For the first time, Asian-Americans will have majority representation on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, signally a shift in Southern California politics.
Last week, Republican candidate Andrew Do, a Vietnamese-American attorney and former Garden Grove city council member was elected to the O.C. board by just 43 votes, narrowly beating a well-known Orange County Democrat, Lou Correa.
Do, a native of Vietnam, fills the seat vacated when Janet Nguyen was elected to the state Senate in November.
Also in November, Michelle Steel, a native of South Korea, and Lisa Bartlett, a U.S.-born Japanese-American, were elected to the board.
“This is not your father’s Orange County,” said political science professor Fred Smoller of Chapman University.
Smoller said the stereotypical view of Orange County as a bastion of white male conservatives is long outdated.
Asian-Americans make up 19.2 percent of Orange County’s population, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. Vietnamese-Americans are by far the largest Asian ethnic group in Orange County, making up about a third of its Asian population.
Eliza Noh, an Asian-American studies professor at California State University Fullerton, said it would be wrong to assume the Asian supervisors would form some kind of voting block, even though they are all Republican.
“They are ethnically different,” Noh said. “They’re also representing different neighborhoods, which all have different political orientation.”
Noh said Asian-American ethnicities are diverse in many ways: nationality, class, immigration status and access to education.
For example, Noh said graduation rates among Southeast Asians such as Vietnamese-Americans and Cambodian-Americans is lower than that of other Asian-Americans and lower relative to the U.S. general population.
Over most of the last decade, every city in Orange County saw an increase in Asian-Americans. The Korean and Filipino populations grew even faster than the Vietnamese between 2000 and 2010, according to a report released last year.
The diversity among Asian-Americans was clear during the last election cycle: In November, five Asian-Americans, all Republicans, were elected to political offices in Orange County:
- Michelle Steel, born in South Korea and former head of the state’s Equalization Board, was elected to the O.C. Board of Supervisors, 2nd District.
- Lisa Bartlett, a Japanese-American and former mayor of Dana Point, was elected to the O.C. Board of Supervisors, 5th District.
- Janet Nguyen, former O.C. supervisor and a Vietnamese-American, was elected to the 34th District of the State Senate.
- Ling-Ling Chang, a Taiwanese-American and former Diamond Bar council member and mayor, was elected to the 55th District of the State Assembly
- Young Kim, a South Korean immigrant who served as a community liaison for U.S. Congressman Ed Royce, was elected to the 65th District of the State Assembly.
O.C. Republic Party Executive Director Eric Weigand said his party noticed the strength in Asian-American voters and candidates in 2007 when Vietnamese-American candidates earned large percentages of the overall vote.
"They're very attuned to what's going on in their community," Weigand said. "They had the ability to raise money, to resonate with voters, to recruit the volunteers that are necessary."