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Asian Americans strongly underrepresented in California politics: Report

Supervisor Connie Chan, City Attorney David Chiu and others attend the "Peaceful Garden" block party in San Francisco on July 23, 2022. | Paul Kuroda for The Standard

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are strongly underrepresented among elected officials at all levels in California, a statewide report has determined.

API Coalition, a nonprofit led by Contra Costa Community College District Governing Board member Andy Li, published a roster recently of the names of all Asian American elected officials in California who held office as of mid-May.

According to the report, there are about 20,000 elected positions across the state, but only about a little more than 500 current officeholders are people of Asian descent—less than 3%. California’s Asian American and Pacific Islander population is about 16% of the total state population, according to the latest Census data, more than five times the percentage of elected officials.

“The findings were startling, revealing a significant dearth of representation,” Li said. “We need to raise awareness about the pressing need to diversify our governing bodies.”

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Of the 52 members of the House of Representatives in California’s congressional delegation, seven are Asian Americans: Doris Matsui, Judy Chu, Mark Takano, Michelle Steel, Ro Khanna, Ted Lieu and Young Kim. At the statewide level, only two Asian Americans currently hold office, State Treasurer Fiona Ma and Attorney General Rob Bonta.

Sheriff Paul Miyamoto, left, speaks at a press conference outside San Francisco City Hall as Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, right, stands nearby on Dec. 7, 2021. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

In San Francisco, City Attorney David Chiu, Public Defender Mano Raju and Supervisors Connie Chan and Ahsha Safaí made it to the list. However, Sheriff Paul Miyamoto, the first Asian American sheriff in California, is missing from the roster.

API Coalition acknowledged that some Asian American and Pacific Islander politicos may not be included in its count, but the total number of API elected officials in California is unlikely to exceed 550. Even that figure is less than 3% of the total number of officeholders.

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao, Fremont Mayor Lily Mei and Bakersfield Mayor Karen Goh are among the Asian American mayors of the state’s major cities.

Han Li can be reached at han@sfstandard.com