Tuesday, November 2, 2010


From immigration reforms to addressing the clamor of World War II veterans, the Nov. 2 midterm elections promises to shape the future of Fil-Am legislative efforts on Capitol Hill for years to come.

Fil-Ams are immersed in the campaign, from California to South Carolina .

The group KAYA: Filipino Americans for Progress has endorsed a slate of candidates, mostly for local positions in California , but it also includes Kris Valderrama who’s running for a 2nd term in the Maryland House of Delegates.

Virginia Fil-Am leader Gloria Caoile has joined hands with presidential adviser and NAFFAA vice chair Rozita Lee to mobilize the Filipino vote for embattled incumbent Nevada Senator Harry Reid.

A veteran of the Clinton and Obama political campaigns in 2008, Jon Melegrito travelled to Philadelphia to help campaign for Democratic candidates.

Doctors Rey and Zorayda Lee-Llacer are reaching out to the Fil-Am community for fellow physician Eric Wargotz, running for the first time for a Senate seat in Maryland . Their daughter is married to Dr. Wargotz.

Businesswoman Zenaida Frasier has taken leave from running the family business in Rockville , MD to campaign for husband Ben Frasier, a retired Washington DC cop running for the first time as the Democratic candidate in the 1st District of South Carolina.

All these candidates have assured support in one way or another, to Fil-Am causes on Capitol Hill as well as on the state and district levels.

But community leader Mencie Hairston echoes the maxim “all politics is local”.

Hairston, who describes herself as a “Reagan Democrat”, declared support for re-electionist Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley – primarily because of his success in keeping state tuition fees down.

She is also backing Dr. Wargotz’ opponent, incumbent Sen. Barbara Mikulski because, she averred “we are so much alike”.

Caoile noted that before 2008 only about 37% of Asian American adults vote, compared to 73% of Whites and 68% of Blacks. Some have attributed this to the difficulty of Asian American voters to latch on or identify with burning campaign issues.

Vellie Dietrich Hall, who was recently appointed vice chair of the Virginia state commission on volunteerism and national service, is convinced that won’t be a handicap this midterm elections.

“Whether we’re Koreans, Chinese or Filipino Americans, the reality is we’ve lost millions of jobs and everyone’s worried about how to make ends meet,” she tells the Manila Mail.

The Asian American Legal Defense & Education Fund conducted an exit poll during the 2006 midterm elections, which revealed that jobs and the economy were the most important issues for Fil-Am voters.

Six years later, those concerns may have been magnified a hundredfold because of the recession and mortgage mess that left thousands of Fil-Ams jobless and driven by foreclosures from their homes.

That same poll showed that 24% or nearly a quarter of Fil-Am voters don’t have any party affiliation, and could be considered as independents.

There are 37 seats up for grabs in the Senate and all 435 seats in the House of Representatives.

Of the 37 Senate seats in play, 19 are held by Democrats and 18 by Republicans. Various political poll organizations say more Democratic House seats are in jeopardy than Republican seats.

Dietrich Hall is convinced the GOP will wrestle control of both chambers of Congress.

Manila Mail national editor Bing Branigin said Fil-Am leaders are worried by the prospect that key supporters on Capitol Hill might lose their races.

A defeat for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would be a big blow, she claimed. The Nevada incumbent is in a tight race with Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle.

The Fil-Am community has lost some of its strongest backers in the Senate – Chris Dodd (D) of Connecticut, Evan Bayh (D) of Indiana and Kit Bond (R) of Missouri who are retiring; and Arlen Specter (D) of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski (R) of Alaska who’ve lost their primary races.

(Note: Murkowski decided to pursue her campaign as an independent and is in a tight contest with Tea party favorite Joe Miller).

“Losing our key supporters in Congress could set us back 20 years,” Branigin claimed, “because it took us that long to learn the ropes of lobbying and these are the lawmakers who already know Fil-Ams very well.”

Known Fil-Am Senate supporters on the ballot include longtime Fil-Am champion Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, Barbara Boxer of California, Chuck Schumer of New York, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, John McCain of Arizona, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Mikulski of Maryland and Reid of Nevada.

In the House, California Congressmen Bob Filner and Mike Honda are reportedly leading in their districts.

The 1st first-generation Fil-Am congressman, Steve Austria is reportedly sailing to an apparent victory in the GOP-leaning 7th district of Ohio.

Dietrich-Hall allays the fear a Republican-controlled Congress could derail the Fil-Am legislative agenda on Capitol Hill.

“It’s a matter of working together,” she insisted.

She said the Fil-Am community should continue to fight for recognition and benefits for surviving Filipino World War II veterans, immigration reforms and even the SAVE Act (the proposed textiles and garments trade bill) that Dietrich-Hall believes will get a sympathetic ear from the GOP because of its potential to generate jobs.

“In the Philippines , the Marcos dictatorship deprived my right to vote, so I wasn’t able to vote there. But now that I’ve acquired the ability to vote, I see this as a holy obligation,” she explained.

“In a representative democracy, one man can effect change in various ways,” Dr. Lee Llaser averred.

Hairston says she’s less concerned about which party Fil-Ams support so long as they cast their vote on Nov. 2.

(This is an article written for Manila Mail's Oct. 30 edition)

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