Man of the Town

December 6, 2007

John Tran
Council Member
City of Rosemead, CA 

Council Member John Tran is currently serving his first term on the Rosemead City Council.  He was elected on March 8, 2005 and is the first Asian-American elected to the city council.  He was born on November 20, 1975 in Vietnam and is one of six siblings.  He has lived in Rosemead for over 18 years and is proud of his two gems in his life, his sons, Joshua and Andre.

John has been involved in the real estate industry since 1994 as an agent and consultant.  He currently works with Coldwell Banker Real Estate Mart in San Gabriel.  Through his hard work and dedication, he won many prestigious awards for his sales and service to clients over the years.

John attended school as a student in the Garvey School District during his elementary and middle school years.  He graduated from Garvey Intermediate School and went on to graduate from Mark Keppel High School in what was then the Alhambra High School District in 1993.

John served his community as a member of the Garvey School District Board of Education from 1999-2005, serving as School Board President in 2002 and in 2003-2004, where he became the youngest member ever elected to the Garvey School Board at the age of 23.  During his tenure, he set high expectations for district administrators and staff and as a result, one school was awarded National Blue Ribbon Status, two schools were recognized as �California Distinguished Schools� and three schools were recognized as �California Title I Achieving Schools.  John was also instrumental in the development and approval of two joint-use agreements with the City of Rosemead to build two gymnasiums to be placed on each of our two intermediate school campuses.  As a School Board Member, John served on the Board of Directors for the California Latino School Board Members Association and as a Member of the California School Boards Association.

John was chair of the Garvey School District bond committee and successfully coordinated the work of staff and community to accomplish the passing of General Obligation Bond Q, a $30 million bond initiative, which will benefit the students of the Garvey School District by continuing modernization of the school sites.




Man of the Town




Nguoi Viet, News feature, Jami Farkas, Posted: Dec 05, 2007

John Tran isn’t one to let anything stop him.

Like his size. He’s just 5 foot 9, but because of his leaping ability, he played center on the high-school basketball team he captained — a position usually the domain of the big men.

Or like his age. He turned 32 just last week but is a veteran of Los Angeles County politics, first elected to public office at age 23.

Or like an attitude that just because something has never been done before, it can’t be done now.

He isn’t one to take no for an answer.

Tran, of Vietnamese and Chinese descent, is the mayor of Rosemead, Calif., a multiethnic city nestled in the San Gabriel Valley. Born in Saigon, he has lived here since age 10, growing up playing basketball on its courts and graduating from its schools. It’s a place dear to him, a place that he doesn’t think should be content to be just good enough.

He wants it to be the best it can be.

”We’re on our way,” he said.

As is he. He is the only elected official of Vietnamese descent serving in Los Angeles County and is part of a group of a dozen or so statewide that is becoming increasingly active. He is believed to be the only Vietnamese mayor in the nation.

He says he understands and embraces the responsibility.

”There’s a lot of expectations,” he noted. When he was named mayor in March—in Rosemead, it’s a post rotated among members of the City Council—”there were a lot of tears being that in Vietnam, mayors and politicians were appointed, and there was never an opportunity for democracy.”


Growing up, Tran didn’t have political aspirations, unless you include his election as sixth-grade treasurer.

”That was so far from my radar,” he remembered.

He married right out of high school at age 18 and thought he might be a basketball coach. Instead, he got into the real-estate business, still his profession. At 19, he was urged to run for the local Board of Realtors.

A few years later, in 1999, and with some knowledge of the political process, he decided to seek a seat on the board of the Garvey School District, which has 13 elementary and intermediate campuses. His reasoning was simple: better schools mean better property values. Plus, since he was a father by this time, he knew he wanted the tops for his children.

”Things were happening in the right place at the right time. The schools were really in need of modernization,” he said. ”My son was entering kindergarten, and I wanted the best experience for him.”

In turn, Tran gave Garvey his best.

Tran and the board started holding principals more accountable and encouraging parents to spend more time with their children on their homework. They held town-hall meetings to make sure the community was vested in district plans.

”We got more parents to be involved,” he said. ”That was the real key. … My philosophy is children’s education comes on the backbone of parents’ participation.”

His goals when he ran for the school board were to improve test scores, modernize campuses while boosting public safety. By the time he left, the scores had risen; the state and federal governments had bestowed California Distinguished School and National Blue-Ribbon labels on some of the local institutions. Voters approved a pair of school bonds that never had been passed before, and the district made emergency-preparedness plans with law-enforcement agencies, he said.

One of his proudest moments came when the district got funding for two intermediate-school gymnasiums—another of his goals when he first won the post—proving wrong the naysayers who told him the district never would get the money. When he left the school board to serve on the City Council, his former colleagues named one of those gyms the John Tran Pavilion.

He said he, more than anyone else, appreciated what those buildings would mean to the young people of Rosemead. When he was a child, he walked 20 minutes to a park to play basketball. He wanted kids to have the same chances a little closer to home.

