Asian American Pacific Islanders, or AAPI, are a rising political force, but they have yet to flex their full muscle.
Despite their status as the fastest growing ethnic group in the U.S., AAPI are simultaneously under-represented in politics: About 16 percent of the nation’s 22 million people identified as Asian and Pacific Islander Americans live in California, according to the latest census, but the community’s elected share of legislative officeholders are less than their numbers suggest.
At least 29 AAPI contenders ran in the primary elections for the Senate, Assembly and Congress, not including incumbents.
Eight members of the 120-member Legislature are members of the AAPI Legislative Caucus, or about 7 percent. Of the state’s eight constitutional officers, two are of the AAPI community — Treasurer Fiona Ma and Controller Betty Yee.
Despite its heft — its portion of the California community is eclipsed only by whites and Latinos — the AAPI represents largely untapped political power, and political observers are observing the 2022 election cycle closely.
By one count, at least 29 AAPI contenders ran in the primary elections for the Senate, Assembly and Congress, a figure that does not include the incumbent members of the AAPI Legislative Caucus, according to the secretary of state’s Certified List of Candidates.
In one contest, the 70th Assembly District in L.A’s southern coastal area, four AAPI contenders were on the ballot — Ted Bui, Kimberly Ho, Diedre Thu-Ha Nguyen and Tri Ta; all are Republicans except Nguyen, a Democrat. The district currently is represented by Patrick O’Donnell of Long Beach, a Democrat who is not seeking re-election. Nguyen and Bui will face each other in the November general election.
The most closely watched races are in Orange County, where two sets of AAPI candidates are running against one another in the general election.
One is Orange County’s congressional race between incumbent Rep. Michelle Steel, a Republican, and Democrat Jay Chen in the 45th Congressional District. Meanwhile, there is the contest between GOP incumbent Young Kim and Asif Mahmood, a Democrat, in the 39th CD, which includes parts of L.A., Orange and San Bernardino Counties.
In a 2021 poll by the Reflective Democracy Campaign, less than 1% of elected leaders in the U.S. are AAPI.
Regardless of the partisan outcome of these races this November, an AAPI candidate will hold a congressional seat.
AAPI have truly only been making substantial steps towards political inclusion and representation since 1992, which marked the year in which the first AAPI assumed office in the California Legislature since 1980, a 12-year period of extreme under-representation.
Further, it is important to note that California is a blue state, as well as a state with a high AAPI concentration, which suggests that it will typically exceed the representative curve in many other states across the country.
In a 2021 poll by the Reflective Democracy Campaign, less than 1% of elected leaders in the U.S. are AAPI, although the AAPI community comprises more than 6% of the population.
Editor’s Note: Lola Watts is a Capitol Weekly intern from UC Santa Barbara.