By Cynthia Richie Terrell on May 14, 2021
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) led the push for the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act that recently passed the Senate with bipartisan support. The bill is aimed at addressing a surge in attacks on Asian Americans amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Hirono joined Washington Post reporter David Nakamura to discuss the legislation and personal reflections from her new memoir, “Heart of Fire: An Immigrant Daughter’s Story.” Hirono is the first in a series of conversations on Washington Post Live to mark Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are dramatically underrepresented in elected office and particularly in the criminal justice sector — even as they’re the fastest growing demographic group.
A Tuesday report from the Reflective Democracy Campaign, obtained exclusively by POLITICO, revealed that AAPI members made up just 0.9 percent of elected leaders across all levels of government, but 6.1 percent of the population as of mid-2020.
Even among states with high AAPI concentrations (think New York, California, Nevada) representation drops off. Hawaii is the only state whose share of AAPI elected leaders is nearly equivalent to its population. And the report found that a mere 0.24 percent of elected prosecutors and 0.07 percent of county sheriffs were of Asian/Pacific Islander descent.Currently, AAPI representation in the 2021 Congress includes Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and 15 representatives, nearly evenly split between men and women. Nearly half won elections in majority-white districts, according to Tuesday’s report. There are 152 AAPI state legislators across 31 states, with one-third of them representing majority-white districts.
“Voters, regardless of party identification, really want to see reflective leadership,” said Brenda Choresi Carter, the director of the Campaign, which tracks the diversity of elected officials. “Political power has been concentrated in the hands of white men in the United States since the very beginning. And I think we are seeing the limitations of that.”
The report is a step toward transparency and more detailed data collection on AAPI representation, Choresi Carter said, essential for a demographic group that includes over 50 nations of origin, wide income inequality and varying rates of English language proficiency.
It also comes at a crucial time: The Senate recently advanced a bipartisan Covid hate crimes bill to address the spike in discrimination, and the country is still grieving two mass shootings where Sikh Americans and East Asian women were the alleged targets. But AAPIs have also seen political victories: Kamala Harris was elected Vice President. And Asian Americans proved to be a crucial voting bloc in battleground states.
With successful careers in government, nonprofit and business sectors, Sonal Shah is now the founding president of the newly formed The Asian American Foundation (TAAF), making her our Avenger of the Week. TAAF was created this month, which is Asian American and Pacific Island (AAPI) Month, with an initial $125 million in donations from its board of directors. It intends to raise additional money to make grants to Asian American and Pacific Islander organizations and causes over the next five years.
Spurred by anti-Asian hate incidents over the past year, Shah told CBS News that the board wants TAAF to be “the incubator, the convenor, supporting the community organizations by funding anti-hate, data and research and education.”
Shah was the director of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation in the Obama administration, coordinating governmental efforts to aid innovative nonprofit groups and social entrepreneurs in addressing pressing social issues. Most recently a professor and the founding executive director of the Beeck Center for Social Policy and Innovation at Georgetown University, she also served on President Biden’s Unity Task Force.
Born in Mumbai, India, her family came to America when she was 4 years old. She was raised in Houston, Texas, is a graduate of the University of Chicago, and holds a master’s degree in economics. Shah began her 16-year career at the U.S. Department of the Treasury in 1995, becoming director of the office overseeing strategy and programs for sub-Saharan Africa, which included debt relief, development programs, and World Bank/International Monetary Fund strategies. She also worked with the Ministries of Finance in Bosnia and Kosovo to design the post-war banking system.
She left government to work at the Center for Global Development and the Center for American Progress before joining Goldman Sachs as a vice president, where she focused on green initiatives and implementation of environmental, social, and governance criteria for all investments. Her next stop was Google as director of Global Initiatives before returning to public service in the Obama administration.
In addition to serving on a number of nonprofit boards, Shah and her siblings founded the India-based nonprofit Indicorps, which is focused on “a new generation of socially-conscious global leaders” to cultivate principled, value-based leadership to serve with community-based organizations across India.
We salute Avenger of the Week Sonal Shah for putting her outstanding expertise in economic and social development to work by launching The Asian American Foundation to create “belonging and prosperity that is free from discrimination, slander, and violence” for the AAPI community.
Sears (Norfolk) — a former Marine whose campaign ad shows her gripping an assault rifle — emerged victorious in a ranked-choice balloting process that included five other candidates vying for the second-highest office in the commonwealth.
Born in Jamaica, she has a chance to become the first Black woman to win statewide office in Virginia.
Sears delivered a rousing speech to vote-counters after the results were announced Tuesday evening, surprising them with an appearance in the ballroom of the downtown Marriott in Richmond, where they had counted the ballots.
