Chinese American politicians in US going Republican

By Rong Xiaoqing Source:Global Times Published: 2019/12/5 23:28:40

Photo: IC

The recent mayoral election in San Francisco offered a surprise, but it was not about the winner. London Breed was reelected, underlining her status as the first black woman and the second woman to be the mayor of the Golden City. Nothing unusual there. 

The candidate who came in second in a seven-person race was the real story. Her name is Ellen Lee Zhou, an immigrant who came to the US from Taishan, South China's Guangdong Province, in 1986 as a ninth-grader. A social worker with no political experience, Zhou first became politically active in 2017 during protests by grassroots Chinese against the proliferation of marijuana shops in San Francisco after it was legalized for recreational use through a California state referendum. In 2018, encouraged by fellow activists, she ran for mayor for the first time as an independent candidate and came fifth among nine candidates with 4.3 percent of the votes. The top Republican candidate got 2.9 percent. 

This year, Zhou returned as a candidate who identified herself as Republican and a zealous Trump supporter. She received 13.9 percent of the vote this time. Although far behind the 70.3 percent    Democratic Breed won, it's a big number in a city like San Francisco where the number of registered Republican voters are outweighed by Democrats about 7:1. The last time a registered Republican candidate was elected mayor of San Francisco was in 1955. 

I covered a fundraising event for Zhou in April. It was clear that she sincerely agrees with the views of President Trump and likes his populist campaigning style. She condemned the political establishment for corruption, the liberal politicians for squandering taxpayers' money to offer benefits to homeless people, and claimed that Chinese immigrants were keeping the city from going to hell. She then promised to donate half of her mayoral salary to pay for grassroots activism if she won. Many of her supporters seemed to me to be on the extreme end of the conservative spectrum. One of them called her a female Trump.

Zhou's election performance may be a sign of things to come in next year's presidential election. A significant minority of voters in the diehard Democratic city of San Francisco gave their backing to a politically inexperienced, lightly funded and relatively anonymous Trump supporter — it suggests that the rebellion against liberal doctrines and the old-style political establishment is still boiling along. If that is repeated elsewhere and is sustained, it could mean Trump gets reelected next year. 

The Asian vote could be crucial in some places.

Zhou is not the only Chinese American conservative participating in elections this year. In New York, Dao Yin - who has worked in a number of industries including technology, finance and restaurants, has just announced he will try to become the next Queens borough president. And in Florida, Yukong Zhao, who had been an executive at Siemens, is now running for Congress. 

Both men grew up in China, and, like Zhou, were not involved in politics until recently when the resistance against left-leaning policies on issues like education, homelessness, public safety and social welfare prompted more and more new Chinese immigrants to mobilize. 

Yin first appeared in the public arena in the protests against the New York City's plan to build a homeless center in a residential neighborhood and the attempt to abandon an entrance exam for the top public high schools. Chinese children had been doing particularly well in the exam.

Zhao was a major force behind the war against Harvard University for its racial admission policy that many Chinese parents deem to be favoring black and Hispanic students over their own children. 

To be sure, these public official wannabes are still novices in politics and their chances of winning maybe slim. But until now a conservative Chinese was largely invisible in this country. Most Chinese American elected officials nationwide are Democrats. Asians in the US have overwhelmingly voted Democrat over the past two decades and the party has assumed it has the community's loyalty. That complacency may be ill-advised. 

"If we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation," warned Joe Biden, former vice president, who is running to be the Democratic presidential candidate against Trump next November. In the Asian community, that fundamental change seems to be happening frighteningly quickly.

The author is a New York-based journalist and Alicia Patterson fellow.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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