Not an Off Year for Political Candidates

By Phil Tajitsu Nash
Published December 23rd 2005 in Asian Week
Not an Off Year for Political Candidates
by Phil Tajitsu Nash, Dec 22, 2005
Asian Week
December 23, 2005

The most important campaign this year was Doris Matsui's election to replace
her husband Bob as Representative to Congress from Sacramento. While it was
sad to lose someone with the experience, compassion, and skills of Bob
Matsui, who passed away on the first day of 2005, the APA community got to
keep a seat in Congress, and Doris got to show that she, too, has what it
takes to be an effective member of Congress.

Among other key pick-ups were Jun Choi's election as Mayor of Edison, New
Jersey; Ted Lieu's election to the California State Assembly representing
the 68 th District that includes Venice and Torrance; Sam Yoon's election to
the Boston City Council; and Nathan Shinagawa's election to the Tomkins
County (N.Y.) Legislature.

Three incumbent APAs showed that they have staying power: New Jersey Rep.
Upendra Chivukula won 62% of the vote in his 17 th District seat; New York
City Councilman John Liu had no Republican challenger for his Flushing,
Queens seat; and Pakistani-American Masroor Javed Khan was re-elected to his
seat on the Houston City Council.

Another electoral victory that occurred within the political party structure
was Rep. Mike Honda's election at the Democratic National Committee (DNC)
mid-winter meeting in February to a four year term as a Vice Chair of the
DNC, the highest office ever held by an APA in either the Democratic or
Republican parties.

On the down side, APA candidates such as Supriya Christopher of Virginia
Beach, Virginia, Jay Aiyer of Houston, Texas, and Peter Suzuki of Summit,
New Jersey fell short in their races for Virginia State Representative,
Houston City Council, and Summit Town Councilman, respectively. Each ran a
strong race, however, and showed that APAs are strong candidates who must be
taken seriously in the political sector.

Several themes emerge from Campaign 2005. First, the geographic diversity of
candidates shows that the West Coast and Hawai'i are not the only places
where APAs can win. Second, APAs with long-term ties to their local
communities and strong traditional credentials, such as Chivukula's prior
service as Franklin Township Mayor, make it easier for non-APA voters to
vote for someone whose family did not come from European roots and whose
name is not "John Smith." Third, Yoon's victory shows that long-term
political pressure from groups such as Boston's Chinese Progressive
Association can create the political and electoral climate in which a
candidate such as Yoon can succeed.

Finally, the victory of former Cornell student Nathan Shinagawa just months
after leaving college show that a new generation of activists is on the rise
who can build on the insights and organizing skills of older APA community
activists (in this case, Nathan's father is well-known community activist
and Sociologist Larry Shinagawa, who teaches at Cornell).

One other major development resulted both in a significant victory for an
APA candidate and a victory for a voting process that holds a lot of promise
for APAs if we can get it implemented in other cities around the country.
Phil Ting, the former head of the Asian Law Caucus, was elected
Assessor-Recorder for the City of San Francisco in a race that benefited
from Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), a form of Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). Ting
had 47% of the vote in the first round of voting. Latino and progressive
candidate Gerardo Sandoval had 36%. Another APA candidate, Ron Chun,
received 16% of the vote.

In a traditional voting scenario, no one got over 50% of the vote, so the
top two candidates would have gone on to a runoff in December, when voters
are pre-occupied with holiday shopping and turnout is low. Sandoval and Ting
each had their bases of support, so it is unclear who would have won.

Instead, over 72% of Chun's supporters listed a second choice. Over
two-thirds of these voters (68%) preferred Ting over Sandoval, so when
Chun's votes were allocated to the top two candidates, Ting won with a solid
58% majority. No expensive run-off election in December was needed, and a
majority of voters got the chance to see their first or second choice
candidate in office, instead of their least favorite.

Ranked Choice Voting allowed voters to say "I want an APA as City Assessor,"
no matter whether they supported Chun (backed by the Chinese American
Democratic club) or Ting (backed by the Westside Chinese Democratic Club).
Even though APA organizations split on their endorsements, APA individuals
spoke loudly and clearly.