Both parties look to recruit Asian American candidates as violence against group increases

Greg Nash

Both parties are increasing their efforts to recruit more members of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities to run for public office as violence against the groups rises in the U.S.

Supporters of the efforts say the strategy will ultimately give members of the communities a bigger platform to advocate for solutions to the rising tide of hate and violence.

Rep. Andy Kim, a Democrat from New Jersey, last week launched In Our Hands PAC, which will recruit and support Asian American and Pacific Islander candidates and other candidates of color.

Such candidates made inroads at the highest levels of government in 2020, with Vice President Harris becoming the first South Asian and first Black person, as well as the first woman, to hold the position. Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang is also looking to make history as the first Asian American mayor of New York City. 

On the GOP side, the party is looking to capitalize on the success they had in last year’s elections, when multiple Asian American Republican women won competitive House races in California.

Reps. Young Kim (R-Calif.) and Michelle Steel (R-Calif.) became some of the first Korean American women to serve in Congress after they flipped Democratic seats in the onetime conservative stronghold of Orange County in November. 

“We have a lot of different folks who support the things the party supports when it comes to taxes or spending, the economy, and those are issues that translate very well to some of these minority communities, especially Asian American communities,” said Sam Oh, the general consultant for Steel and Kim’s teams.

In Texas, Sery Kim, a Republican candidate for the state’s 6th Congressional District, is looking to build upon the progress made by Steel and Young Kim. 

Sery Kim, who worked in the Trump administration, said the higher volume of Asian American political candidates and public officials can be credited both to more candidates stepping up and the willingness of voters to elect them. 

“Asian Americans are not a new phenomenon in being involved in politics, they are a new phenomenon in being elected,” Kim told The Hill. “It not only takes the ability of people to run for office, but the willingness for the electorate themselves to elect someone who looks different from them.” 

Asian Americans have a history of being elected at the local level in communities with large Asian American or Pacific Islander populations. Tony Lâm became one of the most prominent Asian American elected officials in 1992 when he became the first Vietnamese-born individual to be elected to public office in the U.S. 

“I don’t think that it’s necessarily that it wasn’t happening before, but it was happening in pockets of communities where there were big Asian American populations,” said Republican political adviser Steven Cheung. 

However, this appears to be changing with more racial minority candidates seeking public office in areas where they are not as widely represented. 

Andy Kim defied odds in 2018 when he was elected to represent New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District, where there is a small Asian American population. 

“When I first ran for Congress, insiders told me I can’t win because my majority-white district wouldn’t vote for an Asian American or a candidate of any color,” Kim said in a statement last week announcing his PAC. 

Other groups working to boost the population’s political leadership and participation say Asian Americans should look to follow the congressman’s example if they live in communities where Asian American voters make up a small portion of the population.

“Run in areas where you are an active citizen, where you actually may not have Asian Americans in your district,” said Madalene Xuan-Trang Mielke, president and CEO of the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS).

“Part of that narrative is to remind people that leadership looks like America,” she added. 

Additionally, groups like APAICS and the Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote) are working to provide the proper resources and support to Asian American or Pacific Islander candidates, something the Asian Americans have not had access to before. 

“A lot of times there’s individuals that never thought about running for office,” said Christine Chen, the executive director of APIAVote. 

“Because they were demystifying this process or they were even getting hands on training and work in the nonpartisan space, that we’ve seen more and more actually feeling comfortable about stepping up and actually running for office,” she continued. 

Chen pointed to former Michigan state representative and current state Sen. Stephanie Chang (D) as an Asian American voter who benefited from working with groups like APIAVote. Chang launched APIAVote Michigan with the goal of registering more Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to vote and learned the ins and outs of the political organizing process. 

“Initially, she had never thought about running for office and because of her drive and her belief in the issues that she cared about and she knew that this was one way to tackle the issues, she ran for the [Michigan] House of Representatives,” Chen said. 

The work across the country to register Asian American voters, who are the fastest growing racial or ethnic group in the U.S., paid off in 2020. 

Asian American voters showed their strength as a voting bloc in 2020 in states like Georgia, where some counts show their voter participation doubling, helping Democrats flip the Republican stronghold. 

“We’re seeing tangible evidence that shows that this is an important voting bloc,” said political strategist and pundit Kurt Bardella. 

In other states and localities, Asian American voters helped elect Republicans. 

“Diverse leadership can actually produce bipartisanship, especially on important issues like some of the anti-Asian crimes we’ve seen recently,” Oh said. “It shows more empathy than just sympathy because now we have leaders in office who have experienced racism firsthand, rather than just reading about it.”

The representation of Asian American public officials in high-profile positions has also demonstrated the impact members of the communities can have on U.S. politics at the highest level. 

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) served as an impeachment manager at former President Trump’s second impeachment trial, while Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) made headlines when she issued a scathing rebuke to Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) over comments made during the House Judiciary Committee’s hearing on discrimination and violence against Asian Americans. 

Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) dropped their objections last week to nonminority nominees for Cabinet positions put forth by the Biden administration after the White House announced the appointment of a high-level liaison to the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. 

The White House has also taken note of the recent plight against Asian Americans, issuing measures on Tuesday aimed at combating anti-Asian violence. 

“All of these things have a reverberating effect,” Bardella said. “These visible demonstrations of political advocacy is something that is being watched and observed, and I think it’s inspiring an entire generation of Asian Americans to participate in the political process.” 

Tags AAPI Andrew Yang Asian American violence Chip Roy Donald Trump Elections Grace Meng Hate crimes Mazie Hirono Tammy Duckworth Ted Lieu

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