Asian Americans in government and politics
Asian Americans have a high level of political incorporation in terms of their actual voting population. However, as a result of this group's historically low voting rates, overall political incorporation of the general population is relatively low. Although the population of this group has increased in size by 600% in 30 years due to immigration, heavy naturalization and voter outreach efforts have provided this primarily foreign-born community with less than 1% of voters.
In some areas where Asian Americans have large populations, Asian Americans have elected Asian American candidates at the city and local level; examples of this include Vietnamese Americans in Orange County and Chinese Americans in San Francisco. However, it is not always the case. For example, Korean Americans in Koreatown, Los Angeles and Filipino Americans in Daly City and San Diego have not elected city Asian American officials to represent them.
George Ariyoshi, who served as the Governor of Hawaii from 1974 to 1986, was the first American of Asian descent to be elected governor of a state of the United States. He continues to hold the record as the longest-serving state governor in Hawaii.
In 1996 Gary Locke was elected governor of the state of Washington, becoming the first Chinese American to be elected governor in United States history and the first Asian American governor on the mainland. Locke served as governor from 1997-2005.
Bobby Jindal served in various executive positions in Louisiana and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services before being elected to the Congress in 2004, and finally winning the Louisiana gubernatorial elections in 2007 (thereby becoming the first non-white governor of Louisiana since Reconstruction), the first elected Indian American governor in U.S. history, as well as the second Asian American governor to serve in the continental United States.
Nikki Haley is the 116th and current Governor of South Carolina. Haley previously represented Lexington County in the South Carolina House of Representatives from 2005 to 2010. She is the first Sikh American governor in the United States, first female governor of South Carolina, second elected Indian American governor in U.S. history, as well as the third Asian American governor to serve in the continental United States. Nikki Haley's election wasn't the only first for Asian Americans to occur during the 2010 election cycle. In California Kamala Harris, who is half-Indian American, became the first female, first African American, and first Asian American state attorney general in the United States.
Benito Legarda y Tuason and Pablo Ocampo joined the House in 1907 as Resident Commissioners, becoming the first Asian Americans to serve in the Congress, albeit as non-voting members, and beginning the representation of the Philippines which ended in 1946.
Dalip Singh Saund, an Indian American from Imperial and Riverside Counties, was the first South Asian American elected into Congress, and was one of only three Indian Americans to have been elected, serving from 1957 to 1963. Hiram Fong, who served three decades in the Senate from 1959 to 1977, became the first Chinese American member of Congress, and first Asian American senator. Daniel Inouye (who served from 1959-2012) was the first Japanese American in the House and later the first in Senate. Spark Matsunaga was the second Japanese American to serve in the House (served 1971-77). Matsunaga and S. I. Hayakawa were the second and third Japanese Americans to serve in the Senate. Matsunaga served in the Senate between 1977 and 1990, while Hayakawa served in the Senate between 1977 and 1983.
Patsy Mink (served 1965-77 and again from 1990–2002) was the first Asian American woman and the first Japanese American woman to serve in Congress. Norman Mineta (served 1975-95) was the fourth Japanese American to serve in the House. Bob Matsui (served 1979-2005) was the fifth Japanese American to serve in the House. Bobby Scott, elected in 1993, is the first US born member of Congress to have Filipino ancestry. He was joined by Jay Kim, the first Korean American to be elected to Congress, as well as first Korean elected to a national office outside of Korea; since he left office there have been no Korean Americans in Congress. In 1998, David Wu was elected and became the only Chinese American of Taiwanese ancestry to serve be a member of Congress. Wu resigned in 2011, which was followed by a brief absence of Taiwanese Americans in Congress until the election of Grace Meng in 2012.
John Ensign, who is part Filipino American, was elected to the senate in 2000 and resigned in 2011; there have been no Filipino American senators since. In 2008, Joseph Cao of Louisiana became the first elected Vietnamese American in Congress; since he left office in 2011 there have been no Vietnamese Americans in Congress. Also in 2008, Multiracial Filipino American Steve Austria was elected, becoming the first first-generation Filipino elected to Congress, he chose not to run for re-election in 2012. In 2010, Inouye was sworn in as President Pro Tempore making him the highest-ranking Asian American politician in American history. That same year, Charles Djou became the first Thai American to be elected to Congress; he left Congress in 2011, and no Thai American served in the Congress until Tammy Duckworth was elected in 2012 as the first female Thai American, as well as the first Thailand-born representative. In 2011, Representative Hansen Clarke became the first Bangladeshi American to service in Congress; he lost his seat after being defeated in the 2012 primary, no Bangladeshi Americans have served in Congress since.
