Emil Guillermo: Why I'm voting for John Chiang in California

June 3, 2018 6:29 PM

I'm exercising my franchise! And it's not a Starbucks, a Wimpy's, or Jollibee.

It's the primary of the most Asian American state in the nation, California. And as I filled out my mail-in ballot (all the rage these days-- everyone mails it in), the TV was on and not on the news. 

CNN, MSNBC, or Fox (isn't that an animal rights channel?). No. As fate would have it, I was accompanied by TCM.

That would be the Turner Classic Movie channel, and its offering of the moment, the 1940 Bette Davis classic, "The Letter."

Turns out it's a remake of a 1929 film version of the Somerset Maugham drama that Hollywood tried to get right. Set in Malay, Davis plays Leslie Crosbie, the wife of a British rubber planter, who murders her married love interest, and gets out of it by pleading self-defense. (The colonial narrative, right?)

What's indefensible is the movie's true villain is the murdered man's wife, who in Maugham's story is Asian, but instead is played by white actress Gale Sondergaard.  (Ah, liberties!)

This is what makes TCM, TCR for "Turner Classic Racism." Our cultural missteps forever preserved as art to sicken future generations.

It only made me darken that little white oval shape on my ballot  ever more vigorously with my black pen for John Chiang to be Governor of California.

When are we going to have an Asian guy who is legit qualified to play the lead--the white part--in the biggest political drama in the nation?

Chiang, currently the California state treasurer, is a bureaucrat's bureaucrat. He's been in the public eye in government since 1997 when he was a member of the California Board of Equalization. He has somewhat paved the way for seemingly boring, numbers-oriented Asian Americans in politics. Judy Chu succeeded him. She's now one of the key Asian American leaders in Congress.

I've been following Chiang's rise from the equalization board, to the state controller's position, to his role since 2015 as treasurer of the state hailed as the world's fifth largest economy with a gross domestic product of more than $2.7 trillion.

That's more than the U.K.

There has never been a more qualified Asian American to be governor.

And if you want a fighter, all you have to do is remember Chiang in 2008. When then-Gov. Schwarzenegger was going to cut the budget on the backs of 200,000 state workers down to $6.55 an hour, Chiang had the workers' back. He stood up to Schwarzenegger and continued to pay the workers, calling them "innocent victims of a political struggle."

Chiang's a fighter. Ten years ago, at least. Ever since then, I was looking for Chiang to emerge.

So I'm voting for him.

Too bad he's likely going to lose.

Why Chiang has no shot
California has a strange primary system nicknamed the "jungle primary," where the top two regardless of party get the nod for a runoff in November.

Intended to get candidates to be less extreme and appeal more broadly to voters, the system has actually emerged as a self-imposed "divide and conquer strategy."

CA ballot.jpg

The state, which is largely blue and Democratic, has no less than 12 declared Dems running for governor, all battling for fragments.

The top dog, based on a USC Poll last week, is Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, the one-time San Francisco mayor who has been waiting in the wings as the next generation in the Brown/Feinstein California Democratic party establishment.

He's affable, handsome, and everyone predicts will be thinking about the presidency at some point.

I've known Newsom since he was a local pol/SF supervisor, and you can sense this when you're with him. He's got that recycled Kennedy vibe in him. And he does all the right things. Like show up at a funeral for a Filipino political activist last year. I wished him well then,  though I was curious how Chiang would fare.

Not well. 

I had high hopes for Chiang, who at one time had support from Sen. Kamala Harris, who is a fellow Asian American of South Asian/African American descent. 

Two years ago, they campaigned together when Harris ran and won for the Senate. She's likely keeping mum because all the buzz on her is focused on how she may be considering a presidential run in 2020--something that the USC poll said would be seen as favorable by Californians.

So this year, there's not much buzz at all. 

The fact is the political establishment seems to have decided to rally wholeheartedly around Newsom, who the USC poll had leading with 21 percent among likely voters, 11 percentage points over former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. They're followed by two Republicans, John Cox and Travis Allen.

Chiang was a distant 5th with just 5 percent.

What happened to Chiang? Villaraigosa, as a favorite son of Southern California, didn't help. I also haven't seen much in terms of any campaign effort by Chiang to try to cut through the haze.

What sticks with me about Chiang's career is his bold stance, fighting for state workers in 2008. That's been enough for me. But the Los Angeles Times wrote a piece recently about Chiang's inability to answer a straight question in an editorial Q&A session.

Sounds like Chiang is having a hard time transitioning between bureaucrat and candidate. 

That is Chiang's downfall. It's not that people will mispronounce his name and say Ch-ANG, and not Ch-UNG. But there's something about him that just isn't as appealing compared to a Gavin Newsom.

This is the reality. It's not about issues or even character  at the ballot box. Politics has its visceral side. As Jay Leno famously said, "Politics is show business for ugly people."

And Chiang just doesn't sell well compared to Newsom. Maybe it's like TV anchors. Asian American males? Hmmm. TV viewers prefer Connie Chung? 

Screw it. I'm voting for Chiang anyway.

As I marked my ballot on Saturday, there was Victor Sen Yung on the screen. He was the guy who replaced Keye Luke as Charlie Chan's Number One son. Yung played "number two," Jimmy Chan, in ten Charlie Chan films. And then he played the lawyer's clerk, Ong Chi Seng in "The Letter."

But I mostly remember him playing Hop Sing, the cook, on the television series, "Bonanza," from 1959-1973.

John Chiang likely won't finish in the top two on Tuesday in California.

But the fact that Victor Sen Yung is on television while I can mark my official ballot and vote for Chiang to be governor of California still feels like some sort of victory.

We may never get another Asian American as qualified as Chiang to vote for---and not to be merely No. 1 son, but the head of the entire state.

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.
NOTE: AALDEF is a nonpartisan organization and does not support or oppose any political candidates.

Posted by:Emil Guillermo

The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the views or policies of AALDEF.


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