Why Asians Don’t Always Vote for Barry Wong

Raise your fist in the air and scream it with me now: “BARRY WO-O-O-O-ONG!!!”

Here’s my latest post over at Change.org:

Why Asians Don’t Always Vote for Barry Wong

Are you asking yourself: who the heck is Barry Wong? My friend asked himself the same thing the other day while we were driving, and I — for no apparent reason — gripped the steering wheel with both hands and screamed the name “Barry WO-O-O-NG” at the top of my lungs. My friend nearly jumped out of the car in surprise.

Across the country, elections are just around the corner, and that means one thing: it’s campaign sign season. Here in Tucson, these signs touting the names of candidates like Barry Wong grace almost every street corner, sprouting like multi-colored weeds from the fertile sand of abandoned lots, construction sites and traffic medians.

In a state where Asian-Americans represent less than 3% of the population, it often feels like I’m the only Asian American in a two-mile radius. For that reason, I feel an electric thrill whenever I see a Barry Wong sign. Barry Wong was, and is, the only Asian-American in Arizona state politics, and he is running for re-election this year for Arizona Corporation Commission. (Don’t know what the the Committee does? Don’t worry — neither do most Arizona voters.) Nowadays, it’s a ritual for me to scream out my “support” for Barry Wong every time I pass one of his campaign signs — in part because they are hilariously over-sized, and in part because I feel a sense of pride and kinship seeing a fellow Asian-American run for office out here in crazy, crazy Arizona.

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Proposition 107: Arizona’s Students Under Attack!

California, Washington, Michigan and Nebraska: what do all of these states have in common?

Each of these states have been the victim of the American Civil Rights Initiative (ACRI) — a deceptively named national campaign founded by Ward Connerly to work state-by-state to eliminate affirmative action programs. In each state, a seemingly benign ballot initiative is put up to popular vote that would eliminate “preferential treatment” or “discrimination” in public institutions based on race or sex. However, upon passage, the measure is used to outlaw affirmative action programs, particularly in state universities.

The most obvious consequences of  ACRI’s efforts can be seen in California, which passed Proposition 209 in 1996. In the following graph, the percentage growth of White, Black, Latino/Chicano and Asian students into UC schools was plotted for every year between 1993 and 2009. The arrow indicates when Prop. 209 was passed preventing racial information from being used in admission decisions. We can see that in the early nineties, admissions for Blacks and Latinos was growing steadily. However, after 1996, admission of Blacks and Latinos actually decreased in rate (compared to 1993). Only recently have admission rates for Black and Latino applicants to California schools started to return to (and, in the case of Latinos, surpass) pre-Proposition 209 levels, perhaps because UC schools have adopted a more careful review of applications which incorporates use of personal essays to attempt to glean racial information about applicants.  

(As for why the numbers of White students are falling over the entire period, I can only hazard a guess. One possibility is that White applicants were less inclined to provide racial data in their applications throughout this time period, which leads to an underestimation of the number of White students enrolled in UC schools. In addition, California’s minority populations have been experiencing profound growth in the last fifteen years, further contributing to the rise in minority enrollment in UC schools).

In 2008, more than 30% of students in the UC school system were White (and another 40% were Asian), while less than 4% are Black or Latino. Yet, compare these numbers to California’s demographics by race: Asians — who make up about 12.5% of the state’s population — are overrepresented by a factor of three in UC schools. Blacks make up 6.5% of California’s population, yet they are only 3% of UC students. Clearly, race-based barriers are preventing Blacks and Latino students from making it into the state’s higher education system, even with affirmative action policies in place.

If we compare these numbers to 1993, prior to the passage of Proposition 209, we see that while Whites and Asians were still the most populous racial groups on college campuses, Proposition 209 has only served to diminish diversity on California college campuses by reducing the percentages of Whites, Blacks and Latinos admitted into UC schools while elevating the number of Asian students. In short, UC students are becoming more and more homogenized.

While the increased admission of Asian students into UC schools (before and, particularly, after passage of Proposition 209) seem like a justification for Asian Americans to oppose affirmative action, in fact these data should be alarming to all college-aged students, regardless of race. Asian American students, like all students, benefit from a diverse student body that helps foster academic debate and disagreement. Furthermore, even with affirmative action policies in place, Asian American students in UC schools (and, indeed, in preeminent schools around the country) were vastly better represented than in national demographics; clearly, affirmative action (and associated improvements in student diversity) does not prevent Asian American students from getting into college. 

