A few weekends ago, I had the opportunity to attend the 9th Annual Voters Education and Candidates Forum at California State University, Sacramento at the student union sponsored by the Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs Association (APAPA). APAPA had organized free bus transportation from all interested parties from Palo Alto as well as downtown San Francisco up to Sacramento and back. Free lunch was also provided. You can read about my experiences after the jump.
With the upcoming election in November, APAPA holds this annual event to allow California candidates speak to the open public and media at this free event about themselves for the office they are running for. The highlights, for me at least, from the Forum were some of the high profile speakers – most notably Carly Fiorina (former CEO of HP) running for Senator of California, Congressman Joseph Cao speaking on behalf of Meg Whitman for Governor of California, and State Controller John Chiang, running for re-election and the highest ranking Asian American in California state government. There were many other notable candidates, including – Former Lt. Governor Mona Pasquil on behalf of Jerry Brown, State Representative Ted Lieu on behalf of Senator Barbara Boxer, Mayor of San Francisco Gavin Newsom running for Lt. Governor, and Lt. Governor Abel Maldonado running for re-election.
Ms. Sacramento kicked off the events with a strong rendition of the national anthem and with the local ROTC honor guard standing tall with flags in hand. C.C. Yin & the other leaders of APAPA spoke a few words as well prior to the candidates speaking.
Carly Fiorina was the first to speak and I was pretty impressed that she made the commitment to appear at the Forum given her busy campaigning schedule. Although the Forum is open to the public, since the forum is sponsored by APAPA, a majority of the attendees were Asian American. In California, Asian Americans do make up 12% of the state’s population and a similar percentage of registered voters (for reference, Latinos make up 20%).
Fiorina positioned herself as a pro-jobs friendly candidate, eager to help remove the obstacles to small and family business growth. According to Fiorina, 33% of all Asian American small businesses are located in California. She reiterated the need, as she often does, the need to reduce bureaucracy and waste in state government. She was also for the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Fiorina positioned herself as a change agent compared to incumbent 18 year incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer. As a registered Democrat and volunteer, needless to say, I took Fiorina’s attacks on Boxer with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, I did truly appreciate her taking the time to attend the Forum.
The Friday prior to the Forum, Meg Whitman had confirmed that she was going to be a speaker, so I was truly disappointed that she called in sick or had a conflict with another event). Because in her place, to I think everyone’s surprise was her proxy – Representative Joseph Cao from New Orleans (the first Vietnamese American Congressman). I was surprised at his presence given that Representative Cao has a very difficult race ahead of him this November and the election is just around the corner. Representative Cao recalled his own difficult immigrant experience.
What I found odd about Cao’s speech was that he spent half of his six minutes talking about himself rather than anything about why one would be interested in voting for Meg Whitman. Cao did eventually talk briefly about Whitman’s character, leadership, energy and integrity that would help lead California out of its current economic and fiscal crisis; I think Cao made a stronger case for himself than for Whitman, which really doesn’t make a difference for him, since the audience was full of Californian voters who can’t vote for him. Still, after reading and blogging about Cao for the past two years, I was pleasantly surprised to actually see him speak in person.
When California State Controller John Chiang spoke, Democrats, Republicans and Independents gave he a very warm welcome, given the fact that he is the highest profile and ranking Asian American in California state government. He is one of only three state-wide elected Asian Americans in the United States, along with Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Lt. Governor James R. “Duke” Aiona, Jr. of Hawaii.
Chiang is also widely expected to run for governor of California in either 2014 or 2018, depending on whether or not Jerry Brown wins the governorship in November and if he decides to run for a second term. This would be a big deal! As far as I know, there has not been an viable Asian American candidate ever to run for governor of California.
Controller Chiang has been very visible the past four years, given the fiscal challenges of state budget, having to issue IOUs as well as standing up to Governor Schwarzenegger’s efforts to cut state workers’ pay to the federal minimum wage during past budget crisises. Chiang’s youthful looks may often obscure his steely determination. He emphasized that fiscal policy is social policy and what gets funded is a reflection of a society’s values. Chiang stressed as his past four years as State Controller, he provides oversight and transparency to the State’s budget as well as audits them. As a strong supporter of Chiang, I was happy to see him make a strong case for himself (not that I had any doubts that he would).
The other speakers were no less engaging, and I encourage you to view their speeches when you have a chance. Afterward, there was a VIP reception for the speakers and invited guests. C.C. Yin and his daughter said a few words to thank everyone for their participation.
For those of you not familiar with APAPA, this organization, founded by the extraordinary efforts of C.C. Yin. AsianWeek last year did a terrific overview of Yin last year, dubbing him “The Asian Mr. McDonald’s” since in his second career he reinvented himself to be a McDonald’s franchisee. With his financial success, C.C. (as he is liked to be called) devoted himself even more to civic causes:
“Beyond that, C.C. became more interested in helping his fellow Asian Americans become more active in the political scene. Seeing how well C.C. worked within the governing bodies, a political activist, Michael Yamaki, approached him almost 10 years ago asking C.C. to become more involved within the Asian American community by encouraging them to become more active in the political process. Realizing that although the statistics showed a large growth in the Asian American population in the U.S., there were none in the California state level of government, C.C. founded the Asian Pacific Islander Public Affairs Association to unite resources in a non partisan organization with three missions in mind – first to educate potential leaders with leadership training to build strong candidates; second to support candidates seeking political office, and third to develop a teamwork among those desiring to become active in politics to help each other.”
Although C.C. is a Republican, his goals have been truly non-partisan in trying to get more Asian Americans into public office at the local, state and federal level and has certainly helped accomplish that in California. Since APAPA’s founding over 10 years ago, there were no Asian Americans in the California State Assembly or Senate – which is shocking when you think about it given the fact that California at the time was over 10% Asian American. Now, there are a record number – 11 – Asian American state legislatures – out of 120 (California State Assembly has 80 members, and the California State Senate has 40 members.) C.C. has made a real difference in not only getting Asian Americans elected to public office, but getting the citizenry more engaged.
APAPA itself is a non-profit, non-partisan and grassroots organization. APAPA was established with the primary mission of empowering Asian Pacific Islander (API) Americans in civic and public affairs through education, active participation, and leadership development.