US polls to watch for Fil-Ams

Cherie M Querol Moreno

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More Filipino Americans are expected to exercise their right to vote this year with opportunities opening up for aspirants and operatives

FIL-AM CONTENDERS. Hawaii Senate Pres Donna Mercado Kim is the front-runner in the race for the first congressional district, with state Sen. William Espero among contenders. Rob Bonta will defend his landmark seat in the California Assembly.

CALIFORNIA, USA – This year will bring midterm elections, the halfway point to the presidential race in 2016. Though the number of voters who go to the polls typically dips at this time, more Filipino Americans (Fil-Ams) are expected to exercise their right to vote this year with opportunities opening up for aspirants and operatives.For the first time in the history of this country, for example, a Filipino American woman is the front-runner for a seat in the United States Congress. Donna Mercado Kim, who cracked the glass ceiling in the Hawaii State Senate that elected her president in January 2013, is acknowledged as the top contender for first congressional seat vacated by U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Colleen Hanabusa.  

”I believe I am that (strong and experienced) leader and have the record to prove it,” Kim says on her website.

If elected, Kim, a Democrat, would  be the first Fil-Am woman in the Capitol. She would join Congress members Robert Scott of Virginia, a Democrat, and Steve Austria of Ohio, a Republican, the first Fil-Ams from the mainland elected to the federal legislature.  

Austria had announced following redistricting that he would not run for re-election to the 113th Congress.  

Remapping, however, may prove propitious to elected Fil-Ams coveting graduation from local service.

Distantly near

Election for District 5 in California’s San Mateo County is not till 2016, but the race replicates presidential buzz among county players.

San Mateo County last year officially adopted new boundaries, one month after the Board of Supervisors approved it, as part of the decennial process of redistricting.  

Residents voted in 2012 to join the other 57 counties in California to elect its board of supervisors by district instead of by county or at-large.  Despite opposition from the sitting board, which asserted that it would reduce accountability while promoting ”special interest.”

Proponents of district voting, meanwhile, said the move would ”level the playing field” by giving ethnic minorities equal opportunity to seek office in districts where they are populous, without having to spend as much if they had to campaign throughout the county.

County candidates reportedly spend an average of $40,000 to reach the county’s 340,000 voters.  Reduced to 80 percent of that number in a by-district race, campaign war chests would considerably shrink as well.

District 5, home to Daly City and Colma, has three elected Fil-Ams, none too shy to admit looking beyond town governance.  In fact newest Daly City Council member Ray Buenaventura, a private defender in the county, and his predecessor Michael Guingona, a criminal defense lawyer and the seniormost Fil-Am elected in the West Bay, are up for re-election in November, along with Joanne del Rosario, council member in neighboring Colma.

With longtime Supervisor Adrienne Tissier, herself a former Daly City Council member, termed out this year, pundits have fixated thus far on a potential face-off between Guingona and David Canepa, to whom the council awarded the mayorship last month. Canepa comes from a family prominent for its civic participation  His mother Dee Canepa is former head of the Daly City – Colma Chamber of Commerce.  

Daly City continues to mystify analysts for struggling to produce more FilAms in elected office and have representation beyond local borders. Currently elected are Jefferson Union High School Board of Trustees member Katherine Zarate Dulaney, a lawyer whose term expires in November, and Joseph Otayde, who ran unopposed and will be up for re-election in 2015.

The City of Alameda has fared far better, having elected Tony Daysog back to the Council in November 2012 and delivered former Council member Rob Bonta to the State Assembly, the first Fil-Am in the body.

Bonta immediately reciprocated his supporters by authoring AB 123 requiring schools to instruct the contributions of Filipino Americans in California’s farm labor movement, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed in October.

Bonta has maintained visibility through his website, raising $40,000 for Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda relief while inviting friends to help retire his earlier campaign debt before gunning for re-election in November. That done, he’ll have proven his landmark win was destiny.    

Heavily visible

Vallejo also has a leg up on Daly City, as the North Bay town with the most Filipino population and the most number of Filipinos calling shots.

Vallejo boasts three Fil-Am members on the City Council, the latest being Rozzana Verder Aliga, a former board of education trustee, who won handily in the last election. She joins Jess Malgapo and Bob Sampayan.

The town’s success surprises few longtime watchers of FilAm empowerment. After all the first known Filipino American elected to the county Board of Supervisors was Larry Asera of Solano County, home of Vallejo, two bridges north of San Francisco.

Equally well represented is Union City, whose Council member Pat Gacoscos confirmed she is defending her seat in November after colleague Jim Navarro topped his re-election race last year.  

Also up for re-election is Myrna de Vera, who won her first race for the Hercules City Council four years ago.  

”I have not yet decided whether I will run for re-election,” the mother of three sons told PNews.


Meanwhile San Francisco continues to thwart Fil-Am political ambition.

The region’s queen city still has only two elected Filipino Americans: Superior Court Judge Ronald Quidachay and San Francisco Board of Education trustee Hydra Mendoza-McDonnell, who is also the mayor’s adviser on education.  

Perhaps a shift is in the works with a new generation of leaders gaining visibility in San Francisco with the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns, which has been critical of the Aquino administration and keeps distance from established authorities.

Keenly watched in California are state elections seemingly pitting two developing power sectors.

San Francisco Supervisors David Campos and David Chiu want to represent District 17 in the State Assembly, while state Senators Leland Yee of District 8 and Alex Padilla of the 20th District both are bidding for Secretary of State, a seat once held by March Fong Eu from 1975 until 1993, after which she was appointed ambassador to Micronesia. Incumbent Debra Bowen is termed out this year.

How these elections end will determine whether Latinos or Chinese Americans are better organized, which region of the state holds sway, and how much ethnicity plays in a political contest. More importantly, it will define Fil-Ams either as power players or bystanders. –

Cherie M Querol Moreno is a longtime journalist based in San Francisco, California, and the Executive Editor of Philippine News, the oldest national Filipino American weekly newspaper in the United States. 

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