Thursday, June 03, 2010

Embracing Diversity

By Marc Korman.

For the past few years, I have wondered how the Republican Party could continue to become straighter, whiter, and more male and continue to exist. Instead of embracing America’s growing diversity, my view is that Republicans have, broadly speaking, chosen to reject it. Happily for my preferred politics, the Maryland Democratic Party has taken the opposite route.

The Maryland Democratic Party recently founded Diversity Leadership Councils, with a specific goal of reaching out to and organizing particular communities such as African American, Latino, and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI). I had the opportunity to attend an AAPI Council meeting recently and saw the great potential for this type of organizing.

The AAPI community is represented in the legislature by four Delegates: Kumar Barve, Susan Lee, Saqib Ali, and Kris Valderrama. There are at least three other AAPI Democratic candidates running in 2010 including Sam Arora and Hoan Dang in District 19 and Neeta Datt in District 14.

According to the AAPI Leadership Council, there are approximately 300,000 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Maryland, about 5.2% of the population. About a quarter are Indian, a bit less than that Chinese, and also significant populations of Koreans, Filipinos, and Vietnamese. Of these, about 85,000 have been identified as current voters.

Nationally, Asian Americans have been moving in the Democrats’ direction, though definitions can be a little tricky because not all exit polling for “Asian Americans” necessarily includes all of the countries the AAPI Council encompasses. In 1992, George H.W. Bush received 62% of the Asian American vote. By 2004, his son George W. Bush received just 44%. John McCain saw his share of the vote decline to just 35%.

The impact of these voters is a bit harder to identify in Maryland. In 2006, CNN exit polling listed Asians as 2% of the total vote in Maryland but did not break down how they voted due to the small number involved.

The AAPI Leadership Council is working to increase those numbers as well as the profile of those already voting, contributing, and participating. They have organized themselves entirely with volunteers into committees for membership, communications, finance, and grassroots organizing. Their goal is to not just bring out their community for candidates with their own backgrounds, but to support Democrats in general.

The two issues I heard the most about at the meeting I attended were small business and education. Many participants said the reasons they or their families moved to Montgomery County was the schools. That is pretty consistent with every other population group in the area.

Adam recently wrote about the GOP’s “lost opportunity.” Their failure to embrace diversity is a big part of that. Embracing diversity does not just mean nominating some diverse candidates, which to the Republicans’ credit they did with Michael Steele. It means engaging diverse communities at the grassroots level. The AAPI Leadership Council and the other similar Councils the Maryland Democratic Party has established are doing just that.

Full Disclosure, I am a Maryland Democratic Party Committee Member.