New York City will be using the same procedure for the first time this year in its local elections, which will be the biggest-ever test of the concept. That it might already be making Gotham’s famously brutal politics a tad less negative is evidenced by the fact that leading mayoral contender Andrew Yang has announced that his rival Kathryn Garcia would be his own second choice if he doesn’t win. Some progressive political organizations, such as the Working Families Party, are also announcing their first, second and third choices in their endorsements for the June 22 Democratic primary, rather than backing a single contender.
For Virginia Republicans, the process of elimination in a seven-candidate gubernatorial field required six rounds of ballot counting and produced GOP nominee Glenn Youngkin, a former private-equity executive and political newcomer. He has embraced Trump and the lies the former president told about the 2020 election but was less bombastic about it than some of his rivals. No one would be surprised if Youngkin grew more moderate in his tone going into the general election, if only because no Republican has been elected to statewide office in Virginia since 2009.
Ranked-choice voting has much to recommend it. Since being someone’s second choice can help pave the way to victory, it encourages candidates to try to broaden their appeal and achieve consensus.
And thoughtful voters may feel less constrained from supporting candidates whose ideas and values they share, but who they also fear might end up being the “spoilers” who allow someone they truly despise to win.
At a moment when GOP legislatures are looking suspiciously at other modern forms of voting, such as mail-in balloting, “it is significant that Republicans are finding value in a reform,” noted Nick Troiano, executive director of Unite America, an organization that seeks to make politics less partisan.
And just this week, ruby-red Utah announced that nearly two dozen of its municipalities opted to try the process this year under a pilot program in that state; only two had done so when the experiment launched in 2019.
A new study by FairVote, another organization that has been touting the system, finds tentative evidence that non-White candidates — and voters — also benefit under ranked-choice voting. Examining instances in which ranked-choice voting has been used, the group found “winning candidates of color, particularly those who are Black or Hispanic/Latino, grew their vote totals between the first and final ballot rounds at a higher rate than winning White candidates.”
While changing the manner in which we vote is not the cure to the deep partisan and ideological divides that make the country’s electoral environment so toxic, and have undermined trust in our democratic processes, it is good to see that fresh thinking still has a place in politics.
In 2000, the United States ranked 46th for women's representation in government at the national level; now we rank 67th, alongside Mali, Kazakhstan, Bulgaria, and Afghanistan. And the U.S. ranks well behind most well-established democracies in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
In other words, 66 countries have outpaced the United States in women's representation – not because their women are more qualified or ambitious, but because they have implemented electoral systems and policies to ensure more level playing fields and greater opportunity in the electoral process. Consider New Zealand, a country often lauded for increasing women in leadership since adapting its electoral system from the "first past the post" model to the more modern mixed-member proportional system.
Kathryn Garcia can run a government that delivers for all New Yorkers. She would be the first woman to hold the office, but there are many other reasons to give her the job. Even the front-runner agrees: Mr. Yang has praised Ms. Garcia and repeatedly suggested he would hire her to run the city. “If Andrew Yang thinks I need to run his government, then maybe I should just run the government,” Ms. Garcia told us.
Agreed. Cut out the middleman and elect the most qualified person: Kathryn Garcia.
Although online harassment against women manifests across the globe, it is particularly pernicious in the Global South. According to a recent analysis from the Economist Intelligence Unit, over 90 percent of the women interviewed in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East experienced online attacks—with misinformation and defamation as the most common tactics.
Women in politics and journalists, particularly women of color, have experienced relentless, overwhelming volumes of online abuse, threats, and vicious gendered disinformation campaigns, framing them as untrustworthy, unintelligent, too emotional, or sexual.
In the United States, a coordinated campaign of disinformation and harassment was at work against then-Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris throughout the 2020 election cycle, disseminating lies about her record as a prosecutor and claiming she used sex to gain power—per the oldest, tritest tune in the misogyny playbook.
What happened to Harris is not an exception—it is the norm, as large social media companies often do not grant public figures with the same (already very small) level of protection from abuse granted to other citizens. Loopholes in platform guidelines have allowed some authoritarian world leaders to use social media to “deceive the public or harass opponents despite being alerted to evidence of the wrongdoing."
While most women restrict their online activity as a result of social media’s toxicity, silence does not grant protection, as First Lady of Namibia Monica Geingos stated in a powerful video released on International Women’s Day: “When there was a clear social media campaign of anonymous WhatsApp messages specifically targeting me in the most disgusting ways, and I was told not to respond but to ignore and I did. But it was a mistake, your silence will not protect you; the insults just got worse and the lies became a lot.”
The consequences are far-reaching.
The disproportionate and often strategic targeting of women politicians and activists discourages women from running for office, pushes them out of politics, or leads them to self-censor and disengage from the political discourse in ways that harm their effectiveness. The psychological toll on them and their families is incommensurable.