Asians in Politics Here to Stay

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Will there be guilt by ethnic and ethics association in 2014? Board of Equalization member Betty Yee could be one casualty in her bid to succeed State Controller John Chiang against Assembly Speaker John Perez according to observers like USC senior fellow Sherry Bebitch Jeffe (Christian Science Monitor 3/31/14 at tinyurl.com/qf7acz4). She opined recently that Betty shares the same last name that 2014 election voters may confuse with indicted State Senator Leland Yee. Although Jeffe dodged saying Asian Pacific American (APA) ethnicity of candidates maybe a liability, David Lee of Chinese American Voters Education Committee didn’t mince words on KTVU-2 on March 27, warning of potential “chilling effect” of recent APA political scandals on APA voter participation…

PEREZ DOUBLE STANDARD: The same Jeffe logic doesn’t connect dots with Betty Yee’s rival for Controller – powerful Assembly Speaker John Perez. While Perez doesn’t share the same name as suspended State Senators Ron Calderon, Yee or Rod Wright, good government groups have more to chew on with LA Assemblyman Perez’s background than Betty Yee, facing now the unluckiness of her birth name…Perez leads State Assembly which works with the State Senate – a body accused of having a culture of corruption. And Perez has major question marks (sfgate.com 10/10/13 at tinyurl.com/ketutdh) about his personal association and political contributions on behalf of Tyler Cassity, whose father and brother pled guilty to fraud charges in major funeral funds case. Cassity, whom Perez has dated, is a defendant in a $600 million fraud Missouri lawsuit…

NO UNETHICAL TSUNAMI: Recent APA corruption cases have not produced feared ripple effects suggested by Lee, Jeffe and others on APA community and candidates. Except for unsettled John Liu New York campaigns for mayor and comptroller from last three years (another FBI marathon investigation), cases have had no long-term effect on civic participation. For example, San Francisco Supervisor Ed Jew (imprisoned for extortion and mail fraud in 2009) relinquished his seat to mayoral appointee Carmen Chu who easily won election in 2008 and 2010.  Terming out Castro Valley Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi (pled guilty to shoplifting in 2012 while admitting to suffering from a brain tumor) subsequently lost a 2012 bid for Alameda County Board of Supervisors. However, Filipino American Rob Bonta narrowly succeeded Hayashi…

FLOAT LIKE A BUTTERFLY: Sting like a bee. A little poetry by 17th Congressional District Rep. Mike Honda last month at his mini-Trekkie convention inside O3 Bistro and Lounge (a favorite Thai pit stop for SF Democratic Party chair Mary Jung and Asian Pacific Democratic Club prez Jay Cheng) outside SF City Hall. A George Takei photo and signing session with his husband Brad Altman Takei overshadowed a supposedly Honda political fundraiser sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign. “Ding, dong, DOMA’s dead. And Proposition 8…met its fate,” rapped Honda, referring to the US Supreme Court invalidating anti-same sex marriage federal and California laws…

George Takei (center) with Hep B Free advocates and Congressman Mike Honda (far right).

George Takei (center) with Hep B Free advocates and Congressman Mike Honda (far right).

OH MY, THE GREAT HELMSMAN: Honda, introducing “Sulu” (Takei) from the original Star Trek TV series cast, said, “For years I watch that [Star Trek], wondering when affirmative action was going to kick in…I wanted to see [Hikaru] Sulu have his own ship.” Sulu eventually did command the Excelsior starship in the motion picture Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country after his tour as Enterprise helmsman in the late 1960s series. Also helmsman not for, but against JFK as his Japanese destroyer rammed the P.T.109 in the 1963 biopic of the President…While running for re-election in his petite district of over 700,000 people, Honda noted Sulu has 6.3 million Facebook friends. “That is more than 14 states in the union,” he said, while envious of being governor of the 14 states rather than Congressman in one of those states… 