”Between 3 o’clock and 6 o’clock, those are the key hours. You get juveniles who are out there walking the streets. They become Good Samaritans or troublemakers.”

Virginia Peterson, the superintendent of the Garvey district, said Tran was an ideal school-board member.

”He grasps new things very quickly, and he immediately moves to the big picture,” said Peterson, promoted to superintendent when Tran was the board president. ”That’s why it’s so exciting to work with him. He’s very motivating and motivated.”

He also saw what Garvey could become.

”Garvey is a low-income area, and many immigrant children come needing to learn English,” Peterson said. ”His vision was just because the children, they come and are poor, that doesn’t need to define who we are and what kind of programs we offer.”

”He has a vision of the very best for the children…. ‘We need to strive for this, we need to strive for that.”’


Eventually, Tran saw ways the city and its school districts †two elementary districts serve Rosemead—should be working together and he also had separate goals for his city. He decided to run for the council in the 2005 election and won.

”He’s always been the top vote getter. People were elected with 1,000 votes. He got 3,000 votes,” said John Nunez, Rosemead’s mayor pro tem who served on the school board with Tran. ”That tells you that people are hungry for someone like him.”

Especially in a community like Rosemead. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 55,000 residents live in the city. Tran said about 65 percent are Asian Americans and 28 percent Latino.

”As mayor, you are the face of the city,” Tran said. ”You are the chair of the meetings. A lot of the Vietnamese, a lot of the Asians, a lot of the Chinese are very proud that they do have a leader of their color. It’s a good feeling to know they are very proud of me.”

But he is more than just an Asian mayor, his supporters say. He is Rosemead’s heartbeat.

”At first political people used to look at him and say, ‘Who’s this?’ ”Nunez said. But when they get to know Tran, Nunez said, their position changes to, ”This guy’s got a lot of strengths.”

”He brings a lot of energy to the city,” Nunez said. ”A lot of enthusiasm. He has a great smile. He makes you feel good about the city. He gets people to work hard. He has a lot of innovative ideas. He wants to do things quickly. He doesn’t want to start a committee to figure it out. His committees are working committees.”

Peterson said that under Tran’s leadership, she has begun regular meetings with the city manager to partner the schools with the city. She said Tran knows that if you want people to move into the city, they must offer good schools, and that he’s brought the same vision to the other facets of Rosemead.

”I see a great future in Rosemead that frankly maybe I hadn’t seen. It’s a city getting some good attention now,” Peterson said.

Tran said many of his goals he’s already met. The city has initiated a number of events, such as a July 4 parade, to instill community involvement. Rosemead now has a Web site to better inform residents. Its leaders are working to bring in a nationally known supermarket to supplement the ethnic markets and to boost revenues and keep residents inside city boundaries when shopping.


While Tran accepts the responsibilities of being Rosemead’s mayor, he also embraces his place as a Vietnamese American politician. He said he regularly confers with some of the Orange County Vietnamese leaders and San Jose councilmember Madison Nguyen to share ideas.

”They do come and visit. We do share a lot of our experiences,” Tran said. ”I look to (Assemblyman) Van Tran (R-Costa Mesa). …He’s done great things in Orange County. I’m a Democrat but share in the same philosophy. We’re here to serve. He’s been a great role model.”

He’s also becoming a role model to some of the newer —at his youthful age, they aren’t necessarily younger †elected officials.

”Being Asian Americans, our first instinct is to run a business. My family has always done that. A lot of Asians do that. When they get to politics, they are always afraid. Finally, we have a group of us willing to do that and be the voice of the community,” Tran said. ”There are not that many of us. We need to band together and encourage more Asian Americans to run for office.”

The others in this select group recognize his contributions.

”Don’t judge John by his age,” said Lan Quoc Nguyen, president of the Garden Grove Unified School District’s board of education. ”He’s one of the youngest, but he’s more politically experienced than most of us. He knows how to make use of the political vehicles to affect the changes that he envisions. He’s not shy about taking drastic actions such as replacing the most senior staff members or changing the leadership team if that’s needed. He has a strong passion as a community leader, and he’s willing to take the strong medicine to accomplish what he needs to do for the community.”

Tran said he will run for reelection in 2009 to continue the city’s progress. If he’s decided to seek higher office at some point, he isn’t eager to reveal that.

”With term limits, there will be vacancies,” he said. ”I’ve been asked. I’m still considering it. There’s a lot of options, and it’s very tempting.”

Until then, he’s happy to be the face of Rosemead, especially when his constituents approach him on the streets or at one of his sons’ sporting events.

”They say, ‘You’re doing a great job.’

And that’s a great feeling.”