In fact, ACRI’s national efforts to introduce ballot measures that attack race- and gender-based affirmative action policies only serve to white-wash college campuses by reducing the numbers of already underrepresented minority students. Not only are Black and Latino students turned away in the admissions process, but underrepresented minorities who are admitted feel disinclined to attend California schools when faced with the diminishing number of other students who will share their race, ethnicity or culture — what UCLA chancellor Thomas Lifka terms a loss in “critical mass” of underrepresented minorities — which ordinarily help new students integrate into the college community and create social and support networks.

Despite these dismal statistics, ACRI counts the marginalization of Black and Latino students in higher education as a victory, and has pressed forward with ballot measures similar to Proposition 209 in a variety of states. Such ballot measures have passed in Washington, Michigan and Nebraska.

In 2008, ACRI attempted to introduce a similar ballot measure in Arizona (Proposition 104) that would have amended the Arizona Constitution to ban discrimination or “preferential treatment… on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin” in public institutions, but were unable to collect enough valid signatures to add the motion to the ballot. Instead, ACRI and its supporters decided to reintroduce the ballot measure this year after it was approved for inclusion on the November ballot by both the State House and the State Senate, and will appear as Proposition 107 (click here for the full text of Proposition 107).

California has already set the precedent for what might happen if 107 gets passed in the state of Arizona, not just to our state universities, but to our businesses and economy. In addition to what I discuss above, Susan Kaufmann, the Associate Director for the Center for the Education of Women at the University of Michigan, wrote this summary of the far-reaching effects of Proposition 209 in California:  

 

Prop. 209 has resulted in the elimination of services such as college preparation programs for students of color, summer science programs for girls, outreach to minority- and women-owned businesses to notify them of government contracting opportunities, and funding for training of minority professionals in fields where they are underrepresented. It has ended the requirement that state boards reflect the population of the state and also ended numerous voluntary K-12 school integration efforts. It has led to significant decreases in government contracts awarded to minority- and women-owned businesses, hiring of minority and female university professors, and the percentages of women and minorities working in the construction trades. In addition, it has led to decreases in the percentages of African Americans and Native Americans enrolled in the University of California system and apparently to similar decreases in the California State University system.

 

Based on this history, we can expect the passage of Proposition 107 to have lasting negative effects in our state. The diversity of our state schools will evaporate. Our state universities, which are responsible for a significant fraction of our state economy, will experience a sharp reduction in applications from in-state and out-of-state students, particularly from students fearing a racially intolerant atmosphere in Arizona (as we have already seen happen to The University of Arizona in response to the passage of SB 1070). Federal dollars (in the form of scholarships and grants) awarded to the state specifically for the purposes of raising racial diversity in public schools and the private sector may evaporate. Gender and ethnic studies programs at our universities — such as African American Studies, Chicano Studies and Asian Pacific American Studies — may cease to exist. Businesses that rely on skilled labourers  (and who are already discouraged from moving to Arizona by our abysmal educational system rankings) — and that have private hiring policies that include raising diversity amongst their employees — may be less likely to move to Arizona without a pool of promising minority college graduates to recruit and hire.

In short, Arizona stands to lose a lot of state money — not to mention, national respect —  if Proposition 107 is passed. And these days, we haven’t got much of either to spare.

Sadly, the supporters of Arizona’s Proposition 107 will not reveal any of those truths to the voting public. The website established by the ACRI to support the 2008 effort to put this ballot measure to a vote openly lies to the Arizona constituency by arguing that the ballot measure would not affect affirmative action practices, when (as seen in California) the ballot measure is specifically designed to abolish affirmative action.

Most alarmingly, ACRI has had a two-year head-start in lobbying for funds and political support to help pass Proposition 107. State Senator Russel Pearce and State Representive Steve Montenegro have already indicated their willingness to go to bat for this ballot measure. A group registered in support of Proposition 107 on May 24, 2010 (calling themselves “Compassion for All”) has already raised $1025, as reported in their June 30th Campaign Finance Report (although, to be fair, that money consists entirely of personal contributions from the group’s treasurer). Ward Connerly has announced that he will dedicate substantial funds to getting Proposition 107 passed in Arizona. By comparison, a group in opposition of Proposition 107 was only registered six days ago, and still seems to be trying to figure out how to punctuate its name (note the three separate entries for this group on the Secretary of State website).

