Friday, November 12, 2010
FIL-AMs FACE NEW REALITIES ON CAPITOL HILL
(These are excerpts from an article for Manila Mail's Nov. 15 edition, which also marks the Metro DC-based Fil-Am paper's 20th anniversary)
The new political landscape in Washington DC is prodding Fil-Am leaders to search for new and old allies among the incoming lawmakers of the 112th Congress.
“There are usually shifts in power following midterm elections,” explained Jon Melegrito, a veteran Democratic Party campaigner, “but the magnitude of losses in this one was unexpected”.
Although Democrats kept their Senate majority, Republicans picked up over 60 seats, wrestling control of the House of Representatives – the biggest GOP gain since the 1938 midterm elections when they picked up 80 seats.
“Politics is a pendulum,” says lawyer Wari Azarcon, one of the founding members of the Filipino American Republicans of Virginia (FARV), “and it has swung from the left to the right.”
They both admit the new balance of power in Congress will determine what and how activists push the Fil-Am agenda on Capitol Hill.
Azarcon predicts the emerging power structure will be felt all the way to Manila .
Immigration reforms that address the problem of undocumented workers and the huge backlog of family visa petitions, and equity and full recognition for Filipino World War II veterans remain the top concerns for the Fil-Am community.
Eric Lachica, a longtime veterans’ rights activist, sees a Congress hypersensitive to any kind of deficit spending so he plans to propose measures for veterans that could actually generate savings for the government.
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Congressman Steve Austria, the 1st first-generation Fil-Am elected to the House of Representatives, breezed through the race in Ohio ’s 7th District, winning over 60% of the votes.
Lachica said Austria had acted in the past as a “go-between” with Republican colleagues on behalf of Filipino veterans.
That role could become more significant as the GOP takes control of the House, and the fact the next likely Speaker of the House, John Boehner, is a representative of Ohio ’s 8th district, next to Austria ’s 7th district.
Kris Valderrama retained her seat in the 26th District in the Maryland House of Delegates.
Fil-Am jurist Tani Cantil-Sakauye won the vote as California Supreme Court Chief Justice, the 1st Fil-Am to ever hold such a lofty court position.
Donna Kim was re-elected as a State Senator of Hawaii, along with Della Belatti, Kymberly Marcos Pine and Rida Arakawa in the State House of Representatives.
In all, more than two dozen Fil-Ams won various posts in the midterm polls.
Fil-Am voters also helped tip the balance for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada .
Pinoy boxing icon Manny Pacquiao broke training to fly to Nevada to publicly endorse Reid.
“He did make a difference in that really tight election,” Melegrito said, quoting reports from Virginia-based Reid volunteer Gloria Caoile.
Longtime supporter Congressman Bob Filner won re-election in his San Diego , CA district but following the Democrats’ House debacle will lose the veterans affairs committee chair next year.
Lachica revealed they’ve already met with Republican Rep. Cliff Stearns (6th District, Florida ) who’s rumored to take over Filner’s committee post.
“He’s accessible and easy to talk with,” Lachica tells the Manila Mail.
Stearns intimated there were many Filipino doctors and nurses in his district which includes the central Florida cities of Ocala and Gainesville .
“This is the time for relationship building,” Lachica stressed.
When the National Federation of Filipino-American Associations (NaFFAA) meet in San Francisco, CA later this month, among the topics of discussion will be the establishment of a Filipino American Political Action Committee, Melegrito revealed.
The Fil-Am community is trailing other Asian Americans such as the Chinese, Indian and Vietnamese communities that already have their own PACs.
“This has to be a major initiative,” Melegrito stressed.