While we are celebrating women history month in March, the Asian/Pacific Islander American Chamber of Commerce & Entrepreneurship (National ACE) would like to highlight a breakthrough year for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women in politics. Among President Trump’s earliest choices, Elaine Chao was selected as Secretary of Transportation. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley was tapped to as US Ambassador to the United Nations. Indiana health care expert Seema Verma was chosen to run the Center for Medicaid and Medicare. Grace Kohn was selected as a White House National Economic Council Senior Advisor.
“These impressive women have a tremendous record of achievement,” said Chiling Tong, the President/CEO of National ACE, which advocates of AAPI business interests and effects positive change on all issues that enhance and advance the goals and aspirations of AAPI business owners, entrepreneurs and corporate leaders. “Each of them is a recognized expert in her field.” Secretary Chao was previously the Deputy Secretary of Transportation, as well as leading two maritime organizations in the federal government, before becoming Secretary of Labor. Governor Haley is frequently cited as a ‘rising star’ in the national Republican Party, for her record in South Carolina.
As a private consultant, Seema Verma designed the Healthy Indiana Plan, Vice President Pence’s consumer-oriented low-income insurance program that has been held up as an alternative to Obamacare. She had also guided Governor Daniels’ health policy in Indiana.
AAPI women also broke through in the national elections and into of the 115th Congress in January 3, 2017. Across the country, Democrats unseated only two Republican Senators, and four incumbent Representatives. But two of their rare upsets were by AAPI women. In all, out of seven new AAPI’s elected to Congress, five of them are women.
In the Senate, Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) defeated the Republican incumbent. Duckworth is a two-term Representative, born in Thailand, and an Iraq war veteran who was severely injured in combat. She joined in the Senate by Kamala Harris (D-CA) who won an open seat. California Attorney General Harris has an Indian mother. She is the first Indian-American, and the second African American, elected to the United States Senate.
“In 2012 Mazie Hirono (D-HI) became the first AAPI female elected to the U.S. Senate,” said Helene Yan, Chairwoman of National ACE. “Today there are three. This marks a coming-of-age for the AAPI community. None of their victories were flukes. These are accomplished Democrats in solidly blue [heavily Democratic] states that can be in a position to influence American policy for many years.”
In the House of Representatives, Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) becomes the first Vietnamese-American female elected to Congress, defeating a powerful 12-term incumbent Republican. She joined in Congress by first-term Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) who is the first Indian-American woman elected to the House of Representatives. The fifth AAPI female ‘newcomer’ is Representative Coleen Hanabusa (D-HI) who was elected to a seat she had previously held, before giving it up in an unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate.
There are now a record 18 Asian Pacific Americans Senators and Representatives in Congress, as well as non-voting delegates from Guam and American Samoa. Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA), the chair of the AAPI caucus, has already used her platform to call out President Trump on his policies toward AAPI communities. Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-NY), the first AAPI woman member of Congress from New York, has been elected as Vice Chairperson of the Democratic National Committee. According to National ACE founding member Bill Imada, the election results have also enhanced the position of Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-AS). Delegate Radewagen is the only AAPI Republican in the AAPI caucus, and the Republicans will control Congress as well as the White House. Two years ago she won a seat that had been held by Democrats for 34 years. In 2016, she beat multiple Democrat and independent opponents with 75% of the vote.