Image provided by: University of Oregon Libraries; Eugene, OR
About The Asian reporter. (Portland, Or.) 1991-current | View Entire Issue (Feb. 2, 2015)
Page 8 n THE ASIAN REPORTER
February 2, 2015
Jostling to replace Barbara Boxer shows minority influence
By Michael R. Blood and Kevin Freking
OS ANGELES — U.S. senator Barbara Boxer
crashed through a barrier when her election
victory nearly a quarter century ago marked the
ascent of women in Washington. Her successor could
achieve a breakthrough as well — one that reflects
California’s steadily changing political demographics.
When the California Democrat won her first term in
1992, eight of 10 voters in that election were white. Far
more Hispanics and Asian Americans call the state home
today compared with a generation ago, and her recently
announced exit has revealed a diverse field of potential
The maneuvering showcases the growing influence of
minority voters and a challenge for the Republican Party,
which has struggled for years to make inroads with many
Attorney general Kamala Harris, the first Democrat to
enter the 2016 contest, is the daughter of a black father
and an Indian mother. Her possible rivals include
prominent Hispanics, such as former Los Angeles mayor
Antonio Villaraigosa and representatives Loretta
Sanchez and Xavier Becerra, and state treasurer John
Chiang, whose parents came to the U.S. from Taiwan.
“It’s a huge sea change in the electorate,” says
Democratic consultant Bill Carrick, who notes that only
25 percent of California voters today were registered in
The state has never elected a black or Hispanic
candidate to the U.S. Senate. Only one Asian American
has cracked that barrier: S.I. Hayakawa, the son of
Japanese immigrants, who served from January 1977 to
In her announcement, Harris alluded to the state’s
diversity, saying she would build a campaign “that
reaches every community of California.”
In Boxer’s first election, Hispanics accounted for eight
percent of the overall tally. In November’s elections, exit
polls found nearly two of 10 votes were by Hispanics,
essentially doubling their clout over that time.
Asian Americans notched four percent of the vote in
1992, surveys found, but that nearly tripled to 11 percent
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File
The Associated Press
Those changes have loosely followed population growth.
The number of registered voters in the state increased by
3.5 million between 1994 and 2012. Nearly 90 percent of
those new voters were Hispanic or Asian American,
according to the independent Field Poll.
Hispanics made up about a quarter of the population
when Boxer was elected; they now make up about 40
percent of the total of 38 million. Asian Americans
accounted for 10 percent of the population in the first
Boxer run. They now make up 13 percent, according to the
The state’s demographic shifts have been a difficult
adjustment for Republicans. In the 1980s and early 1990s,
Grand Old Party (GOP) candidates running statewide
CHANGING DEMOGRAPHICS. U.S. senator Barbara Boxer
crashed through a barrier when her election victory nearly a quarter
century ago marked the ascent of women in Washington. Her successor
could achieve a breakthrough as well — one that reflects California’s
steadily changing political demographics. One candidate is attorney gen-
eral Kamala Harris (top photo), the first Democrat to enter the 2016 con-
test. Harris is the daughter of a black father and an Indian mother. Another
possible rival is state treasurer John Chiang (bottom photo), whose par-
ents came to the U.S. from Taiwan.
sometimes rolled up more than 40 percent of the Latino
and Asian-American vote. But a turnaround came with
Proposition 187, which prohibited people who entered the
U.S. illegally from using healthcare, education, or other
The 1994 law enacted with encouragement from
Republican governor Pete Wilson was eventually
overturned, but it left lingering resentment with many
Latino and Asian-American voters just as their influence
began to grow.
Most of California’s new voters are Hispanic, and they
tend to register as Democrats or as Independents.
Republican voter registration has withered to 28 percent,
while Democrats hold 43 percent.
This dominance could, however, create an opportunity
for the GOP. Some analysts have suggested that a big field
of Democrats could dilute the party’s vote in the senate
primary, allowing one or two Republicans — assembly-
man Rocky Chavez of Oceanside is among those
considering a bid — to slip into a November runoff.
Since 2012, the state has used what’s called a top-two
primary in which all candidates appear on a single ballot.
Voters are permitted to pick anyone on the list, but only
the two attracting the most votes advance from the
primary to November, regardless of party affiliation.
In a Southern California congressional race in 2012, so
many Democrats ran in the primary that they cancelled
each other out, sending two Republicans to a runoff in a
Democratic-leaning district. U.S. representative Gary
Miller ended up winning the seat.
The top-two system has never been tested in a
competitive statewide race that could attract a string of
credible, well-funded Democrats, a group that could
include billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer.
Continued on page 11