John Chiang had hoped to be California’s first Asian American governor. But after coming up short in a distant fifth place finish in last year’s primary, the 56-year-old Democrat took some time away from politics.
Now, he says, he’s ready to help other candidates of his background win more contested seats and increase their political clout nationwide.
In an email to supporters Thursday, Chiang said he’s launching a political action committee aimed at electing Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders across the country, with a particular focus on congressional seats.
“We want to build a more inclusive America. For too long, Asian Americans have not had the political infrastructure like so many other communities to be as successful in the political arena,” Chiang said in an interview.
The PAC, ElectAAPI.org, hopes to amass a seven-figure war chest for the 2020 cycle and plans to give directly to federal candidates as well as use independent expenditures to influence races. The group also wants to help mobilize Asian American voters, the fastest growing racial group in the electorate.
Citing what it called “growing racism, xenophobia and intolerance being perpetuated by the GOP,” the PAC’s website said it will support only Democratic candidates.
Chiang, the son of Taiwanese immigrants, spent more than two decades in public office and won statewide races for controller and then treasurer, in part thanks to his low-key style and knack for retail politicking.
“I want to use my deep involvement and my history of building relationships to try to provide that outreach, that opportunity so that each Asian American candidate doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Chiang said. He hopes his new group can help sustain the momentum Asian Americans demonstrated in the midterms.
According to election eve polling from Asian American Decisions, Asian Americans reported an unprecedented level of engagement nationwide and broke decisively for Democratic candidates in congressional races.
Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor of public policy and political science at UC Riverside, says Asian Americans overwhelmingly supported Democrats both “in their votes and in their dollars” in 2018.
“This PAC is part of a larger trend over the last decade of Asian Americans getting more organized in terms of their campaign contributions and strategically deploying them around the country to get more Asian Americans elected.”
As Democrats look to defend their gains in the House in 2020, they’ll also need to engage voters in a number of Asian-heavy districts that flipped, such as Orange County’s 39th Congressional District, where Asian Americans make up about a third of residents.
There are currently 20 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders serving in Congress, a high water mark. Eight are from California, including newly elected Rep. TJ Cox, who is of Chinese and Filipino heritage.
Chiang says he wants his organization to focus on supporting Asian American candidates in tough races and is not opposed to weighing in during primaries.
“Obviously, we care about candidates who are going to stand up and fight on issues of immigration, on healthcare and education, so if there’s a clear difference on those issues we may very well jump in,” Chiang said. “We’re not looking to join the bandwagon. We’re trying to create a future.”
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