Birthplace: Saigon
Family: Fiancée Nikkie Cam. Children Joshua John, 13; Andre Dominic, 8; and Jack Dylan, 3 months
Education: 1993 graduate of Mark Keppel High School in Alhambra, Calif.
Currently enrolled at Rio Hondo Community College in Whittier, Calif.
Last political book read: ”The Audacity of Hope” by Barack Obama.
Favorite hangout in his city: The Rosemead Park basketball courts, where he first learned how to play the game.
The No. 1 reason that constituents call: ”Residents call me constantly to voice their desire for enhanced economic development and improved public safety services.”
Who, in his mind, are accomplished speakers: Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, eBay’s CEO Meg Whitman and Barack Obama.
His thoughts for the 2008 election: ”I absolutely believe this country is ready for either a woman or a minority to serve as our president.”

Madison Nguyen - San Jose City CouncilMadison Nguyen





ImageThuy Vu

(CBS 5) SAN JOSE San Jose City Councilwoman Madison Nguyen easily switches from English, to Vietnamese. She is San Jose’s first Vietnamese-American city council member.

Her victory was fueled heavily by money and support from the Vietnamese community.

“We’re here because we have worked hard and we want not just a seat at the table, but perhaps we want to lead the table,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen, her parents and 9 siblings fled Vietnam 28 years ago when she was 4.

They eventually settled in Modesto. Nguyen and her family harvested fruit, withstanding hard labor and the discrimination that farm owners unleashed on her father.

“And because he didn’t understand English, they would yell at him and they would curse at him,” Nguyen remembered. “I understood it all that because I understand English.”

It’s an immigrant’s tale in a community built by immigrants.

San Jose has the largest Vietnamese American community in the nation. Many have turned hard work into financial success. They have their own shopping centers now, for example. And they’re looking to turn financial clout into political clout.

“The time is right. The population has grown. People’s sophistication of learning the American way, understanding politics has increased dramatically,” said Michael Chang of the Asian Pacific American Leadership Institute.

Vietnamese Americans make up an estimated 10 percent of San Jose’s voters.

And now, a second Vietnamese-American is running for office.

Hon Lien is in a runoff this June against Kansen Chu in San Jose. Like Madison Nguyen, she’s an immigrant.

“This country is a free country, and that opens up the opportunity for everybody,” Lien said.

It’s also an unprecedented opportunity to push issues important to the Vietnamese community.

Nguyen wants to have a part of east San Jose named Vietnam Town, but acknowledges other ethnic groups may feel excluded.

“It’s not about segregation, it’s about inclusiveness and the importance of preserving our culture,” Nguyen said.

And preserving the interests of the community that propelled her to office.

(© MMVII, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)



New America Media, News Report, Andrew Lam, Nov 10, 2006

Editor’s Note: Vietnamese-Americans are asking why only three out of 18 Vietnamese candidates from California won their races for city, state and national offices. Many see only a brief setback for a community rapidly finding its footing in American politics. Andrew Lam is a NAM editor and author of “Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora” (Heyday Books, 2005), which recently won a PEN/Beyond Margins Award.

Eighteen Vietnamese-American candidates ran for office in California this election season, and only three won. All three winners were incumbents. What happened to the growing political clout of the state’s Vietnamese community?

In California, where the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam reside, political participation has long been a nourished dream of Vietnamese. In recent years, Little Saigon in Orange County has successfully ventured into the political realm, electing a handful of Vietnamese city councilmen and a state assemblyman. Their presence has been seen as a sign of the community’s growing maturity.

Many Vietnamese-Americans suspect the stunning defeat this year of so many candidates has much to do with the scandal surrounding Vietnamese-American congressional candidate Tan Nguyen. When 14,000 fliers were mailed from Nguyen’s office to Democratic voters with Spanish surnames in Orange County, telling them if they were immigrants they could face possible imprisonment and deportation if they voted, Nguyen found himself at the center of a political storm.

“Nguyen is a popular last name, and although many of other candidates had nothing to do with Tan Nguyen’s tactics, they share in the blame,” says Thai Tran, a voter in Orange County. “I’m afraid that some Hispanic voters voted to punish the Vietnamese community as a whole.”

Duc Ha, editor of, says the friendly relationship that Little Saigon worked hard to build with Hispanic communities in California “is now shattered.”

“I’m pretty sure the mailer scandal has some impact on the election of other Vietnamese candidates,” Ha says. Some Hispanic voters quoted by the Los Angeles Times said they were furious about the flier, and that they were motivated in part to go vote because of it.

The 18 Vietnamese ran for positions ranging from school board to city council to mayor.

Tan Nguyen lost to incumbent Loretta Sanchez by 24 points in their race for Congress. John Duong, another Republican, lost by 20 points in his bid for mayor of Irvine.

Re-elected were Van Tran, for state assembly, Lan Quoc Nguyen, for Garden Grove Unified School District, and Andy Quach, for Westminster city council.

Longtime community activist Linh Vu, who called the results terrible for the Vietnamese-American community, notes that, for a Vietnamese-American candidate to win, “the ability to have mainstream voters on your side is a must.” He says many Vietnamese-American candidates still make a common mistake. “Just having a Vietnamese last name without earning yourself a record and reputation as somebody in the community will not give you carte blanche support,” Vu explains. Furthermore, “When many Vietnamese-American candidates are vying for the same position, there will be dilution of voting bloc.”

