Politics: AAPIs leading the Red-to-Blue Charge

October 30, 2012

Democrat Mark Takano speaks to workers during his campaign to win a US House seat in California 41st district.

There are a record number of Asian American and Pacific
Islanders (AAPIs) running for Congress in this year, according to the Asian
Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS). The advocacy
group reported
29 AAPIs were running as of June, more than triple the number of candidates who
ran in 2010 (eight ran that year). Among these
races, several are competitive, bringing a real possibility that AAPI
representation in Congress will increase. 

One such race is happening in the 41st district of
California, where Mark Takano, a Japanese American, could become the first non-white,
openly gay member of Congress. Born and raised in Riverside, California, Takano
hails from a family that was sent to a Japanese internment camp during World
War II. 

“I can look back to the history of my own group back to the
internment camps, when they had no voice in government,” Takano said in an
interview. “Now we have a more direct voice, and more representation in
Congress. It is important that there is a diversity of representation in all
aspects of government.”

Since his childhood, Takano felt that public service was his
calling. He worked as a public school teacher for 23 years, and first
ran for Congress in 1992. He ran again
in 1994, but lost the general election by fewer than 550
votes in one of the closest Congressional races in California history. This
year, however, Takano has high hopes for victory and is included in the
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's "Red-to-Blue List,"
which targets close races that could flip Republican-controlled districts to

District is based in San Bernardino County in Southern California. It is
a new district that was created after California redrew districts following the
2010 census. The old district is currently represented by Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), who is retiring.  The new 41st district has a 23.9-percentage-point advantage for Democrats over Republicans based
on registered voters.

Although the re-districting process has given Takano an
electoral advantage, he also credits the help of AAPI leaders as an important supporting
factor in his campaign.   

Takano said Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) was the first person from
Congress to endorse him, while Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) raised money for his
campaign through the Asian American Action Fund (Triple-A Fund),  an AAPI-focused political action committee.

Dr. Manan Trivedi, a veteran of the Iraq War, hopes to win Pennsylvania's 6th district.

Another potential red-to-blue district with an AAPI
candidate is Pennsylvania’s 6th district, where the Democratic
candidate is Dr. Manan Trivedi, an Indian American Iraq War veteran.

Trivedi’s parents immigrated to the US from India and he was
born and raised in Fleetwood, Pennsylvania. He went to college and medical
school before embarking on a naval career that took him to the front lines of
Iraq as a battalion surgeon. He attributes his time in Iraq as a turning point
that boosted his drive to enter politics.

“I was the one of the first ones to arrive in the front line
of war,” Trivedi said in an interview. One of the reasons he said he is running “is so there can be
a veteran perspective in Congress.”

Trivedi also believes his experience as a doctor who has
first-hand knowledge of the US healthcare system is another reason for his desire to

Like Takano, Trivedi is a beneficiary of
re-districting. A big chunk of the redrawn district is one that Obama carried
by 10 points in 2008, according to Trivedi. Many voters are also new to this district,
so they have not had much experience with him, nor his Republican opponent,
Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-PA). This helps mitigate an incumbency advantage that
is typical in House races. In addition, Gerlach has voted along tea party lines
during his term, which could hurt his support within the moderate district.

In his campaign, Trivedi says he hasn't felt any barriers due to
his ethnic background even though only 12.9 percent of the people in his
district identify as being a racial minority.

“I think people recognize that I was born and raised here,”
he said. “They respect my roots and respect the diversity I can
bring to Congress. In this district, there isn’t much of that pushback, I think
I have an established background in the military and as a doctor and people
recognize that.”

Dr. Ami Bera, who is running in California’s 7th district, is a red-to-blue candidate who has outraised his incumbent opponent
for nearly every quarter since declaring his candidacy. Bera has yielded $2.7
million for this election cycle, while his opponent, Rep. Dan Lundgren (R-CA),
has managed only $2.2 million.

Bera’s parents immigrated to the US from India over 50 years
ago, and he was born and raised in Southern California. He has served as an
associate dean for admissions at the University of California-Davis School of
Medicine, and was the former Chief Medical Officer for the County of

Bera first ran for Congress in 2010, when he lost a close
race to Lundgren. In this year’s rematch, Bera has gotten significant press
coverage due to his fundraising prowess. He has also gained the support of
AAPI groups. Like both Trivedi and Takano, he is a candidate targeted by Rep.
Honda’s Triple-A Fund. 

These three candidates, along with Tammy Duckworth in the 8th district of Illinois, are the AAPI candidates being targeted by the Democrats in their red-to-blue campaign.  Only Election
Day can confirm whether they will make it.

The AAPI community has a history of lower-than-average voter
turnout and under-representation in Congress. 
But there is hope that significant progress can be achieved during this
election. If these races go the right way, the AAPI community will be able to
have more voices in Congress, contributing for the next two years to making our
country a more perfect union.


Nadia Hussain

Political Blogger

S. Nadia Hussain is a Bangladeshi American activist, poet,
blogger and photographer with a passion for human rights work and progressive
politics. She lives in Oakland, CA, where she works with refugee and emerging API communities. 

She is actively involved with South Asian, Muslim and API organizations. She is also involved in Democratic politics and will serve as a delegate from CA's 13th Congressional District to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC this Fall.