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Historic House Race Reflects Cultural Change

Top to Bottom: Republican Button, Democrat Vu Le, Libertarian White
Top to Bottom: Republican Button, Democrat Vu Le, Libertarian White

By Bill Brown, KERA News

Dallas, TX – Step inside Richardson Square Mall, and you feel you're in an international city, not a quiet northern suburb of Dallas. Women in colorful Indian saris pass by, as others in traditional Middle Eastern dress window shop. People are speaking Mandarin and Spanish. You hear snippets of Korean, French, Russian and Arabic. Nearby in Garland, specialty stores offer foods from Turkey and Vietnam. Many signs sport bold Chinese characters. This truly is the new face of Dallas County's northern communities. And it's the face of Texas House District 112.

In this district, which takes in most of Richardson, a big chunk of Garland and a little piece of Dallas, Republican state representative Fred Hill is retiring after 20 years.

The population here was almost all white 35 years ago. Today, the percentage of Hispanics, African-Americans and Asian-Americans has more than doubled as the number of whites has dropped by almost a third.

Three people are battling to take Hill's place in Austin, and all came here from other countries. The Democrat is Sandra Vu Le, a Garland lawyer who left Vietnam as a refugee when she was only 6 years old.

Vu Le: When people hear my story, they say, Sandra Vu Le, you are living the American dream, and I am. I think it's very historic.

Vu Le's Republican opponent is another Asian-American woman, Angie Chen Button. In 1949, when the Communists took over mainland China, Button's family fled to Taiwan. As a young woman, she made it to America and entered college.

Button: I came to Texas as a lonely foreign student. This country, this community, showed me great compassion.

The Libertarian candidate is Philip White, who was born in Ukraine. He's a 22-year-old grad student at UTD.

White: Barack Obama is currently very popular with his motto that he's all about change and I think the biggest change you can get is with a 22-year-old.

The real battle in this race is between Vu Le and Button. For the first time anyone can remember, two Asian-American women are fighting for the same seat in the Texas house. But, while their Asian heritage forges a common bond between the two women, they're on opposite sides when it comes to what government can and should do for people. As a conservative Republican, Button wants tougher control of the border and strong punishment for employers who hire illegal workers. She says her priorities are to cut spending and battle tax hikes.

Button: I always remember what President Reagan said. Government is not the solution to your problems. Government is the problem.

Button is a CPA and a marketing manager at Texas Instruments who served on the DART board. With two decades of community service behind her, she says she's a real leader with the most experience for the job.
She is for more toll roads, capping property taxes, and electing, not appointing members of property appraisal boards.

Button: I have overcome every barrier, so when I go to Austin, I'm not afraid to challenge anybody in order to do the right thing.

Vu Le says she'll fight for change, with education as her top priority. She says Texas schools are sinking, under penny-pinching by the legislature. She feels Texans are willing to pay more for better schools.

Vu Le: My opponent, on the other hand, believes the public schools should just do with what they have now. She also supports vouchers, and that's the difference between us.

Vu Le wants to raise the salaries of Texas teachers to the national average and halt rising college tuition rates that keep many students from going to college. She vows to fight for the working people and the middle class. She wants better health care for the uninsured, tax breaks for small business, lower property taxes and homeowners' insurance rates. She promises to stop price gouging by the big utility companies.

Vu Le: There are people who are struggling very hard every day and those are the people, those are the voices I want to make sure, when I go to Austin, that those voices are heard.

In another part of District 112, at the Luby's cafeteria off Highway 75, it's clear people lining up for chicken-fried steak, iced tea and pecan pie are interested in politics this year.

Citizen: I'd like to get some of them bums out of there!

But few could name the candidates running for the legislature.

Citizen: Are you planning to vote? I'm not sure when the vote is.

They have yet to know much about the three immigrants competing for votes. But as they hear about the historic nature of this race, some are clearly intrigued

Citizen: I think it's great. That's what this country is all about.