Yet Vu notes that in San Jose, where Vietnamese-American voters are a formidable voting bloc, both mayoral candidates — Chuck Reed and Cindy Chavez — courted the community aggressively. “The Vietnamese-American community views the two candidates based on their personality and display of loyalty more than on the issues of which they stand.” Reed, a Vietnam vet who understands the political passion of the Vietnamese community, won. Political power is not simply having a Vietnamese face, but access.

In Orange County, incumbent congresswoman Loretta Sanchez has championed human rights in Vietnam, fighting for the release of political prisoners and earning the trust of Vietnamese-Americans over the years.

De Tran, longtime publisher of the now-defunct Viet Merc, in San Jose, says that he’s not disappointed with the election results. Though a personal friend his, John Quoc Duong, who was defeated in the Irvine mayoral race, Tran says Vietnamese-Americans are now part of the American political process.

“I don’t think this is a setback. You keep having to have more candidates every electoral season. Maybe the new groups will be better prepared next time around, more savvy with coalition building,” Tran says. “The Vietnamese community sees the Cuban community in Florida as a model, one with growing political and economic influences and lobbying power. Eventually there’ll be many Vietnamese-American candidates out of Florida, Texas and California.”

Maybe someday, Vietnamese-Americans will even be present in Capitol Hill, Tran says.

What about closer to home?

“Not in the next four years,” according to Tran. “We haven’t arrived yet. We are only beginning to discover the electoral process. But beyond that, it’s quite possible that we’ll have a Vietnamese mayor in San Jose. Why not?”

Why not, indeed. Win or lose, the community born of expulsion from Vietnam three decades ago and formed by refugees and boat people has found sure footing on American soil.

Related stories:

Big Politics in Little Saigon

Vietnamese Media Gauge Fallout From Campaign Scare Letter

User Comments

kawahchan on Nov 10, 2006 at 09:16:10 said:

CALIFORNIA CHALLENGES FOR WTO’s VIETNAM’s ECONOMY – Let us use a coin and a pencil to draw two circles, these two circles are intersected to each other. Circle A is a trade revenue of California’s exports to Vietnam, and Circle B is a trade revenue of Vietnam’s exports to California. These two intersected circles’ partial overlaid area is called the intersection of the Circle A and Circle B. Let use pencil to shade the intersection area, this shaded intersection of Circle A and Circle B is our argument of trade deficit between California and Vietnam. Put in this way to say if we see Circle A is a perfect full circle within the shaded intersection area, that means the Circle B is looked like a semilunar circle missing the shaded intersection area. The full Circle A (California’s) has gained on trade surplus from Vietnam, and the semilunar Circle B (Vietnam’s) is occurred a trade deficit behind California. The argument is how we can make this shaded intersection of Circle A and Circle B can become a more reciprocal overlay to each other. If this year California is trade surplus US$n-million profit from Vietnam, so California will credit US$n-million (or less) tariff-free to Vietnam’s imported-goods for next year’s trade with Vietnam; otherwise Vietnam will giveaway its US$n-million (or less) surplus to credit California’s imports as tariff-free when next year’s trade with California. To credit the US$n-million trade surplus as the tariff-free to the other party’s trade deficit could avoid layoffs and the consumers don’t have to burden on high priced imports and causing inflation. The key to the shaded intersection is the US$n-million tariff-free can create new employment, this is the correct method for California (Oregon, Washington) to partner WTO’s Vietnam in Asia-Pacific region’s free-trade; the foreign currency appreciation is the wrong theory and a wrong method to reduce the high trade deficit (with China). Because Vietnamese-Americans are eligible votable taxpayer-citizens in California state, and the new Vietnam (after 4-decade Vietnam War) is a fast growing country which is America’s West Coast’s long-term interests in Asia-Pacific region. Because we have a European-American immigrant California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who does not belong to Asia-Pacific region, we feel it is much efficient to the Asian-Californians and the California’s private Asian banks & Asian capitals such as the full of Asian cultural United Commerical Bank, Caty Bank, and Citibank are the mainstream bridging to play a major role in Pacific cross-strait’s direct transactions, economy, trades and culture-exchange between Vietnam and America’s West Coast. Asian-Californians realize the Vietnam’s tourism is the major sources of our California-imports consumers in Vietnam local; therefore Asian-Californians must need to invest and build our own “Little Los Angeles (L.A.)”, a California style plaza for hotels, restaurants, clubs, gift shops and branch-offices of California based Asian banks in Ho Chi Minh City (the former Saigon) in order to compete with the Vietnam’s local “Little Paris” (and French imports sales) if California wants to sell our California-made wines, cheeses, and other imports to the vacationing tourists in Vietnam. In order to win the “Little Los Angeles” plaza approval by the Vietnam’s authorities, we Asian-Californians and California’Asian banks will offer:
1) 92-day bond to assist Vietnam’s economic development or 92-day bailout to help Vietnam to export goods (such as rice, fruits, seafoods, etc.) to California. Such the United Commerical Bank is well experienced and compatible to offer these kinds of Asian operations.
2) Asian-Californians and California based Asian banks will generate capitals to invest the “Little Los Angeles” plaza wherever the Vietnamese government granted land for long-term joint-venture with California.
3) For tourism to have some funs, negotiation of a possibility to build a Paramount’s Great America (to relocate the South Bay’s scene parks to Vietnam opened for all seasons, and N. California can build more new scene parks); and possible a Universal Studio Hollywood (it is much cheapest for Hollywood to make movies at the Vietnam based studios than at the Russia’s; considered the Vietnam’s music entertainment & music DVD are the fast growing industry in Los Angeles and in Vietnam).
This article of “California challenges for WTO’s Vietnam’s economy” is to echo our 55 electoral votes of California economic growth, a fresh start campaign fundraising for BOTH (D) STEVE WESTLY to run for ’08 California U.S. Senator, and (D) Sen. JOHN KERRY to run for ’08 U.S. President. After Thanksgiving’s turkey dinner and Christmas season holidays, the California’s Vietnamese-American community, the winegrowers, Asian bankers will invite (D) STEVE WESTLY and (D) Sen. JOHN KERRY to get together to present a campaign fundraising dinner party to make speech and also discuss our foreign affairs of the West Coast’s California, Oregon, and Washington challenge for the new WTO’s Vietnam’s economy and the Asia-Pacific region’s trades.