I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to state the following: Arizona’s students and schools are under attack by anti-affirmative action fanatics who are determined to undermine racial and gender diversity in our classrooms. Supporters of equal opportunity must mobilize in opposition of Proposition 107 in order to protect equality for all Arizonans.

Act Now! A press release issued yesterday from the Tucson Southern Arizona Black Chamber of Commerce (TSABCC) indicates that a coalition of groups (including the NAACP and the Tucson Urban League) are meeting today at 4:30pm at the TSABCC to discuss how to defeat this initiatve. I know this is short notice, but all interested parties hoping to participate in these efforts are invited to this meeting at the TSABCC . Here’s the info:

WHEN:           Tuesday June 29, 2010

WHERE:         Northwest Center, 2160 North 6th Avenue,  Tucson, AZ. 85705

TIME:              4:30pm – 6:30pm  (RSVP) your attendance (520) 623-0099

WHO SHOULD ATTEND:   Every individual, group, or organization wanting to participate in this effort to defeat  this initiative.  Everyone who want to send a message “NOT IN OUR STATE’

Is Rodney Glassman Having a Sarah Palin Moment?

Here’s my latest post over at Blog for Arizona, on a Tucson City Councilman running in the Democratic primary to challenge Senator John McCain: 

Tucson City Councilman Rodney Glassman

Like crabs in a barrel, the Democratic candidates competing for a shot at Sen. John McCain‘s Senate seat seem hellbent on dragging one another into the muck, much to the chagrin of fellow Democrats like myself. 

Last night, Rodney Glassman, former Tucson City Council Member, appeared at Drinking Liberally. This is nothing new — political hopefuls routinely make a showing at DL during the campaign season in hopes of increasing their public profile, and (since DL has the reputation of hosting one of the most difficult political audiences in Southern Arizona) showing off their mental muscle on the relevant issues. And, since Glassman is a relatively unknown local Tucson politician who has been criticized as being too “wet-behind-the-ears” to hold a U.S. Senate seat, he needs to do both if he hopes to make it out of this year’s primary. 

What was surprising about Glassman’s appearance last night was the drama surrounding the event.

It turns out that earlier this month, a blogger named Three Sonorans (who writes over at the Tucson Citizen and who volunteers for Glassman’s Democratic opponent, Randy Parrazwas planning to broadcast last night’s DL event live. Three Sonorans wanted to confront Glassman with “a yes or no question” based on a recent interview with Arizona Illustrated wherein Glassman refused to state whether or not he supported deportation of undocumented immigrants. (You can see the anti-Glassman attack video documenting the relevant parts of the interview on YouTube here.)

According to an email circulating the DL listserv, Glassman’s campaign — fearing a political ambush — requested that event organizers discourage the use of video cameras at last night’s meet-and-greet. This request translated into the owner of The Shanty (where the event was hosted) stipulating that Three Sonorans (and possibly other attendees) leave their cameras in their cars so that the bar didn’t become a political warzone.

At this point, I want to note how bizarre it was that cameras were barred last night. DL‘s mission is to increase politcal participation in part by facilitating access between voters and candidates — which video recording clearly does. Cameras have always been allowed at every meet-and-greet hosted by DL that I have ever attended, even when event organizers were aware of a potential political ambush. Heck, even Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords — arguably one of the most high-profile guests DL has had — was not immune; she was videotaped at a DL event being put through the ringer by a number of anti-war protesters a couple of years ago. So, why was that policy changed for last night’s event with Rodney Glassman?

In any event, I tend to agree that staging a political ambush on a fellow Democrat is a questionable tactic, even in a hotly contested primary. True, primaries (sort of by definition) tend to have all the grace and sophistication of a barfight; this is the time when candidates — who frequently agree with one another on 99% of the issues — make political hay out of that other 1%. But muck-flinging and ambush tactics benefit no one but incumbents, particularly when the infantile finger-pointing results in the kind of inflammatory he-said-she-said drama exemplified by Three Sonorans’ anti-Glassman Tucson Citizen blog post wrapping up the events of last night. If Three Sonorans wanted a straightforward answer to his straightforward question, he shouldn’t have asked that question in the context of trying to catch Glassman in a “gotcha” moment. Let’s leave such underhanded tactics to the Republican party.