There were 10 Asian Americans in the House and one in the Senate, in the 114th United States Congress. Representatives Mike Honda, Doris Matsui, Mark Takano, Mark Takai and Senator Mazie Hirono are all Japanese Americans; Representative Judy Chu is Chinese American; Representative Grace Meng and Ted Lieu are Taiwanese Americans; Representatives Bobby Scott is a Multiracial Filipino American; Representative Tammy Duckworth is Thai American; and Representative Ami Bera is Indian American.
Norman Mineta became the first Asian American cabinet member, serving as Secretary of Commerce in 2000, then was appointed Secretary of Transportation between 2001 and 2006. Elaine Chao was selected as a White House Fellow, and then served in a series of appointed posts prior to becoming the Secretary of Labor from 2001 to 2009; she became the first, and as of February 2011 only, Asian American woman to be in the U.S. Cabinet. Neel Kashkari became the first Kashmiri to serve at the secretary level when President Bush appointed him Assistant Secretary of the Treasury to oversee the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) from October 2008 through May 2009.
Gary Locke became the first Chinese American Secretary of Commerce, and the third Asian American in the present cabinet. He joined Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, tying the Bush Administration for having the most Asian Americans in cabinet positions in United States history. By June 2014, all Asian Americans on the Obama Administration cabinet had resigned; in the first time since 2000, there were no Asian Americans on the U.S. Cabinet.
From the 1940s to the 1990s most Asian Americans were anti-communist refugees who had fled mainland China, North Korea or Vietnam, and were strongly anti-Communist. Many had ties to conservative organizations. In recent years, more liberal Asian-American groups such as newer Chinese and Indian immigrants have greatly changed the Asian-American political demographics, as well as a larger proportion of younger Asian Americans, many of whom have completed college degrees.
In the 1992 presidential election Republican George H. W. Bush received 55% of the Asian-American vote compared to 31% for Democrat Bill Clinton. Asian Americans voted Republican and were the only racial group more conservative than whites in the 1990s, according to surveys. The Asian American vote has slowly shifted since then with Democrat John Kerry winning 56% of the Asian American vote in the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election; Chinese and Indian Americans were more likely to support John Kerry; whereas Vietnamese and Filipino Americans supported George Bush. The Japanese leaned towards Kerry, while the Koreans leaned towards Bush. Democrat Barack Obama won 62% of the Asian American vote in the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election, with the margin increasing during the 2012 United States presidential elections, where Asian American voters voted to re-elect Democrat Barack Obama by 73%.
Overall, Asian Americans as a whole tend to vote for Democrats, but this trend has been fairly recent. As recently as 2000 polling number had difficulty determining Asian American voter affiliation. With some polls indicating a tendency to vote Republican, while other polls indicated a trend to vote Democrat. Due to the smaller size of the groups population, in comparison to the population as a whole, it remains difficult to get an adequate sampling to forecast voter outcomes for Asian Americans. In 2008, polls indicated that 35% considered themselves non-partisan, 32% Democrats, 19% independents, and 14% Republicans. The 2012 National Asian American Survey, conducted by Professor Ramakrishnan of UC Riverside and Professor Lee of UC Berkeley, found that 51% considered themselves non-partisan, 33% Democrats, 14% Republicans, and 2% Other; Hmong, Indian, and Korean Americans strongly identified as Democrats, and Filipino and Vietnamese Americans most strongly identified as Republicans. In 2013, according to the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Chinese Americans were the least likely Asian American ethnicity to have a party affiliation, with only one third belonging to a party. In the 2014 midterm elections, based on exit polls, 50% of Asian Americans voted Republican, while 49% voted Democrat; this swing towards voting for Republicans was a drastic change from the support given to the Obama re-election in 2012, and had not reached 50% since 1996.
Neither the Republican nor Democratic parties have financed significant efforts to the registration of Asian Americans, however much more attention has been focused on contributions from Asian Americans, having once been referred to as "Republican Jews". As recently as 2006 the outreach of America's two major political parties have been unbalanced, with the Democratic Party devoting more resources in attracting Asian Americans. Political affiliation aside, Asian Americans have trended to become more politically active as a whole, with 2008 seeing an increase of voter participation by 4% to a 49% voting rate.
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