New America Media, Commentary, Quang X. Pham, Oct 25, 2006

Editor’s Note: A Vietnamese American author looks at the Southern California candidate linked to a scandal involving a flyer designed to intimidate Hispanic voters. Former Marine Corps pilot Quang X. Pham is a business consultant and author of “A Sense of Duty: My Father, My American Journey” (Ballantine Books, 2005). Earlier this year he had explored running for Congress as an independent against incumbent Democrat Loretta Sanchez.

tan nguyenORANGE COUNTY, Calif.–His campaign slogan states he’s “not afraid to tell it like it is.” But ex-Democrat-turned-Republican congressional candidate Tan Nguyen (commonly pronounced as “Win”) might want to ditch the phrase. According to polls commissioned by Nguyen, he was actually leading by double digits and well on his way to Washington, D.C., well into his ill-fated campaign.

Such a claim was absurd even before the ruckus over a scare letter sent by Nguyen’s campaign to Hispanic voters in central Orange County sullied his name, the most common surname for Vietnamese. Most recently, state agents raided Nguyen’s campaign office and home shortly before his scheduled press conference. Although computers and files were seized in the search, no charges have been filed with two weeks to go before the general election.

Nguyen, who says he had no knowledge of the controversial mailer, finally appeared before the public and defiantly proclaimed, “I am not going to quit this race and I am going to win this race.”

It’s enough to remind one of the catchphrase, “Just Win Baby!” coined by Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis. These days, the 1-5 Raiders have about as good of a chance of winning the next Super Bowl as Nguyen has of becoming a congressman.

Yet the Raiders have winning qualities that Nguyen lacks. Like Nguyen, they carpet-bagged in the early 1980s and moved to Los Angeles. (Nguyen had lost in the 2004 Democratic primary in the district neighboring his current one.) But before the National Football League put head-coaching quotas in place, Davis had already hired a Hispanic and a black coach, both pioneers in their profession. He also put a woman in charge. Through the team’s ups and downs, Raider fans remained loyal because they knew their team and what it stood for.

To defeat five-term incumbent Loretta Sanchez, Republicans need a leader like Al Davis: someone rich, tough and capable of bridging ethnic communities and winning at any (legal) cost.

Of course, like her opponent Nguyen, Sanchez also switched parties after losing an election. Since upsetting fiery “B-1 Bob” Dornan in 1996 and then beating him again two years later, no challenger has come within 20 percentage points of her, even though she hasn’t authored a single piece of significant legislation during a decade in office. “Loretta Sanchez is a disaster, as was Bob Dornan,” writes Steven Greenhut, senior editorial writer of the Orange County Register. “There is no realistic chance that anyone normal will represent that congressional district anytime soon.”

No one really asked Nguyen why he decided to challenge Sanchez. Where does he stand on the hot-button issues? According to his statement in the Orange County Register’s online voter’s guide for the 47th congressional district, Nguyen wants to split Iraq into three countries. “It’ll be their problem from there on. They can behead each other and not Americans,” Nguyen commented. He blames Ronald Reagan’s 1986 amnesty program for today’s immigration problems and opposes any guest-worker programs.

