Asian Americans Run for Political Office in Arizona

But don't mistake growing Asian American representation for a parallel swell of progressive race politics.

By Julianne Hing Sep 20, 2010

Asian Americans are running for political office in Arizona in higher numbers, busting down doors to get a foot in the state’s political machine.

The Arizona Republic reports this weekend that four Asian Americans ran for public office this election season, and three have advanced to the general election.

Big news for Asian Americans in Arizona, where they are just 2.6 percent of the population. But don’t mistake increasingly diverse representation for a similar surge of progressive race politics in the state. Three of the four Asian Americans seeking public office in Arizona are Republicans, some with some truly dispiriting views.

Barry Wong, who thankfully lost his primary for a seat on the Arizona Corporation Commission, proposed checking the immigration status of anyone who wanted to get connected to the state’s power supply. It would have been a cost-saving initiative, naturally, and Wong considers access to electricity and gas "a service," not "a right."

Kimberly Yee is running for re-election for her seat in the Arizona State House of Representatives. She’s the first Asian American woman to hold such a position, and her website proudly proclaims her Republican views: anti-gay marriage, anti-abortion, anti-immigrant, anti-gun control.

The Arizona Republic reports that Yee was the first Asian American woman to serve in the Arizona state legislature, fifty years after an Asian American man first won that seat in 1946. Wing F. Ong, a Chinese immigrant who started out in Arizona as a grocer and went on to become an attorney, eventually won a seat in the Arizona House of Representatives in 1946, where he was also the first Asian American in the country to join a state legislature. (Also: Ong was my great-uncle.)

Michael Chan, also a Chinese American, is running for Justice of the Peace for the San Marcos Precinct of Arizona, which covers Chandler and Sun Lakes, and proclaims himself both "Conservative," and "Non-biased" on his website. The fourth Asian American candidate is Arif Kazmi, a well-respected engineer running for the Central Arizona Water Conservation District. Kazmi is a leader in the local Pakistani community. He’s the lone Democrat of the bunch.

Don’t go expecting some sea change in Arizona politics with this new crop of public servants. But most interesting where Arizona and people of color are concerned, all of these candidates are the descendants of immigrants, or are immigrants themselves–exactly the people the state is trying to lock out with its harsh immigration laws. Some of these folks even hold anti-immigrant views themselves. And perhaps therein lies the beauty of democracy: identity is by no means an indicator of a person’s politic, and everyone’s got the freedom to be a race hustler. Too bad Arizona’s white anti-immigrant politicians have yet to figure that one out–they might have the support of more people of color if they weren’t so busy trying to seal the doors to new immigrants.