In an Administration of Firsts, APA Firsts

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tammy duckworth

But will the IL scandal and Candidate ‘5’ put a snag in the appointment of the first APA woman to the Senate?

You may be smirking about this week’s political scandal involving Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (that’s Bla-GOYA-vitch for all you phonetically inclined).

There’s no sex to be found anywhere in this scandal. (And that guy Blagojevich has that eerily ’70s hairdo that reminds me of Harvey Milk’s assassin, the late ex-San Francisco Supervisor Dan White). But, of course, there’s money, as well as the soon-to-be-vacated U.S. Senate seat of President-elect Obama.

That’s what appears to have made it a bingo for the feds, who quickly moved in this week with an arrest, after what has been a five-year corruption investigation into Blagojevich.

It seems the feds were lacking something sexy until recently, when reports say the sexiness came in from Rahm Emanuel, the current Illinois congressman and soon-to-be the president-elect’s chief of staff. Emanuel denies it, but the reports say Emanuel had been approached by the governor wanting to see what he could get in exchange for the appointment.

In Illinois, the governor still has the sole power to appoint Obama’s successor in the U.S. Senate.

The affidavit released by the feds has Blagojevich in discussions with a staffer. On Nov. 5, Blagojevich referred to Obama’s Senate seat as “f—–g golden.”  He wasn’t just going to “give it up for nothing.” He even talked about needing to make $250,000 to $300,000 a year.

Fool. Doesn’t he know Obama will tax his ass above $250,000?

But the Obama connection comes into focus on Nov. 11 when the governor tells his staffer that Obama wanted an unnamed candidate for the seat, but “they’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation. F— them.”

Meanwhile another unnamed candidate, “Candidate 5,” was mentioned as offering as much as $500,000.

I am not Candidate 5
Just to be clear, I’m not for the aforementioned “Candidate 5.” I love Chicago. But if I run for anything, it will be for the Muni bus I just missed on Clement Street.

More interesting to APAs is the identity of the other unnamed candidate who appears to be Obama’s choice.

My bet is that the other unnamed candidate is Tammy Duckworth, the disabled Iraq war vet currently serving as chief of Illinois’ veterans affairs department. She has long been seen as Obama’s favorite to replace him in the Senate.

I sat at the Democratic National Convention with an APA politico who raved about Duckworth as we both watched her deliver the best speech by an APA at the entire convention.

Her placement and performance at the convention was a sure sign that Tammy was going to be a player. Since then, her name has been floated as the major APA name in all cabinet appointment discussions.

But when General Eric Shinseki was formally named the cabinet secretary on veterans affairs on the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, it may have been a bit of a surprise to many that Duckworth wasn’t named. That is, unless, there was perhaps another plum saved for her in the Land of Lincoln.

Let’s not give short shrift to the General. He was the 34th chief of staff of the Army, a West Point grad, served two tours in Vietnam and has two Purple Hearts and three Bronze stars. That’s a resumé that reeks excellence.

Oh, and he stood up to the Bush administration and let them know they were wrong on the number of troops needed to secure Iraq after invasion.

He’s got moral and ethical heft to do much more. But he’s perfectly placed to be the first Asian American to be secretary of veterans affairs. A major first for someone who was already the first Asian American four-star general in the U.S. Army, as well as Army chief of staff.

What’s left for Duckworth is perhaps another special first.

First Asian American Woman in the Senate?
Patsy Mink was a stalwart in Congress serving Hawai‘i, but from the House of Representatives side. The only Asian American senators have been from Hawai‘i: Sen. Hiram Fong, Sen. Daniel Inouye and Sen. Daniel Akaka.  C’est tout. All guys.

Duckworth’s mother is Thai, and she was raised in Hawai‘i. She’s also got a Hawai‘i connection (just like Shinseki), something I call that Obama-Shaka thing going on.

In an administration of firsts, Obama would continue to make diversity history by naming Duckworth to the Senate.

But Blagojevich and his greed may have been blocking the way. And there’s now even reports of Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. being in the mix.

Some Illinois state legislators are calling for Blagojevich to step down. But even then, the power to appoint passes on. Only a change approved by the state legislature could require a special election.

That could make it harder for Duckworth, but with Obama’s blessing, I have no doubt that she would survive an electoral challenge. She lost by just two percent when she made a run for Congress in 2006. Since then, she’s become an engaging, charismatic figure who would be fitting as a major Asian American first.

The first Vietnamese Congressman
Last week, the elephant roared in Louisiana as Anh “Joseph” Quang Cao won a special election in Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District. Not to take away anything from Cao, but even though he won in an area that tends to be 75 to 80 percent Democratic, he was also running against U.S. Rep. William “Icebox” Jefferson. He’s the guy who was found with $90,000 in alleged bribe money in his freezer.

Even with that, Cao only beat Jefferson by three percentage points. But that’s enough of a margin to make for one contented Cao.

More on Cao, Pacquiao, the Dow, and maybe Mao at the blog on or e-mail:


About the Author

For almost 15 years, Emil Guillermo wrote his "Amok" column for AsianWeek, which was the largest English language Asian American newsweekly in the nation. "Amok" was considered the most widely-read column on Asian American issues in the U.S. His thoughtful and provocative social commentaries have appeared in print in the San Francisco Chronicle,, San Francisco Examiner, USA Today, Honolulu Star Bulletin, Honolulu Advertiser, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and in syndication throughout the country. His early columns are compiled in a book "Amok: Essays from an Asian American Perspective," which won an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation in 2000. Guillermo's journalistic career began in television and radio broadcasting. At National Public Radio, he was the first Asian American male to anchor a regularly scheduled national news broadcast when he hosted "All Things Considered" from 1989-1991. During his watch, major news broke, including the violence in Tiananmen Square, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the end of dictatorships in Romania and Panama. From Washington, Guillermo hosted the shows that broke the news. As a television journalist, his award-winning reports and commentaries have appeared on NBC, CNN, and PBS. He was a reporter in San Francisco, Dallas, and Washington, D.C. After NPR, Guillermo became a press secretary and speechwriter for then Congressman Norman Mineta, the former cabinet member in the Bush and Clinton Administrations. After his Hill experience, Guillermo returned to the media, hosting his own talk show in Washington, D.C. on WRC Radio. He returned to California where he hosted talk shows in San Francisco at KSFO/KGO, and in Sacramento at KSTE/KFBK. Guillermo's columns in the ethnic press inspired a roundtable discussion program that he created, hosted, executive produced, resulting in more than 100 original half-hour programs. "NCM-TV: New California Media" was seen on PBS stations in San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles, and throughout the state on cable. Guillermo also spent time as a newspaper reporter covering the poor and the minority communities of California's Central Valley. His writing and reporting on California's sterilization program on the poor and minorities won him statewide and national journalism awards. Guillermo, a native San Franciscan, went to Lowell High School, and graduated from Harvard College, where he was an Ivy Orator and class humorist, a distinction shared by fellow Lampoon members like James Downey (Saturday Night Live) and Conan O'Brien. Find out what he's up to at