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North Texas Asian Americans take to polls

By Suzanne Sprague, KERA 90.1 reporter

Dallas, TX – Suzanne Sprague, Reporter: Public service announcements on Dallas Chinese radio urge voters to turn out at the polls. 700 Vietnamese attend a candidates' forum in Houston. And for the first time, statewide nominees in Texas hire Asian-outreach specialists. It's a far cry from how politicians addressed the Asian communities eight years ago, when Jennifer Kim started organizing voters.

Jennifer Kim, Asian Outreach Coordinator, Tony Sanchez Campaign: It seemed that they would come to speak to us when we had political events, but they didn't seem to take as much time to go to our community events or to print literature in our language, to do anything that incurred any additional expense.

Sprague: This year, Kim is working for the Democrats' choice for Texas governor, Tony Sanchez. Although behind in the polls, Democrats are actively courting the Asian vote with a large, glossy, multi-lingual brochure, courtesy of the Democratic National Committee. It's a big investment for a group that makes up less than 3% of the state's population. But Parag Mehta, deputy director for the Ron Kirk for Senate campaign, says there's the bigger picture to consider.

Parag Mehta, Deputy Director for Field, Ron Kirk Campaign: We see the long-term demographic trends in Texas. Asian Americans are a rapidly growing population. We were the fastest growing population in the 2000 Census. Our numbers are increasing in leaps and bounds. So, if you're looking in bringing this population over to the Democratic Party side and making them loyal Democratic Party followers, now is the time to do it.

Sprague: But many Asian Americans in Texas claim to be fiercely independent voters. Kim Nicks, a Vietnamese activist in Houston, voted for a Democrat in the recent mayoral race. Now, she's a strong supporter of Senate Republican nominee, John Cornyn.

Kim Nicks, Houston Vietnamese Activist: The leadership of Republican Party is better prepared to handle the war situation and that's why I support John Cornyn for the Senate seat.

Sprague: Attorney Don Joe of Fort Worth agrees. Joe runs the website, which details where candidates stand on issues important to Asians. He usually votes Republican, and supports John Cornyn, too.

Don Joe, Fort Worth Attorney: In his biography, he mentions his father served in the Air Force and that he graduated from high school in Japan and I think that would indicate he's open to Asian Americans and appreciates Asian American culture.

Sprague: But Joe adds he hasn't received any mailings from Republicans targeting Asian voters. And Angie Chen Button, who is the president of the Dallas Fort Worth Asian American Citizens Council, sees a disconnect with the GOP.

Angie Chen Button, President, DFWAACC: Well, I personally got an invitation to some fundraising events, but I have not seen something down to the grassroots, but maybe my expectations are too high.

Sprague: Although Button's group is non-partisan, she voted for Ron Kirk. And so did many of these Chinese senior citizens who came in a community van to an early polling location in Richardson. But for many organizers like Angie Chen Button, for whom Asians vote is less important. They're mainly excited to see record numbers of first-time voters take to the polls.

Chinese American Voter: This is my happy day.

Sprague: This is your happiest day?

Chinese American Voter: Yes. Happy day. I have the right to vote. [laughs]

Sprague: For KERA 90.1, I'm Suzanne Sprague.


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