Sam Huang's election to the Chandler City Council could be viewed a number of ways.
It could be seen as an example of perseverance. Huang ran for a council seat in 2012 and 2014, losing both times, only to try again in 2016. This time he was the second-highest vote-getter among eight candidates, winning a seat outright in the primary and avoiding a runoff election.
It might also be seen as proof that having the most money doesn't always matter. Campaign finance reports filed with the city showed that several candidates raised more than Huang. Among the top fundraisers, only incumbent Councilwoman Nora Ellen was elected outright in the primary.
It also can be seen as a message to the Valley's Asian-American community, as well as other minority groups, that there is a place for them in local politics.
For Huang, a native of Taiwan who came to the U.S. with his wife in the early 1990s, the latter message may be the most important.
'I think it has great impact on them,' Huang said. 'The Asian-American community has a very low voter turnout ... but if they see I can get elected, they have more reason to get involved.''
Huang, a retired school principal who is active in Asian-American organizations in the Phoenix area, said many Asian-Americans prioritize work and education in their households. Politics is a different matter, he said.
'When the focus is on politics, they kind of retreat,'' Huang said. 'They become very silenced. They feel it's not their thing. They feel it's for other people to make the decisions.''
Sluggish voter participation
A 2015 report by Third Way, a nonpartisan policy organization based in Washington, D.C., identified similar challenges with low voter registration and turnout among Asian-Americans and Hispanics.
Only 47 percent of Asian-Americans voted in the 2012 presidential election, compared with 48 percent of Hispanic voters, 66 percent of black voters and 64 percent of non-Hispanic white voters, according to the report.
Fewer Asian-Americans (56 percent) were registered to vote than Hispanic voters (58 percent), blacks (73 percent) and non-Hispanic whites (73 percent), according to Third Way. The report concluded a higher proportion of foreign-born Asian-Americans 'has contributed to less inclusion in the political system.''
The U.S. Asian-American population was estimated at 17 million in 2010, according to Third Way. In Chandler, about 9.4 percent of residents are identified as Asian-American, according to the most recent demographic information on the city's website.
Huang said his victory was the result of support from a variety of groups, including many Hispanic voters who also may feel disenfranchised.
'I think after my election, they may feel, 'Oh, I'm also part of the United States. I'm an American,' ' he said. 'I think it's important not only for Asian-Americans, but every American. You are part of this society. You're part of this country so you should contribute your knowledge.''
Different, but one
Albert Lin, president of the Arizona Asian American Association, said Huang's win will help the group in its effort to encourage more Asian-American participation in Valley elections.
'I think it抯 an inspiration,' Lin said. 'We would like to take this momentum and have a celebration of victory and call attention and awareness to encourage more people to exercise their right to vote and also participate in politics.
'Politics in my opinion is public service and it should not be a dirty word,'' Lin said. 'Whether they are elected or not is secondary to me. The most important thing is participation.''
Huang said he hopes that message extends to people of every ethnic background.
'I was not able to win with just Asian votes, no way,'Huang said. 'There were a lot of Caucasian and Hispanic residents who voted for me. We all get together now. We're different Americans, but we're one America.'
The article by Chris Coppola, The Republic | azcentral.com