Political observers watched with surprise as Nguyen dumped nearly a half-million of his own money into the primary race and handily thumped opponent Rosie Avila by more than 3,000 votes. Avila, a longtime school district board member endorsed by several county supervisors, didn’t bother to do one mailing. Nguyen has done it mostly by himself, without the support of the local Republican Party. According to his Federal Election Commission filing, he has raised just over $60,000 from individuals. Nearly all of his spending targeted Vietnamese-American voters via direct mail, lawn signs and ethnic media ads.

Christian Collet, an expert on Vietnamese-American politics and currently associate professor of American Politics at Doshisha University in Japan, foresees one outcome. “What we see here is an overzealous, amateur candidate (Tan Nguyen) claiming to represent the community and promising to deliver a bloc of votes. What politicians need to realize is that Vietnamese-American voters are relentlessly independent, only vote as a bloc for candidates whom they know and trust to represent the community and that the process of developing that trust takes a considerable amount of time.”

Yet it remains unclear how many who voted for Nguyen in the GOP primary were Vietnamese Americans.

Despite the denunciations from county, party and state officials from both sides, Nguyen will not quit. His name will remain on the ballot, including the absentee ballots soon to arrive at the registrar’s office. Early returns on election night may reveal whether Nguyen’s fumble — or, as some anti-illegal immigration supporters may see it, his Hail Mary — has worked. In 2002, Republican challenger Jeff Chavez withdrew before the general election but still managed to win 35 percent of the vote.

A new Wall Street Journal poll revealed that voter approval ratings for Congress, whose members worked only 93 days this year while passing no significant bills, has bottomed at 15 percent, the lowest figure in 14 years. It’s a mid-term election already filled with scorching scandals. In such a climate, maybe Nguyen would have been a breath of fresh air.

In the end, it’s likely that Nguyen will come closer than anyone else to beating Sanchez. But there’s no consolation prize in politics — especially when you’ve already switched parties once, lost twice and may face indictment.

Why moon cakes matter

October 19, 2006

Asian-American vote is growing in importance

By Timm Herdt
October 18, 2006

pictureAcouple weeks ago, there was a splash in the California political press after Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger offered his views on the relative cultural assimilation rates of Asians and Latinos. Although his remarks were in fact ill-informed, much was made about very little.What was more interesting was not what Schwarzenegger had to say, but where he said it: at a Moon Festival in Los Angeles’ Chinatown, in a visit designed to highlight legislation he had signed that will allow moon cakes, a traditional sweet cake served at such festivals, to conform with state food-safety regulations.

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The news about the moon cakes was the part that was well-reported in, among other Asian media, the People’s Daily Online.

The fact that Schwarzenegger attended a Moon Festival to sing the praises of moon cakes speaks loudly about a little-noted political reality in California: The Asian-American vote is important and becoming more so with each election cycle.

A study conducted during the 2004 election by the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in Los Angeles found that the Asian vote is on the upswing, growing in four years from 8 percent to 9 percent of the total electorate in Los Angeles County and from 9 percent to 13 percent in Orange County.

In Los Angeles County, the actual number of Asian-American voters grew by 29 percent between the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. The study also found that there is room for more growth.

“There’s still work to be done to mobilize Asian Americans,” said researcher Daniel Ichinose.

Not surprisingly, the influence of this growing ethnic group is showing up not just in the voter rolls but also in the candidates seeking office. Two years ago, Republican Van Tran in Orange County become the first Vietnamese-American elected to the Legislature. This year, Democrats have three Asian Americans on their statewide slate: John Chiang for controller, and Judy Chu and Betty Yee for Board of Equalization.

Chiang and Yee are the children of immigrants, and make no mistake: Asian-American voters in California are immigrant voters. According to the study, more than 70 percent of the 272,000 Asian Americans who cast ballots in L.A. County in 2004 were foreign-born. About 40 percent had limited English proficiency.

Clearly, these are emerging voters who California politicians need to court.

Much has been written about the Latino vote and its influence on California elections. But here’s something to consider: Nov. 7, Latinos will account for about 15 percent of the statewide electorate. Asian Americans will be not far behind, at about 10 percent.

Why might the governor make a campaign-season appearance in Chinatown? The study showed that Chinese-American voters in Los Angeles County are as up-for-grabs as any pool of voters could be: 29 percent Democrats, 29 percent Republicans. A remarkable 40 percent decline to state a party affiliation.

How the Asian-American vote in California plays out this fall will be interesting to watch.

For one thing, the immigration issue is as delicate with these voters as it is for other immigrant groups. While there may be sympathy for slowing the tide of illegal immigration among a community of legal immigrants eager to see legal quotas expanded, all immigrants are suspicious of political rhetoric that sounds even vaguely unwelcoming.

“Latinos and Asians share some common concerns,” said Linda Trinh Vo, a University of California, Irvine, professor and author of the book, “Mobilizing the Asian American Community.”

Indeed, the exit survey of 4,300 Asian-American voters suggests that this group of immigrant voters broke largely as Latino voters did in 2004 — which is to say, Democratic. The exit poll showed that independent Asian-American voters in Southern California sided heavily with Democrat John Kerry and also substantially supported Proposition 72, which would have mandated large- and mid-sized employers to provide health insurance to workers.

