Monday, June 7, 2010
KEEPING OUR FRIENDS ON CAPITOL HILL
In American democracy, political influence is often measured by the number of friends you have in Congress.
Some key supporters of the Fil-Am community are facing a tough fight leading to the 2010 mid-term elections.
Powerful allies like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (8th district CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry (Nevada) are targets of a concerted Republican campaign to push them out of office.
Some 435 congressional seats are up for grabs on Nov. 2.
The help of friends is crucial because Fil-Am issues – including approval of the $198 million lump sum payment for Filipino World War II veterans – are deemed too small to be able to stand alone on the floor of Congress.
We need congressional allies who understand and are willing to work the system to push the Fil-Am agenda.
It was no accident the veterans equity bill ended up in President Obama’s economic stimulus initiative. Although it fell short of expectations, the tack guaranteed early passage (ironically, after a 60-year struggle) through the US legislative mill.
Now, many of the architects of that strategy are mounting a difficult campaign, caught by the inherent vexations of profound change – from healthcare reforms to wrestling with a deep recession - and the uncertainty it brings.
Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii is perhaps one of the staunchest Fil-Am supporters on Capitol Hill. He chairs the powerful appropriations committee and recently engineered an amendment in a supplemental budget bill that would replenish at least part of the nearly depleted Filipino veterans compensation fund.
Congressmen Bob Filner (51st district CA) and Mike Honda (15th district CA) are running for re-election, and so is Republican Darrell Issa, co-chairman of the Philippine Caucus, an informal, porous fraternity of US lawmakers sympathetic to Filipino causes.
Filner practically rammed the veterans equity bill past the House veterans affairs committee which he chaired.
Senator Barbara Boxer of California is reportedly facing a stiff challenge from opponents. She called for a first-ever US Senate investigation on extrajudicial killings in the Philippines that led to conditions in the grant of military aid to the Philippine military.
Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (16th district CA) is the ethics committee chair, but she also heads a key subcommittee on immigration. She has championed the cause of Filipino healthcare professionals and care givers in America.
Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (46th district CA) perhaps strikes a familiar note among Filipinos. He helped expose Chinese encroachment in the Spratly Islands and tried to mobilize US support for modernizing the Philippine Navy.
The first first-generation Fil-Am member of Congress, Steve Austria (7th district OH) is running for a second term.
But the honor of being the first Fil-Am Congressman belongs to Bobby Scott (3rd district, VA). His maternal grandfather is Filipino. He is vying for a 10th term.
The Fil-Am community has already lost some key friends like Democratic Senators Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Evan Bayh of Indiana; and Republican Senators Kit Bond of Missouri and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire who’ve all decided to retire from their office.
Obviously, it would be in the interest of the Fil-Am community to help keep their friends in office. But that effort has, in the past, often been partisan – there are separate Fil-Am political action committees for Democrats and Republicans.
Attempts to organize a bipartisan political action committee dedicated solely to promoting the Fil-Am agenda has proven elusive for various reasons. Some say, it’s difficult enough for Filipinos to rally behind a candidate – it’s near impossible for them to look beyond their political and ideological disagreements.
But with four million Filipinos and Fil-Ams in America today, national issues that directly affect them will only continue to grow.
There is a need for Fil-Ams to learn how to work the political system. It’s time we learned how to play what the game that “big boys” play.
That process has already started. June 8 is another milestone, as the political parties begin the process of choosing their “champions” who will do battle in November. It wouldn’t be too bad if Fil-Ams started laying their stakes now.