Tue. Jul 23rd, 2024

Vince Fong brings Asian representation to central California as McCarthy’s replacement

By 37ci3 Jun29,2024



Over the past year, Roy Sekine has volunteered and helped organize fundraisers to ensure that Vince Fong becomes the first Asian American congressman to represent his hometown of Bakersfield in California’s 20th district.

Sekine, a Japanese American and retired technology services supervisor, said he believes Fong embodies the changing values ​​and politics of an increasingly engaged Asian electorate. rising crime rates and disillusioned with the cost of living and the state’s ruling party.

“Most Asians in Congress are Democrats. They always talk about Trump, but they never talk about crime,” Sekine, 64, said. “I hate the targeting of Asian seniors. I want an orderly society.”

Fong, a former California State Assembly member, was sworn in earlier this month to succeed former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, securing a crucial six-seat Republican majority in the House. Endorsed by McCarthy and former President Donald Trump, Fong ran on a staunchly conservative platform to rein in spending, cut taxes and strengthen law enforcement to fight crime.

Fong, 44, says progressives have “moved in an antithetical direction” to principles important to Asian Americans.

California’s 20th Congressional District covers a number of inland agricultural centers from Fresno to Fong’s hometown of Bakersfield. the reddest regions in the state. McCarthy represented districts in the region from 2007 until last December, when he resigned after being ousted as speaker of the House. Fong, who served as McCarthy’s district director for more than a decade, won a special election in May to serve out the remainder of her mentor’s term. Fong will face Sheriff Mike Boudreaux again in the November general election, whom he narrowly defeated in the Republican primary runoff, and is likely to be elected to a full two-year term beginning in January.

For Fong, the son of Chinese immigrants with little interest in politics, running for office was not a career choice he had considered. He said he didn’t realize the “political bug” until he met McCarthy after his freshman year at the University of California, Los Angeles, while interning with former Republican Bill Thomas.

“He opened my eyes to making good public policy,” Fong said of McCarthy. “He saw something in me that I didn’t see in me, the qualities of a good leader.”

In 2016, Fong became the first Asian-American to represent Bakersfield in the state Legislature, a milestone in a state where Asian political representation is generally clustered around urban centers such as Los Angeles County and the San Francisco Bay Area. Majority of California’s Asian population.

Asian Americans in the 20th District are simply made up 7% of population. But many generations and communities of Asian Americans have left their mark on the Central Valley, Fong said, from the Hmong in north Fresno to Filipino farmers. 1965 vintage holiday at Delano, and Chinese immigrants who built the nation’s first transcontinental railroad in the late 19th century. “It’s an honor to be the one to share their story,” she said. “I never thought I’d be a pioneer.”

California’s farm belt has also become a bastion of Asian American Republican politics and civic activism. Republican Karen Goh of Chinese descent is Bakersfield’s first Asian-American mayor. Vong Mouanoutoua, also a Republican, is the first Hmong mayor of Clovis, Fresno County, home to the second-largest Hmong population in the country.

“Our needs in the Central Valley are not unique, but they are more pronounced because of the dominance of LA and San Francisco representation,” Mouanoutoua said.

He said Asian-American voters in the Central Valley generally support lower taxes and cost of living, increased access to water for drought-stricken farms, as well as small business protections and free speech. “It’s not about right versus left, Republicans or Democrats,” Mouanoutoua said, adding that faith and family are important pillars in the lives of Asian families. “It’s about values ​​and a sense of right and wrong.”

Christine Chen, executive director of the nonprofit group Asian Pacific Islander American Voice, said the recent success of Asian American Republicans in the Central Valley shows that Asian Americans are independent voters who prioritize issues over party affiliation.

“We have always said that the AAPI electorate is up for grabs,” he said. “It’s always based on the issues and the relationship the voters have with the candidate.”

According to exit polls from the last two elections, the majority of Asian American voters support Democratic candidates, but the share of voters who support GOP candidates increased From 26% in 2018 to 32% in 2022. The number of Chinese immigrants registered as Republicans in San Francisco has increased. 60% since the beginning of the pandemic. This trend is also seen among those running for office: Many first-time GOP Chinese-American candidates won big in down-ballot races in San Francisco this spring.

Janelle Wong, senior researcher at AAPI Data, said that while she did not deny that Asian Americans were shifting to the right, the majority remained Democrats, and data on that shift required further investigation.

“What’s confusing is that as the focus on Donald Trump and the xenophobic rhetoric of Republicans has increased, so has the focus on anti-Asian hate crimes,” Wong said. “However, Donald Trump received a higher share of the Asian American vote in 2020 than in 2016.”

Meanwhile, Fong said his main concerns in Congress are securing the U.S.-Mexico border against human trafficking and drug smuggling, as well as expanding domestic oil, gas and renewable energy production to support his district’s business owners, farmers and ranchers.

“Representing my hometown in Congress is something I never imagined,” he said. “Now the real work begins.”

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