That being said, I’m disappointed by the Glassman campaign’s efforts to limit recording of last night’s public event. I can appreciate wanting to protect your candidate from being immortalized in embarassing video and audio, but Glassman is putting himself up for a national Senate seat. He has already made headlines by refusing to commit to debates against fellow Democratic primary candidates. That coupled with this latest flaptrap cultivates a perception amongst undecided voters that Glassman can’t handle unscripted situations — or, worse yet, that he isn’t interested in publicly interacting with colleagues and opponents who disagree with him.

Rodney Glassman may be campaigning to be the Democratic Party’s Scott Brown, but his attempts to control being caught unscripted in a “gotcha” moment is a little less Scott Brown and a little more Sarah Palin, who routinely barred press and pre-screened questions at her campaign events.

As a U.S. Senator, Glassman will have open mics contantly shoved into his face. He will have to debate Republicans and fellow Democrats in a cogent and compelling manner so as to best represent the interests of Arizonans on the Senate floor. Political opponents with greater clout and saavy than Randy Parraz will try to stage political ambushes with more dire consequences. I (honestly) have no opinion on whether or not Glassman is qualified to be our next senator, and as a hardcore Democrat, I support any Democrat over John McCain (or ultra-right-wing J.D. Hayworth). But, from a political strategy standpoint, if Glassman hopes to have a shot at the Senate this year, he can’t afford to appear ill-prepared for the rigors — and the unrelenting spotlight — of this job. 

Yet, sadly, even if we take nothing else from last night’s drama, we learn from his reluctance to be filmed that even Glassman has doubts about his own readiness for the big leagues. How, than, can he hope to convince the rest of us?

Cross-posted: Blog for Arizona

S. Carolina State Senator Calls Nikki Haley (and Obama) a “Raghead”

S. Carolina State Senator Nikki Haley

S. Carolina State Senator, John “Jake” Knotts, Jr., called fellow Republican State Senator Nikki Haley (and President Obama) a “raghead” on an Internet talk show on Thursday night. Haley is the GOP frontrunner in the state’s Republican gubernatorial primary, and Knotts supports one of Haley’s opponents. Knotts said:

“We already got one raghead in the White House,” John M. “Jake” Knotts Jr. said on the Internet talk show “Pub Politics,” according to the State newspaper. “We don’t need another in the governor’s mansion.”

(Knotts has since apologized, claiming that the remark was made as part of an “SNL”-style joke. As if, somehow, that makes it less racist and offensive.)

Haley has faced some seriously crazy opposition in her race, both as a woman and as a South Asian-American. She’s currently embroiled in a salacious smear campaign involving unverfiable claims that she cheated on her husband with men who support her political opponents.

And now, Haley is being labelled “raghead” — a racial and religious slur frequently lobbed at Muslim- and South Asian-Americans — based solely on the colour of her skin.

Really, I don’t know how the GOP could ever try to claim that they are the party of inclusion.

Act Now! This page contains a link to a contact form where you can let State Senator Jake Knotts know that his comments are racist. If you’re GOP, you can donate to State Senator Haley’s campaign.

Texas Attack Ad Plays on anti-Asian Stereotypes

Here is my latest post over at Change.org:

Texas Attack Ad Plays on Anti-Asian Stereotypes

Republican Governor Rick Perry of Texas is running in a tight race for re-election this year, with recent polls finding that Perry is just 4 points ahead of his Democratic opponent, Houston mayor Bill White. And as with any heated election, attack ads are flying back and forth across the Texas airwaves. But one ad paid for by the Perry campaign is sowing anger and confusion among the Asian-American community.

In the ad (titled “Man on the Run,” a response to White’s biographical ad called “Man on the Move“), White is criticized for (supposedly) hiding a history of liberal politics. For example, the ad accuses White of “running from his support for Obamacare,” while showing an image of White juxtaposed against a similarly-posed one of President Obama. The ad goes on to accuse White of “running from his shady foreign business deals,” and shows images of him lunching with a group of Middle Eastern businessmen. Such imagery is clearly trying to portray White as untrustworthy and out-of-touch.

And then perhaps the ad’s weirdest moment happens. White is shown standing next to popular Houston Rockets basketball player and Chinese national, Yao Ming. Floating over this screen is the charge that White is “running from his support of cap-and-trade.”

What? How is a photograph taken with Yao Ming supposed to make White appear particularly sinister? And what does such a photo have to do with cap-and-trade?

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