Proposition 72 was opposed by the Republican Party and GOP elected officials statewide, but even among Asian Americans registered as Republicans, support for Proposition 72 was strong. From this, the study concludes: “Asian-American voters were likely to cross party lines to support an issue of importance to their communities.”

Obviously, such issues include many of far greater substance than the regulation of moon cakes. They include the opportunity issues of importance to all immigrants: education, healthcare, job opportunities, support for small business, access to college.

This is a large and growing voter group that’s up for grabs. The study’s conclusion offers this advice to California politicians and political parties: “Asian-American voters are less likely than other voters to be affiliated with a political party and rely heavily on issues to make decisions about which candidates ? to support.”

— Timm Herdt is chief of The Star’s state bureau. His e-mail address is

Let Saigon be Saigon’s

October 13, 2006

President Bush heads to Vietnam next month, making a question about that upcoming trip a must-ask when former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes spoke at the National Press Club in Washington Wednesday evening.

It was during the 2004 campaign that Barnes acknowledged that as speaker of the Texas House he had found a National Guard slot for young George W. Bush, then the son of a Houston congressman, during the Vietnam War. Barnes said he acted at the behest of a Bush family friend.

Any advice for Bush as he prepares for his first-ever trip to Vietnam long after the Guard stint that kept him out of the war?

“It’s a lot safer than it was when he didn’t go the first time,” Barnes quipped.

Barnes was at the National Press Club to speak about his book, “Barn Burning Barn Building,” an account of his long years at and near the power centers in Austin and Washington.


By Edwin Garcia
MediaNews Sacramento Bureau

At the home of Chieu Van Le, owner of Lee's Sandwiches, Assemblyman Van Tran (second from right) endorses Irvine mayoral candidate John Duong (right) at a party for Duong in San Jose, California on Sunday, August 27, 2006.

Jim Gensheimer / Mercury News

At the home of Chieu Van Le, owner of Lee’s Sandwiches, Assemblyman Van Tran (second from right) endorses Irvine mayoral candidate John Duong (right) at a party for Duong in San Jose, California on Sunday, August 27, 2006.

More photos

Assemblyman Van Tran, donning a city of San Jose construction hat, digs his ceremonial shovel into the ground, turning the earth alongside dozens of local dignitaries on what will become the Viet Heritage Gardens in San Jose.

But it’s a short — often interrupted — walk through Kelley Park after the ceremony that best illustrates the high regard for Tran in the South Bay: A doctor offers to raise campaign money for him; Rep. Mike Honda gushes about Tran’s popularity; and an aide to San Jose Councilman Dave Cortese pleads for the assemblyman’s endorsement should Cortese run for county supervisor in 2008.

Spend a day in San Jose with Tran and one quickly comes to understand that he is the most important and influential political figure for the city’s sizable Vietnamese-American population. And for those who aren’t Vietnamese, he provides a critical link to a growing bloc of South Bay voters — even if he doesn’t technically represent any of them.

Tran, a 41-year-old Republican, was elected nearly 400 miles away in Orange County. No matter.

In San Jose, Vietnamese-Americans young and old, conservative and liberal, treat him like he’s their legislator. They invite him to community celebrations attended by thousands, shower him with respect that their local representatives could only envy, and frequently drive two hours to lobby him at the state capital.

“We feel like we have a friend in Sacramento,” said Helen Duong, board member of the Viet Heritage Society of San Jose. “Even though he’s not from here, he listens to us,” she said, describing Tran as “like an honored member of the family.”

Tran, who left Vietnam aboard a C-130 military cargo plane at age 10, became the highest-ranking elected official of Vietnamese heritage in the United States when voters in Garden Grove and surrounding cities chose him to represent the 68th Assembly District nearly two years ago.

Popular here

He’s been in constant demand for speaking engagements nationwide, especially in Santa Clara County, home to more than 100,000 Vietnamese-Americans.

But that popularity has come with a price. Tran now carries a concealed handgun — the result of death threats made by communist sympathizers. And not everyone in his home district is thrilled with Tran’s routine visits to San Jose, seven trips since January.

“If he is taking care of the issues of the voters in Orange County, then he can go anywhere he wants to go; he can go on vacation,” said Long Kim Pham, a Republican who lost to Tran in the June primary. “But first, he has to perform,” Pham said, criticizing Tran for failing to produce meaningful legislation.

On this particular visit in late August, Tran and his wife, Cyndi, a model, spent about nine hours in San Jose. She reads driving directions from scraps of paper, while he steers their Mercedes-Benz C320 from the groundbreaking celebration to a book-signing of a former political prisoner, to an impromptu visit for Vietnamese-language Mass, to a fundraiser for a friend — a Vietnamese candidate running for mayor of Irvine — and finally to a reunion of South Vietnamese army veterans.

