LOS ANGELES—Asian Republican politicians holding local offices around California want to increase their number. They met during the Republican Fall Convention in downtown Los Angles last Saturday to discuss how the GOP can help candidates get elected and court Asian American voters.
The Asian American population has grown 46 percent since 2000, making it the fastest growing race in the country, with the largest population residing in California.
The Asian Republican Leadership Conference, convened by State Board of Equalization Vice Chair Michelle Park Steel, brought together officials who were, by and large, elected without the Republican Party's help. The meeting included five mayors, two county supervisors, eight council members, school board members and commissioners, and several candidates for local offices.
“People Forget They’re Republicans”
"I wanted leaders to see that Asian Americans are the future of the Republican Party in California," Steel said. "People forget that [these officials] are Republicans because elections on the local level are nonpartisan."
Tom Del Beccaro, who chairs the California Republican Party, said Asian Americans share conservative values, such as traditional families and smaller government. But the GOP has not done a good job communicating with Asian American communities.
"Frankly, I didn't even know these people were Republicans," said Monterey Park Mayor Betty Tom Chu, referring to other Asian elected officials who attended the Conference. "Now that we know, we cannot wait until the next Republican convention. We need to show our communities that we do not just elect Asians for Asians. We elect Republicans for Republican values."
The Republican Party is facing an uphill battle with Asian American voters in the state. In last year's gubernatorial race, 61 percent of Asian American voters chose Democrat Jerry Brown and 37 percent voted for Republican Meg Whitman, according to a 2010 post-election USC Dornsife College/Los Angeles Times poll. Democratic U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer drew 60 percent of Asian American voters chose, while GOP candidate Carly Fiorina garnered 34 percent.
Asian American voters' attitudes toward taxes and budgets are mixed and sometimes inconsistent. In a July 2011 USC Dornsife College/Los Angeles Times poll, 58 percent of Asian American voters were in favor of giving local governments the authority to raise taxes on specific items with a majority vote.
In the 2010 post-election poll, 52 percent of Asian Americans said that Gov. Brown's top priority should be protecting education and health care, but slightly over half also said the state should address its budget deficit by decreasing spending instead of hiking taxes.
On immigration, 71 percent of Asian voters support granting citizenship to those who entered the country illegally as children and have completed a certain level of education or military service. Overall, 75 percent of California voters share this view, according to the 2010 post-election poll.
Asian Americans are in favor, 48-43 percent, of denying undocumented immigrants taxpayer-supported social services, compared to 47 percent of whites and 35 percent of Latinos, who favor such a policy.
Room for GOP Improvement
Lodi city council member Alan Nakanishi and other GOP conference attendees, at times battling the cheers of presidential candidate Ron Paul supporters next door, said the conference showed Asians that they can run for office as Republicans and find support.
Tyler Diep, Mayor Pro Tem of Westminster, said, "there is room for improvement" for diversity in the Republican Party: "We need a lot more of Michelle Steels in this Party, in the state," he said, referring to the state Board of Equalization official.
"I am asking California Republican Party to step up," said Michael Vo, of the Fountain Valley city council.
On Friday, Rep. Michelle Bachmann, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president, told convention-goers that she believed the GOP could win California in 2012.
However, President Barack Obama holds a strong lead over potential GOP candidates for president in the state, despite voters' dissatisfaction with the economy, according to a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll released earlier this month.
Data from the 2010 Census show that 17.3 million Americans, 5.6 million of whom live in California, identify as Asian or partly Asian.
The 2008 National Asian American Survey projects that Asian Americans will make up 10 percent of the United States population by 2060. The survey also revealed that the Asian American vote is up for grabs; more than half are nonpartisan and identify with neither Democrats nor Republicans. In 2008, 3.4 million Asians voted in the presidential election, according to Census data.
Angilee Shah is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist who writes about globalization and politics. You can read more of her work at www.angileeshah.com.
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