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Vietnamese American candidates score big in Orange County elections

Vietnamese American candidates score big in Orange County elections
Pedestrians walk past a row of political signs and posters along Bolsa Avenue in Westminster. In Orange County, 24 people of Vietnamese descent ran for public office; 13 were poised to win. (Mark Boster / For The Times)

With a record 24 candidates running for political office in Orange County, Vietnamese Americans were set to score big.

On Tuesday, they did, with 13 of them poised to win elections — including in Westminster, the birthplace of Little Saigon, where four out of the five council seats will probably be held by immigrants with Vietnamese roots.

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“This is part of the patchwork of a changing O.C. for what representation looks like,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, professor of public policy and political science at UC Riverside.

Originally, a whopping 13 candidates competed for two seats in Westminster, with their backers unleashing a steady campaign of negative mailers. By late Wednesday, police officer Tai Do and businessman Chi Charlie Nguyen still led the pack — with nearly 420,000 ballots to be counted by the Orange County Registrar of Voters, according to officials.

Absentee and provisional ballots have generally favored Vietnamese Americans because so many citizens in their community register to vote this way, officials said.

“I am hopeful. I believe these ballots will lean in our favor based on past results,” Nguyen said Wednesday afternoon.

Of the 24 candidates, 13 shared the same last name: Nguyen. (The surname is pronounced “win.”)

“I haven’t heard anything about the name, no teasing, since I think overall, voters are concentrating on our background, our activities and service because they’re looking for leadership,” said Chi Charlie Nguyen, who was elected to the Midway City Sanitary District board of directors in 2016 and now serves as its president.

The new council majority in Westminster will unite to keep neighborhoods safe and help businesses prosper, along with the city’s nearly 92,000 residents, said incumbent Mayor Tri Ta, who claimed victory Tuesday.

“Our city will see the new council focused on serving everyone,” he said.

Sergio Contreras, born and raised in Westminster and now the only non-Vietnamese on the council, said he welcomes the new faces.

“What makes Westminster so great is our diversity. At the end of the day, we all want a great education for our children; we all want to feel safe. I’m excited for the new colleagues,” he said.

Vietnamese Americans are also likely the majority on the Westminster School District board with wins for a political novice, Xavier Nguyen, along with incumbent Khanh Nguyen, who ran unopposed. They are expected to join current board member Frances Nguyen.

Other Vietnamese Americans who won or appeared to win Tuesday, based on unofficial ballot results posted by the Orange County Registrar of Voters, include: Janet Nguyen, a California state senator who coasted to reelection in the 34th District; Tyler Diep, vice mayor of Westminster elected to the 72nd Assembly district; Michael Vo, Fountain Valley mayor who was reelected to the City Council; Phat Bui, an incumbent reelected to the Garden Grove City Council; Thu-Ha Nguyen, incumbent reelected to the Garden Grove City Council; Lan Quoc Nguyen, Garden Grove school board member who ran unopposed for reelection; Dina Nguyen, a former Garden Grove council member reelected to the Orange County Water District; and Andrew Nguyen, a former Westminster School District board member elected to the Midway City Sanitary District board. Almost all the winners are Republicans.

“As I return to Sacramento as one of only three Asian Americans in the State Senate, I understand the added responsibility placed on me to serve as a role model,” said Janet Nguyen, the Vietnamese American with the most political experience in the Golden State.

Ramakrishnan said Republicans in Orange County have made more progress attracting Asian Americans, even as the fast-growing group increasingly votes Democrat around the U.S.

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“In order for the Democratic Party to make inroads with Asian Americans in Orange County, they need to have more Asian Americans run and win as Democrats,” he said. “Since the Republicans lost the presidential election in 2012, they overwhelmingly boosted their outreach to diverse communities, including Asian communities, and it’s paying dividends.”

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