Last month, a collection of Asian-Americans groups, which one University of California professor compares to the Tea Party, helped defeat a bill designed to revive affirmative action in California’s college admissions. Now the Republican Party is hoping to capitalize on this unexpected break with Democrats.
“They’re an insurgent group very much like the Tea Party,” says UC Riverside political science professor Karthick Ramakrishnan. He also tells UC Berkley’s Alumni Magazine, “This might indeed snowball into something bigger.”
That’s what the California Republican Party is hoping. The RNC has three staffers working on Asian-American outreach in the state. Peter Kuo, who is running for state Senate tells Politico “This is a turning point for the Republican Party to really share their values with Asian-Americans.”
The core of the issue last month is access to California’s university system. Asian-Americans are only 14 percent of California’s population but they make up 38 percent of undergraduate admissions. This over-representation is based on hard work in school.
So when state Sen. Ed Hernandez proposed SCA5, a bill which would undercut proposition 209 and allow colleges to once again consider race as a factor in admissions, some Asian-American groups saw this as an effort that would ultimately be at their expense. Shien Biau Woo, co-founder of the 80-20 initiative, is a liberal Democrat, but he became one of the leading voices against the bill. “Politicians think that Asian Americans can always be stepped on” he says.
The bill also attracted strong opposition from several Chinese-American groups. Last month, the Chinese-American Institute for Empowerment held a forum in Cupertino, California opposing the bill. The forum, which was conducted in both English and Mandarin, featured a number of Republican speakers including Ward Connerly, author of Prop. 209. Connie Conway, a Republican from Visalia addressed the crowd saying “Why work hard when that hard work will not be rewarded?”
After the bill was defeated Woo, of the 80-20 initiative, sent an email saying SCA5 was dead and suggesting the defeat had Democrats “scared” and hoping to “avoid a disaster in this year’s elections.” Woo said the fear was a good thing and even added “To scare the Dem Party, we should register as Republicans.”
But some suggest the Tea Party like groundswell of opposition to SCA5, which some opponents labeled “skin color act 5” may not be representative of Asian-American attitudes in general. Laura Stoker, a UC Berkley political science professor points out that, according to a 2013 survey, Asian-Americans still support affirmative action by a 3 to 1 margin. There may be some common ground but Republicans still have a lot of work to do in order to win over Asian-Americans in California.