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Politics & Policy

San Francisco GOP’s last hope? Chinese Americans win big in party elections

A woman in a pink blazer stands before a "City Hall" sign on a blue, gold-trimmed door.
Jennifer Yan, a tech investor and political newcomer, won the most votes in the San Francisco Republican County Central Committee election. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

When she saw her name at the top of the election results, Jennifer Yan couldn’t believe her eyes.

A 52-year-old Chinese immigrant and tech investor, Yan won the most votes in the race for the San Francisco Republican County Central Committee (RCCC), the leadership board of the local Republican Party. She wasn’t sure if she was just lucky, or if some bigger changes were coming to the party.

"There are many Asian Americans who are the 'silent majority,'" Yan said in Chinese. "But now, they are participating in politics."

In the March election, Yan and Bruce Lou, another Chinese American and political newcomer, surprisingly received the most votes in the western and eastern districts of the RCCC races, while the pool of candidates and the general Republican voter base remain largely white.

Since the pandemic, in deep-blue San Francisco, Chinese immigrant membership in the Republican Party has surged by 60% amid the rise of anti-Asian crime. In 2022, the community was also the driving force for both of the recalls to remove three progressive school board members and District Attorney Chesa Boudin.

Yan and Lou may embody a growing power base in the sidelined party, as the increasingly outspoken and politically engaged Asian American community often skews moderate or conservative in San Francisco, and eventually leads to an opportunity for the party to regain some political relevance and influence. 

Lou, a 26-year-old small business owner and a former Jeopardy! winner, said he was also a bit surprised to be the top winner and suggested that his victory was a reflection of a broader trend of Asian Americans turning right.

"I've never been one to set lofty expectations," Lou said, "but I am pleased by the result."

Lou—considered a rising star by the party’s older, more established base—already sits on the Republican committee, having been appointed to the seat weeks before the election due to a vacancy.

A split image of a young man in a blue suit on the left and an older woman in green on the right, both gazing to the side.
Bruce Lou, left, will be the Republican challenger to Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, right, in the upcoming November election. | Source: Estfany Gonzales/The Standard & Alex Wong/Getty Images

He’s also a first-time candidate for Congress and received endorsements from both the California GOP and San Francisco GOP to challenge longtime Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi on the ballot this November. Pelosi has been reelected by San Francisco voters more than a dozen times, and she’s expected to win comfortably this time, too. 

“I'm 100% aware of the challenge ahead,” Lou said. “But it is a challenge that I am prepared to tackle.”

Both Yan and Lou said that the Democratic Party has taken Asian American votes for granted; frustrations over progressive policies on crime and education led them to embrace conservative positions. 

Similar concerns led Angie Yap toward getting involved with the local Republican Party. A Chinese Malaysian immigrant and longtime San Francisco resident, Yap changed her party affiliation from Democratic to Republican Party in January. She voted for Yan in the March election.

She told The Standard that she's moderate and described some progressive policies as “utterly insane,” such as the removal of algebra instruction from eighth grade in middle schools, the erosion of merit-based admissions in public high schools and protections for undocumented immigrants under sanctuary city laws.

A woman stands before an ornate building with golden detailing, gazing upward thoughtfully.
Angie Yap, a San Francisco resident, changed her party affiliation from Democratic to Republican in January 2024. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

"I cannot support a different shade of blue," Yap said, referring to what she sees as the narrow political spectrum dominated by Democrats in San Francisco. "If we want systemic change in the city, we need to bring a second party here."

But challenging one-party dominance in San Francisco is a tall order, as the local GOP has struggled to regain relevance for decades. Its limited influence is reflected in March 5 vote tallies. Yan and Lou received about 3,400 and 3,000 votes, respectively, ranking first in the two RCCC races. However, the top winners at the Democratic County Central Committee races, Supervisors Catherine Stefani and Matt Dorsey, garnered 36,200 and 41,800 votes, 10 times more than their Republican counterparts.

Alongside the surprise victories of Yan and Lou, the San Francisco GOP elected a new slate of leadership that views Asian American voters as critical to the party’s revival.

The Briones Society, a new “center-right” Republican group whose members have distanced themselves from far-right Trump supporters, won 17 out of the total 25 RCCC seats, a decisive majority that could shake up the party. The group chose the name to honor Juana Briones, a 19th century ranchera and entrepreneur lauded as the "founding mother of San Francisco."

San Francisco Republican Party members constitute about 7% of the city’s total registered voters, and even though the two top winners are Asian Americans, the party’s general membership is largely white. Nationwide, 85% of Republican voters were white as of 2022, according to Pew Research

Jay Donde, the leader of the Briones Society, said its members are paying close attention to the needs of Asian American residents, which comprise one-third of the city’s population. He said that rising dissatisfaction with “far left” policies among Asian Americans creates recruitment opportunities for conservative groups.

Ten people stand smiling in a formal line in front of a U.S. flag and election banners.
The Briones Society, a new “center-right” Republican group, won most seats of the San Francisco Republican County Central Committee. | Source: Gina Castro/The Standard

Donde said that he wanted the Briones slate, which is largely white with two Chinese American members, to be more diverse. Some of the group members came together organically after meeting during the district attorney recall campaign, Donde said.

John Dennis, the party chair for the past five years, also won a seat on the RCCC. But many of his allies lost to Briones members.

He congratulated both Chinese American top winners for the RCCC, saying the “Chinese community should be Republican.” But he dismissed the narrative of pursuing diversity in political races, saying the Republicans should support whoever is best qualified.

It's unlikely that Dennis will remain the chair after the new RCCC takes office in 2025, as Briones members will have control of the committee. Both Yan, a member of the Briones Society, and Lou, an ally of Dennis’, said that it's still too early to see if they will seek chair positions.

But for Yap, she wants to change how this Democratic stronghold city views being conservative.

"I am a Republican, and I am proud," she said. "We should think about how to remove the stigma of being a Republican in San Francisco."