Represent! | Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Romney’s top policy advisor is a rising star from the San Gabriel Valley

Lanhee Chen, 34, was born in Taiwan and grew up in Rowland Heights. He holds a law degree and PhD from Harvard.
Lanhee Chen, 34, was born in Taiwan and grew up in Rowland Heights. He holds a law degree and PhD from Harvard.

Have you read Mitt Romney’s 59-point position paper on the economy? 

As Romney's campaign policy director, Lanhee Chen is largely responsible for the 172-page document. He also likely played a role in crafting Romney's speech at the Republican National Convention here in Tampa.

Chen, 34, was born in Taiwan and grew up in Rowland Heights. Like many Taiwanese-Americans in the San Gabriel Valley, his family is Republican. Many in the community consider the GOP, more so than the Democratic Party, to be strong supporters of Taiwan.

That doesn’t mean Chen's family talked American politics all the time in their Rowland Heights home.

“As with many Asian-American parents, they were much more interested in home country politics than U.S. politics,” Chen says. “Although that’s probably changed since I’ve gotten more involved in politics here in America.”

Chen’s résumé blends academia with politics. He holds a law degree and PhD from Harvard. He’s also worked as a political consultant, spent time at the Heritage Foundation, and worked on Steve Poizner's California gubernatorial campaign in 2010.

“Lanhee is incredibly talented, smart, well informed, educated, he’s got a great personality,” says former U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao. “He’s also very strategic.”

If voters elect Romney, Chen would become one of the top policy makers in the country. The website Politico named him one its "Top 50" politicos to watch.

“He’s making history because I don’t think any other Asian-American has been as close to the candidate so early and in such a pivotal position," Chao says. “We are very, very proud of him.”

At an Asian Republican Summit during the GOP Convention, journalists from major Asian-American newspapers surrounded Chen. They peppered him with questions about Romney’s foreign policy. Chen answered them, like any policy wonk would, but he also donned his political hat when asked why there were not more Asian-Americans speaking at the event.

Chen said people from all races were speaking, then provided political boilerplate.

Governor Romney’s policy positions and his values are very much in line with the policy positions and values of the Asian-American community,” he said.  “We believe the Asian-American community is going to be very important in this election, and in some states they may make the difference.”

Nevada is one of those states. Asian-Americans voters may make up seven percent of voters there in November. “We are going to be aggressively reaching out to the Asian-American community,” Chen said.

Chen, who lives in Boston with his wife, professes being uncomfortable with his status as a rock star among Asian-American Republicans.

“I’m not ever really sure what to say about that because ours is a party that really encourages opportunity regardless of all these other factors,” he said. “But it is interesting to look around and realize that most people don’t look quite like you do.”

While few Asian-Americans hold top positions in the Republican Party, Chen says he feels no particular responsibility to represent them.

“I feel a responsibility to represent myself and the campaign with integrity.”

(Here’s a 2007 interview with Chen by the Harvard Crimson)