of power. No matter, he says; he learned from his predecessor, the 40-year member Henry Waxman, that influence will be marked in years and decades, not the three months Lieu has spent in the capital. For one of Lieu's bases of support, however, a far swifter assertion of power is underway. The Democrat's victory in November's election was only one sign of the surge in importance of Asian-American voters and Asian-American politicians.

On the same night Lieu won Waxman's seat, John Chiang claimed the job of state treasurer after two terms as controller. Betty Yee, a member of the state Board of Equalization, took over as controller. Fiona Ma, a former member of the Assembly, won a seat on the tax board.

Two months later in Orange County, the Board of Supervisors became majority Asian-American after a special election. In San Francisco, state Attorney General Kamala Harris is mounting her campaign for a U.S. Senate seat that will be open in 2016. Harris, the daughter of an Indian mother and Jamaican father, would be the first woman of Asian heritage - and the first black - to serve as a senator from California.

"We've steadily been making gains, Lieu said with a laugh about the growing numbers of Asian-American representatives. "We're not going backwards.

Some of the power of Asian-American voters stems from their growth spurt - they were the fastest-growing ethnic group in the last census. Like Latinos before them, they are rapidly diversifying the electorate in a state where the divisions used to be binary, between black and white. And their growth in California presages growth elsewhere in the nation.

But they present a tantalizing prospect for both parties, because so far they have shown less tendency to formalize their political alliances than other racial or ethnic groups.

A USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll taken last month showed that 40 percent of Asian-Americans were nonpartisan voters, 35 percent were Democrats and 17 percent Republicans.

Among Latinos, by contrast, only 24 percent were registered as nonpartisans, while the majority were Democrats. (Only 21 percent of white voters were nonpartisan.)

The rise of Asian-American voters has spurred the same arguments that Republicans have long made about Latinos - that they are culturally conservative, share business-oriented values and should be our voters. But they're not.

In the 2012 election, exit polls showed 73 percent of Asian- Americans nationally backed President Barack Obama, a click higher than the 71 percent of Latinos who sided with him and more than double the percentage of Asian-Americans who backed a Democrat for president 20 years earlier. …

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