The Asian Town Hall was a beginning of sorts for organized conservative Republican Asian American representation in California.
Before Michelle Steel, vice chair of the California Board of Equalization and chair of Newt Gingrich’s campaign in the state, organized the town hall, as many as half of the elected officials who attended the event had never been contacted by the Republican Party for anything, a representative of her office said.
Her husband, Shawn Steel, the Republican National Committeeman from California, described the surprising findings Republicans made when contacting Asian American elected officials.
“We started off in Los Angeles, we hit over 40 locally elected Republican Asian officials,” said her husband. “Nobody knew we had 40 locally elected Asian officials who were actually registered Republicans in the Los Angeles Orange County area. “
He said many elected Asian Republican officials might not have even known their colleagues were Republican, too.
“It’s really nice having all of these folks meet each other and talk to each other and say, ‘Gosh, I see you at all of these government meetings and I never knew you were a Republican, and that’s one of the side benefits.”
Republicans want the Asian American vote in California, which represents about 10 percent of the total now, Steel said.
“Part of the burning desire for the California Republican party is to radically change our demographics. One of the largest and fastest growing populations in California are Asian Americans.”
But the biggest buzz at the Republican California Convention Asian Town Hall was for Newt Gingrich, who appeared as a last-minute “special guest.”
He used the opportunity to outline a platform based on energy prices, jobs and a strong foreign policy that he thought would appeal to Asian American voters and to take some swipes at President Barack Obama. He never mentioned his rival Republican presidential nominee hopefuls Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.
“This is where I feel we have outreach to everybody in the Asian American community: I favor tax policy and a regulatory policy that maximizes jobs, because I want to be the paycheck president and Obama has successfully become the food stamp president,” he said.
Besides job creation, Gingrich said he wants to seek energy independence from the Middle East and drive the price of gas down across the country.
“I’m just trying to get back to a pre-Obama world,” he said.
Gingrich also outlined a kind of homegrown foreign policy strategy, in which American citizens with ties to other nations could be tapped to help educate the federal government about foreign countries.
“I think we need strength in foreign policy, knowledgeable strength,” he said. “This is one area where the United States government dramatically under uses the assets we have in the Asian American community and in other communities. We have a greater ability to have a sophisticated understanding of other countries than any other place in the world. All we have to do is talk to our own citizens. We have huge talent pools that could help us understand countries around the world.”
Because of Gingrich’s special appearance and time constraints, the event never became the proper town hall--complete with question from the audience of about 100 people--it was intended to be.
Rather, it was more of a chance for younger and older Asian American elected officials from around the state to stand up and introduce themselves, speak briefly about their experiences in office and express their hopes to involve more Asian Americans Republican in politics.
Placentia Mayor Jeremy Yamaguchi, the youngest mayor in California at 23, spoke about the need for the Republican Party to pay attention to posterity.
“I’m very excited to be young and getting involved in the party,” he said. “Being so recently brought into the party and this mission and our cause, it warms my heart to be able to go out and talk to young people because we really need to focus on people who will come behind us, whether for Senate, assembly, Congress or city council.”
Allen Ishida, chairman of the Tulare County Board of Supervisors, whose family ties in that county date back to 1909, also talked about the need for mentors to young people in the Republican Party.
“It is our responsibility to mentor younger people to take our jobs, to have qualified people to step into our position,” he said.