“To many Vietnamese-Americans, not only in California but in the United States,” Tran said, on the drive back to his Sacramento-area home, “I’m a symbol of the burgeoning community.”

That’s not what his parents had in mind when they fled Vietnam with four young children in 1975.

Tran’s father, an English professor, and his mother, a dentist, wanted their children to work in health science.

“My family, me, and my wife, and relatives, nobody was interested in politics,” said Tran’s father, Dien Van Tran, 77. “Most of my kids are professionals — all of them are dentists except Van. He followed his own way.”

Tran, who grew up in Arkansas, Texas, Michigan and Orange County, where his mother opened a dental practice, became a student activist at the University of California-Irvine in the late 1980s, speaking out about the lack of freedom in Vietnam.

At a time when Orange County’s large Vietnamese-American population was becoming more politically active, Tran caught the attention of Rep. Bob Dornan, R-Garden Grove, who hired him as a district aide, and two years later took a job with state Sen. Ed Royce.

“He was young, bright, ambitious, articulate,” recalled Royce, now a congressman for Fullerton. “But also, besides being a fairly cerebral guy and very hardworking, he’s got the ability to motivate people.”

Royce encouraged him to consider public office upon graduating with a degree in political science. Instead, Tran went to Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., for a law degree and a master’s in public administration.

Auspicious start

When he returned to California in 1992, he volunteered as a community spokesman, interpreting to the general public the anger of thousands of immigrants who protested against a shopkeeper in the Little Saigon district who raised the communist flag at his video store.

“It’s like marching Hitler right down New York City or a Jewish community,” Tran said. “Like Castro going through Little Havana.”

Tran was appointed to the Garden Grove Planning Commission, then quickly raised $100,000 in his race for a city council seat.

Four years later, he sprang for the Assembly, which put him on a fundraising circuit into the homes of Silicon Valley millionaires who treated him like a homegrown candidate, a celebrity, even.

Chieu Le, co-founder of the San Jose-based Lee’s Sandwiches chain, presses an open hand against his heart when asked his opinion of Tran. “We feel very honored to have him.”

And so do local politicians. “The whole Vietnamese community is enjoying his successes,” said Councilman Chuck Reed, the San Jose mayoral contender who won Tran’s endorsement and couldn’t care less that the assemblyman’s district is in Southern California.

Linda Nguyen and Madison Nguyen also sought Tran’s endorsement when they campaigned for San Jose City Council last year, but he sat out the race. Still, Tran said, Madison Nguyen found an “assertive and creative” way to remind voters of the assemblyman’s clout: She uploaded a picture of herself with Tran and posted it on her campaign Web site. She won, becoming the first Vietnamese-American on the council.

“Think of African-Americans and someone like Martin Luther King, and Latinos and someone like Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta,” said San Jose State University political scientist Professor Larry Gerston. “These people were far away, but if they gave their blessing to a candidate, it meant a lot to people.”

Despite Tran’s high-profile status among the state’s half-million residents of Vietnamese origin, his legislative work is considered low-key.

In less than two years on the job, Tran has yet to deliver any remember-me-for-this legislation. He’s introduced 30 bills; eight became law.

That’s not good enough for Paul Lucas, the Democrat facing Tran in November in a district that heavily favors the Republican candidate. “I don’t think he’s gotten anything done,” Lucas said.

Tran, who wears dark suits and neatly trimmed hair, counters that his performance shouldn’t be judged solely by the bills he proposes. He has vehemently opposed “bad laws that hurt the quality of life for Californians.” And he also said it’s hard to produce when the Democratic majority decides the fate of bills.

Assembly Republican Leader George Plescia of San Diego calls Tran a “very quick study,” and a “quiet, methodical worker” who promotes the party’s goals through his conservative stance.

`Awesome responsibility’

Tran’s fans see a highly effective legislator who backed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s executive order that recognizes the flag of the former Republic of Vietnam. They know about the time he protested on the Assembly floor when prevented from criticizing a visiting delegation of the Vietnamese government. And they’re grateful for his measure asking for a study to determine whether the shelf life of popular Vietnamese rice cakes can be safely extended beyond the four hours allowed under state law.

Being a political trailblazer, Tran noted, is both an “honor and an awesome responsibility,” in part because so many of his supporters aren’t confined to the geographical boundaries of his home base.

“I work extremely hard for my constituents, and my first priority is to the people of my district,” Tran said. “It so happens that being the first and the highest, I’m perfectly willing to work overtime and pull double duty in doing the extracurricular duties outside my Assembly district.”

He added: “I share the same values and ideals as a member of the Vietnamese community, whether I go to San Jose or New York.”

When it comes to plotting his political future, Tran, who is expected to be re-elected to another two-year term in the Assembly, makes no secret: He wants to join the House of Representatives one day.

If and when that time comes, his supporters in San Jose once again won’t be able to cast a vote. But Tran will be counting on them — and they will be counting on Tran.

Contact Edwin Garcia at or (916) 441-4651.