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Originally published November 13, 2012 at 4:39 PM | Page modified November 13, 2012 at 4:39 PM

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Race and politics: a cheat sheet for those seeking minority votes

If people of color want proportional political representation in this state, we should be the Ohioans, Floridians and Wisconsin cheeseheads of Washington state elections, writes editorial columnist Sharon Pian Chan.

Times editorial columnist

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Totally amazing. We can focus on racial politics, but we can't focus on the issues that... MORE
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A week after the election, we are still talking about the races — the Latinos and Asian Americans.

Republicans are decrying the disenfranchisement of the white male voter. Less than 40 percent of white voters chose to re-elect President Obama, but he won anyway.

The point isn’t that white votes don’t count. It’s that Republicans need to go back to the drawing board and bring us an iPad mini and Windows 8. Netflix nation isn’t interested in buying VHS. The old ways don’t work anymore, and GOP innovation would improve choice for all voters.

The national fearmongering and cheerleading about the power of the minority vote glosses over a stagnation in representation in our state’s Legislature, despite redistricting that created more districts where minorities are the majority of the population.

A ceiling was broken with the election of Cyrus Habib to the state House, now the highest Iranian-American elected official in the U.S. But depending on late election returns, Latino representation in the state Legislature could drop to a single representative. In January, two African Americans will serve in the Legislature, the same number as in the late ’80s. Minority representation is less than 10 percent in the Legislature, though the state’s minority population has grown to 28 percent, according to the U.S. census.

A lot of hay has been made of the 71 percent of Latinos and 73 percent of Asian Americans who voted for Obama, according to an Associated Press exit poll. But Latino and Asian-American voters do not automatically vote Democratic.

I don’t want any party to have a lock on minority votes. When Democrats presume votes from Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans or blacks, they stop factoring in our concerns when making decisions, hiring staff and developing future candidates. Obama has made few policies that advance African Americans, 93 percent of whom voted for him, and many bicyclists feel let down by Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, the bicycling mayor.

In Washington state, Latinos represented 5 percent of eligible voters this election, according to ImpreMedia and Latino Decisions. Asian Americans represented 7.7 percent, according to the Asian American Legal Defense & Education Fund and National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development. Either group could have covered the spread in close races for state governor, secretary of state, Initiative 1240 for charter schools and Referendum 74 for same-sex marriage.

Nonprofits OneAmerica and APACE say their voter-registration efforts increased turnout among infrequent and first-time Latino and Asian-American voters. But local exit-poll data has been impossible to find, despite many calls. Next election someone needs to fund one that breaks down results by age, race, gender, religion and income.

News flash: It was not all about immigration. While the majority of Latino and Asian-American groups supported comprehensive immigration reform, national exit polls showed that the single most important issue was the economy. For the next local and national election, here’s the cheat sheet for Republicans, gleaned from interviews with political consultants:

• Small-business owners who are fiscally conservative: Seek out the many entrepreneurs who are Latino, Vietnamese American, Korean American and Indian American.

• Social conservatives: Many Catholic Latinos, Catholic Filipino Americans, conservative Christian Korean Americans and first-generation immigrants oppose abortion, same-sex marriage and legalizing marijuana.

• Loyal Republicans: Vietnamese Americans tend to lean Republican because they ascribe stronger anti-communist positions to the party. Some Japanese Americans still vote Republican because Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 for internment. Many Latinos supported George W. Bush’s compassionate conservatism.

• Many Indian Americans may vote Democratic but they are fans of Republican governors Bobby Jindal in Louisiana and Nikki Haley in South Carolina. They’re also not afraid to donate big, as we saw in Democrat Bobby Virk’s campaign for the 11th Legislative District, which raised the most money in the primary for a state House seat.

• Staffing: The nonpartisan Northwest Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans endorsed Republican Dino Rossi in the 2004 governor’s race because it felt Rossi would have done a better job appointing Asian Americans than Democrat Chris Gregoire. Gregoire won, and she improved on Asian-American appointments. (We’re watching, Gov.-elect Jay Inslee.)

If people of color want proportional political representation in this state, we should be the Ohioans, Floridians and Wisconsin cheeseheads of Washington elections. There is so much more power in a question mark than an exclamation point.

Sharon Pian Chan's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her email address is schan@seattletimes.com. Follow her on Twitter @sharonpianchan.


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