I was first introduced to Stephanie Chang through Ho Chie Tsai, who I often affectionately have termed the “Godfather of the [2nd Generation] Taiwanese American community.” Like myself, Chang is a Taiwanese American. In early November, Chang announced publicly her candidacy for State Representative for Michigan’s House District Six, which includes Southwest Detroit, downtown, a significant portion of the East Side of Detroit, and two downriver communities (River Rouge and Ecorse).
I had a chance to briefly chat with Chang back in November over the phone to learn more about her run for office. Chang was born-and-raised in Michigan and attended the University of Michigan, and moved to Detroit in 2005 after graduation. This is her first run for elected public office and she was asked to run by the current representative, Rashida H. Tlaib, who is terming out in 2014.
Chang initially dismissed the idea. However, the more she thought about the running and considered her work as an organizer, her work on affirmative action, social justice reform and Asian American & Pacific Islander civic engagement outreach – she convinced herself that she was open to running for office to make a difference in a different way at a bigger level. Also, Chang had mentioned (as well as blogged before) that Chinese American writer/activist Grace Lee Boggs has had a strong influence on the direction of her personal life and career.
Chang’s parents were initially surprised by her decision to run for office, but have been very supportive and have seen her commitment to the local community, as are proud of her, helping her with introductions to their friends and other potential campaign donors.
Some more background on Chang from an online bio:
“Stephanie Gray Chang is the immediate past president of APIAVote-Michigan, which serves the Asian & Pacific Islander American community through civic participation, advocacy and education. She is pursuing her Master of Public Policy and Master of Social Work degrees at the University of Michigan. Stephanie is currently a social work/community outreach intern with the James and Grace Boggs School in Detroit and a research assistant for the University of Michigan’s Program on Intergroup Relations. She previously served as the deputy director for the Campaign for Justice, which heads a broad-based coalition of organizations and individuals from across the political spectrum fighting for a fair and effective public defense system in Michigan. She served as an organizer for Michigan United/One United Michigan, building local volunteer-led coalitions to educate the public about affirmative action and mobilize voter opposition against Proposal 2 in 2006. Stephanie is a University of Michigan 2005 graduate, with a degree in Psychology and a minor in APIA Studies. In February 2013, she launched a socially conscious Detroit wedding blog, www.loveintheD.com.”
As a Democrat, Chang’s main challenge is to win the Democratic primary considering that her district is leans heavily Democratic (in 2012, Tlaib won 92% of the vote). She knows of at least one other Democrat running for the seat and expects many more to run. Overall, Michigan is approximately 2.5% Asian American, and in District Six, the demographic breakdown is: 85.2% Black, 9.4% White, 2.3% Two or More Races, 1.8% Asian, 0.9% Other, 0.4% Native American.
As for issues that Chang is running on, they are:
- Education – Reforming charter schools and holding them more accountable and ensuring charter schools are providing quality education – there is a mixed record of charter school performance in Michigan (I might add, as well as nationally).
- Criminal justice – For five years, Chang worked for a group to help reform the public defenders system, with a large disparities from policing to corrections and addressing policies to ensuring the system is fair.
- Public safety – With the decline in the economy, cuts in enforcement, and rise in crime, seeking and implementing best practices that Michigan can implement to improve the public safety within the state.
- Restoring basic safety net – At the state level, Michigan has a Republican governor and Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature and have rolled back things like the Earned Income Tax Credit, unemployment benefits, added mandatory drug testing for a number of benefits, etc.
Detroit has had a lot of issues, and I myself am reminded of the challenges just from watching a recent 60 Minutes segment on the city. The former Mayor of Detroit, Kwame Kilpatrick, was recently sentenced to 28 years in prison on a wide variety of corruption charges which also helped accelerate Detroit’s bankruptcy. Detroit is currently under state stewardship through a governor-appointed emergency manager. Eventually, Chang argues that city control should return to local governance and that true local leadership must be accountable not only to the governor, but the citizens of Detroit.
As noted in her biography above, Chang is not only running for office, working but also working on her Master’s – so she’s keeping pretty busy. You can learn more and get involved with Chang’s campaign via her Facebook page or donate to her campaign via her Act Blue page.