November 07, 2004
Asian-Americans in politics

Interesting article about how Asian-Americans have made political inroads in Houston.

Hubert Vo's strong showing against entrenched state Rep. Talmadge Heflin in Tuesday's election is the latest evidence of the rise of Asian-Americans in Harris County politics since 1994, the year state Rep. Martha Wong was elected to Houston City Council.

Vo won by a handful of votes Tuesday, but it will be at least today, when absentee and provisional votes are counted, before the final outcome of that race is known.

Vo, a Vietnamese immigrant, would be the second Asian-American in the state House, joining Wong, R-Houston, a Chinese-American elected in 2002 and re-elected Tuesday.

Two Asian-Americans Gordon Quan and M.J. Khan sit on the Houston City Council. Quan is from China, and Khan is from Pakistan.

Besides holding office, Asian-Americans have become more active in the area's political parties, with five Asian-Americans from Harris County attending the Democratic National Convention earlier this year about 10 percent of the county's delegates. Asian-Americans also worked in Republican campaigns, though none from here attended the national convention.

"These immigrants are ... becoming players in our political system," said Nestor Rodriguez, a professor at the University of Houston. "They come from the smallest of the four major racial and ethnic groups in the Houston area. ... It speaks to their ability to enter the political system, become sophisticated, draw support and become part of the political mainstream."

About 5.1 percent of Harris County residents identified themselves in the 2000 Census as "Asian-American," a sweeping category that encompasses people tracing their roots to eastern Asia (including Japan, China and Korea), Southeast Asia (including Vietnam and Thailand) or South Asia (including India and Pakistan). The percentage has doubled since the 1990 Census.

And, according to the census, nearly 48 percent of those who identified themselves as foreign-born Asians said they had arrived in the United States as recently as the 1990s. Many of those are concentrated in southwest Houston and Harris County, near the Fort Bend County line. That's also where Vo took on Heflin, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Whether Vo ultimately prevails, that he even came close to unseating a powerful incumbent indicates a transformation in Houston supported by immigration, Rodriguez said.

"That's very telling," he said. "These are consequences of the racial and ethnic transformation in some districts. It's fascinating because things are changing so rapidly. There's a demographic transition in that district, and it's changing the face of the city."

That's a big opportunity, especially for Democrats since much of that area is not currently very hospitable to them.

In the heart of the district, where street signs are posted in English, Chinese and Vietnamese, entrepreneur Dan Nip says Vo was until recently relatively unknown among the local community leadership.

But like other ethnic groups, Asians tend to vote for themselves, says Nip, an accountant and president of the Chinatown Development Corp.

Nip, a businessman who emigrated from China decades ago, says he did that when he noticed a Vietnamese name on Tuesday's ballot in a judicial race he knew nothing about.

"I didn't even know who he was, but he got my vote," said Nip, who developed the sleek Hong Kong City Mall on Bellaire.

That would have been Zone Nguyen, a fine candidate who unfortunately did not win. One does have to be a little careful when voting on a name, of course.

Nip and other Asian-Americans said though they may differ on some political issues, Asians are united by a strong work ethic, an entrepreneurial spirit and the common struggles that immigrants often face.

Khan says he believes that the rise of Asian-Americans in local politics is an untapped treasure for the established political parties.

"I think it's a real opportunity for both political parties," he said. "I see very little outreach by the parties themselves toward the Asian community. They're forgetting this community is banded together, they tend to work together as a group, and they are a very well-informed community. And I think that whichever party will reach out to them will benefit a great deal."

Khan said Asian-American voters here have not yet cemented any strong party affiliations and prefer to evaluate individual candidates.

"We don't hate each other based on our party affiliation. ... We will find Asian voters in the same constituency in the same precinct sometimes voting for a Democrat and another person who's a Republican just because of other factors.

"I think Asian-Americans are trying to figure out which party suits them. ... By and large, people still are not finding, 'This (party) is my home.' "

Khan's opinion is supported by a Houston Chronicle poll of 800 registered voters conducted by Zogby International last month. Asian-American voters preferred President Bush over Sen. John Kerry, 52 percent to 41 percent, but leaned toward Democrats in their congressional races.

Since Asian-Americans are still a small group, that lack of outreach is not too surprising. Once again, though, this is a big opportunity for Democrats, who could use a few more cohesive blocs on their side.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 07, 2004 to Local politics | TrackBack

Any news on how the Vo vote count is coming? I scanned the online version of the Chronicle this morning and didn't see anything. There was a disturbing post about the vote count over on Burnt Orange Report.

Posted by: Kent on November 7, 2004 1:33 PM

The vote count in the Heflin-Vo race was scheduled to have begun at 9:00 a.m. today. Ballot board members spent yesterday afternoon preparing the absentee and provisional ballots for scanning and tabulation.

There appear to be a limited number of both types of uncounted ballots that perttain to the HD 149 race. The Heflin camp was apparently given inside information from the Republican County Clerk that some 189 provisional ballots apply. The number of mail-in ballots has been variously reported as 195, 193, and 130.

The "final" count should be known this afternoon. It will almost certainly be followed by calls from the "losing" campaign for a recount and may also become the subject of litigation to determine whether any of the allegations ranging from incompetence to vote tampering against Harris Co. officials are true.

Posted by: Embree Timlin on November 8, 2004 9:13 AM