TRUSTED IN JUSTICE, FINANCE & WHITE HOUSE: Unlike before the turn of the millennium, more APA elected officials serve in the state and country’s highest offices of trust – sweeping away the thought that scandal associated with an Asian surname or heritage could deep six a candidacy or chill APA civic participation… JUSTICE: California Attorney General Kamala Harris (See “Potsticker” 03/27/14 at tinyurl.com/kpql4za) has asserted her own gubernatorial credentials despite sexist allegations that friend and former Assembly Speaker and SF Mayor Willie Brown pulls the strings behind her. Leading the California bar is the APA majority on the State Supreme Court where Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Ming Chin, Goodwin Liu and Joyce Kennard sit…FINANCE: APAs hold major California finance positions – Controller John Chiang (See “Potsticker” 03/27/14 at tinyurl.com/kpql4za) along with at one point – three Board of Equalization APA females influencing state tax policy – Judy Chu (until 2009), Michelle Park Steel and Betty Yee…WHITE HOUSE: President Barack Obama retained Eric Shinseki as Secretary of Veterans Affairs after having an unprecedented three APA cabinet secretaries, including Gary Locke of Commerce and Steven Chu of Energy, all within the line of presidential succession…

Eric Shinseki

Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs

GUILT BY ASSOCIATION?: Lee, Jeffe and others can validate their arguments with  history’s almost first ever APA cabinet secretary. UC Berkeley Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien to President Bill Clinton’s Energy Department was likely derailed in the wake of the 1996 “Chinagate” scandal. Although Tien had no connection to it, illegal overseas Asian contributions allegedly supported Clinton’s re-election and eventually tarnished APA activists and donors, dragging down John Huang, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Democratic National Committee fundraiser and chilling APA participation in the Clinton Administration…The first APA cabinet secretary eventually came in the final six months of the Clinton Administration when the President appointed former San Jose Mayor and Congressman Norm Mineta to Commerce Secretary in 2000…The same issue of foreign donations also dogged Republican US Senate candidate Matt Fong in his 1998 loss to incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer 

I LIKE MIKE: Although George Takei hails from LA, “I consider [Honda] my congressman as well” and noted their shared experience with 120,000 Japanese Americans as infant (Honda) and five-year old (Takei) imprisoned in US concentration camps during World War Two.  “We could make democracy good or we could make democracy a shameful thing. It’s our responsibility,” he said, echoing his father’s wisdom…I DON’T LIKE IKE: The responsibility fell on him when his father took him to an Adlai Stevenson for President headquarters in the 1950s. “I didn’t volunteer. [Dad] volunteered me,” said the former LA City Council candidate (who almost won in 1973)…

HOLD OUT: Clue to why suspended State Senator Yee is staunchly defending himself and not resigning is to keep his pay/benefits. One observer says a family member has terminal health issues…Same observer who hangs with current and former cops said federal arrest of allegedly former underworld figure Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow has backfire effect for local law enforcement. Chow, claiming that he had reformed himself, was described as a peacemaker among local gangs…

MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU: Political Jedi and 17th Assembly District (eastside SF) David Chiu doubled up on Harvard degrees and sci-fi watching Star Wars (his 2011 mayoral campaign play on wookie’s name “Chiu-bacca”) and Star Trek as he led “I Like Mike” chants and chortling, “[Honda] is in a battle. He is fighting the Klingons…”

MISS ME?: Email Samson Wong at potsticker@prodigy.net and  follow him at Twitter @SFPotstickers…

 

About the Author

Veteran columnist has appeared in up to 450,000 households weekly in the SF Independent, Examiner (2000-04) and AsianWeek since 1996. As Editor-in-Chief (2003-07), AsianWeek and Samson received wide recognition from the California Legislature, New American Media, League of Women Voters, GLAAD, Organization of Chinese Americans, SPUR and APA civic groups. Thru the SF Citizens Advisory Committee on Elections, SF Elections Task Force and Chinese American Voters Education Committee, Wong helped boost APA influence from 25,000 in the 1980s to over 50,000 voters by the early 1990s.