Clockwise from top left: Former President Bill Clinton representing Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes representing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.
Clockwise from top left: Former President Bill Clinton representing Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes representing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.

I recently had an opportunity to attend a Presidential Election Forum in Las Vegas with APACE (Asian Pacific Americans for Civic Engagement) members Bao-Tram Do, Akemi Matsumoto, Rick Polintan, and Stanley Tsao. This first-ever Presidential Election Forum for Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) was hosted by Asian Pacific Islander Americans Vote (APIAVote) and Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA). A key objective of the Forum was to mobilize these communities to strengthen their political power by increasing voter registration and working on get-out-the vote (GOTV) efforts.

Approximately 3,000 AAPIs from many U.S. cities assembled in the Colosseum at Caesars Palace to hear presidential nominees New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party and surrogates for Secretary Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Former president Bill Clinton represented Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes represented Republican presidential nominee Trump.

Congresswoman Judy Chu, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), and Congressman Mike Honda welcomed the group and urged everyone to become actively involved in this important election year. They said AAPIs are no longer invisible and can provide a margin of victory in key races. Congressman Honda said, “Not voting is not an option—AAPIs can swing this election.”

Comments by President Paul Cheung and Executive Director Kathy Chow of Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA), as written in the program booklet, captured the sentiments of many in the audience: “In 2016, we are the fastest growing group in the country. But we are still being treated like foreigners. Too often, our stories are reduced to stereotypes. While we are the highest educated racial group in the country, we see few Asian Americans in the executive suite. We are ignored as a potential political force. This needs to change and the time to take action is now!”

Richard Lui of MSNBC interviewed Governor Gary Johnson and Dr. Jill Stein. His sharply phrased questions and comments helped the audience learn more about two candidates who have not received the media attention directed at Democratic and Republican presidential candidates. Dr. Stein echoed many of the progressive positions of former presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders while Governor Johnson said he believes problems do not need to be solved by more government spending and regulation. Stein said she wants a defense budget that is not an offense budget and advocated for a clean, renewable energy plan by 2020, which includes making all rental properties solar and removing incinerators that pollute. She argued that the government bailed out the guys on Wall Street—now it is time to bail out the students with debt. Stein was the only candidate who said there should be an Asian American on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Former President Bill Clinton was not interviewed, but took the podium to express his support for Secretary Hillary Clinton. Much of his speech focused on the economic successes of his administration and his sponsorship of the White House Initiative for Asian American Pacific Islanders, which Secretary Clinton has agreed to support. He said Hillary Clinton wants to accelerate small businesses, which she knows is an issue important to Asian Americans. In response to a question about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), he replied the proposal is not supported by Hillary Clinton. He added that too many companies are no longer “stakeholder-based” and are instead dominated by those with a “stockholder mentality.”

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes spoke on behalf of Donald Trump. Reyes, of Filipino and Japanese heritage, made a case for less government regulation, particularly as it relates to administrative laws that are a burden to small businesses. He noted that Donald Trump believes the Affordable Health Care Act has not improved health care and advocates for private health resources for veterans. After telling the audience he was once a rapper, he concluded his remarks with a politically charged rap!

Workshops were held the following day on such topics as Native Hawaiians Vote to Rise! Sovereignty—Our Right to Self-Governance, Converting Data into Voting Power, What’s the Game Plan for the 2016 Election?, Building a Pipeline to Ensure AAPI Representation, Youth Vote Training, Transforming the AAPI Voter into an Educated Voter, and Policy Priorities and What’s at Stake in the AAPI Community.

The Forum provided strong evidence that AAPI communities everywhere are rising to the challenge of becoming actively involved in the political process. After all, in a democracy every voice should count.

Here are thoughts from a couple APACE leaders:

It was interesting to hear policy positions of both the Green Party and the Libertarians since I usually do not read about these parties. So much of the election media is negative bantering between the Republicans and the Democrats with little substance so it was good to dig into policy issues. I did hear a Bill Clinton quote on NPR on Monday which heartened me that the mainstream media paid attention to what was said at our AAPI Presidential Election Forum. I was amazed that the Trump campaign found an Asian American, a person of color, and a target of some of Trump’s tirades to support and present Trump’s positions. Most of all it was great to be in the company of so many committed AAPI activists!

Akemi Matsumoto
APACEvotes Founder and Board Member

* * *

Asian American and Pacific Islanders are the fastest growing ethnic demographic in the country and the AAPI Presidential Election Forum demonstrated the growing political power of AAPIs. The quad-partisan event was the first time the Republican, Democratic, Libertarian, and Green Party presidential candidates addressed the AAPI community at large. It was incredible to see our diverse communities come together to hear why these candidates deserve our votes.
As AAPIs, we do not all vote the same. In fact, AAPIs are considered “swing voters”—not always voting for one particular party. Too often our votes are taken for granted and candidates are unaware or overlook the fact that we have the ability to impact elections. The AAPI Presidential Election Forum showed that we are organized, engaged, and certainly worth the attention.

Bao-Tram Do
APACEvotes President

Asian Pacific Americans will soon have another opportunity to hear candidates for political office. APIC (Asian Pacific Islander Coalition) will host a day-long Legislative Summit at the Tacoma Dome Exhibition Hall on September 15. Many Asian Pacific Islander organizations are supporting the Summit with funding and volunteers. Past summits have drawn more than 1,000 people. Candidates and representatives of candidates need to hear the concerns of the AAPI community. It is an event you would not want to miss.

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