Interview by Eddie Wong. Posted January 29, 2023.
Introduction: Arizona remained in the national spotlight well after the November midterm election concluded due to close races for Attorney General and Governor. It wasn’t until December 29, 2022 that the Maricopa County Superior Court confirmed that Democratic candidate Kris Mayes won the race for Attorney General by 280 votes. Once in office, Mayes announced that the Election Integrity Unit, which was created by her GOP predecessor, would switch its focus to voter suppression issues from alleged voter fraud.
The recount also spelled victory for Katie Hobbs, who flipped the governor’s seat from Republican to Democrat. Asian Americans, which comprise nearly 5% of the electorate, were a vital part of the progressive coalition that secured these victories. Jennifer Chau, Executive Director of AZ AANHPI for Equity and AZ AANHPI Advocates, shared the following reflections on their work in 2022 and their future plans. This interview was conducted on Jan. 12, 2023.
Eddie Wong: Tell us about what AZ AANHPI for Equity and AZ AANHPI Advocates accomplished in the 2022 midterms.
Jennifer Chau: We did the same approach as in 2020; our goal was to reach all API voters. We did voter registration going out in the community to register people to vote. We door knocked to make sure that they have information on what they’re voting for.
We endorsed two ballot initiatives which passed by very small margins. I don’t know if you heard about Prop 308 where our organization supported a proposition where Dreamers or those who are undocumented could have in-state tuition and financial aid; it passed by 2%. It was really close. There was a big voter ID/voter suppression bill Prop 309. We encouraged voters to vote no on that; It’s just adding more layers to voting and requiring showing proof of identity on mail-in ballots.. A lot of people thought that would pass because there was so much money being poured into that, but the No vote won by a really slim margin of victory, .08%. We did text banking, phone, banking and multiple flights of mailers in Vietnamese and Chinese. In canvassing our literature was in Chinese and Vietnamese as well.
Then for our C4 side we focused on two districts, LD 9 and LD 13 which have a high concentration of API voters. Those were competitive districts where we did a canvassing program as well. In 2020 we didn’t do much canvassing because of the pandemic, but we felt like this year we’re going to invest a lot of our energy and funding and everything on canvassing because we feel like having that face-to-face interaction with voters is key to our success. For those districts almost all of the candidates we endorsed end up winning.
Volunteers. Photo from AZ AANHPI for Equality website.
Our organization just started in 2020. I went from a two-person full time staff in 2021 to nine full time staff by the end of 2022. I was able to do more programming. We did postcard writing, which we focused on reproductive rights and climate justice. We sent out 30,000 postcards to Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander young voters and to women voters. We did a collaboration with Planned Parenthood for our C4 side where we endorsed Katie Hobbs for Governor and Kris Mayes for Attorney General.
After the recount for the Attorney General, the margin of victory ended up so slim. Over five million people cast their votes, and it went down to 280 votes. Every vote counts and for the governor’s race Katie Hobbs won by 17,100 votes. So, I definitely feel we were the margin of victory in these key races and the ballot initiative races. We used a multi-pronged approach where our messages in Chinese and Vietnamese ads were reinforced in our mailers too. So, if I were a voter and I kept seeing all these signs saying vote No on Prop 309 and since we are an established organization and a trusted messenger, I think people would lean towards what we are endorsing.
Eddie Wong: Who are the Asian candidates that won?
Jennifer Chau: There’s one in Tucson, Priya Sundareshan who is a Democrat that won the general election for Arizona State Senate District 18. Democrat Leezah Sun won the Arizona House of Representative in District 22 which serves the west Phoenix area. Republican Kimberly Yee won the Arizona State Treasurer’s race.
Eddie Wong: Are the State House and the state Senate still controlled by the Republicans?
Jennifer Chau: The Republicans control the state House and state Senate each by one vote. And that’s why we felt it was important for us to flip seats, but it didn’t happen. This time we elected Katie Hobbs who as veto power, so that’s the main difference from the past.
Eddie Wong: What are your plans for 2023?
Jennifer Chau: There’s a Arizona Coyotes hockey stadium that is being proposed in Tempe literally a mile or two from our office. We’re opposing it because it’s going to add more displacement for our community members, increase rent, and increase traffic. It’s going to be harmful to the environment and the billionaire who owns the Arizona Coyotes has a horrible financial record.
A lot of people say that it’s like a David and Goliath battle. The Arizona Coyotes owner is going to pour $1.2 million into voting yes on this. It’s going to be in the ballot May 16th. They say the stadium is privately financed, but billionaires are going to get tax breaks.
Eddie Wong: What are some of your goals over the next couple of years?
Jennifer Chau: One thing that I really wanted to focus on is building a membership base. We have followers. We have people who support us, but we want a solid membership base.
We have a year-round youth program. In the summertime we have a civic engagement youth fellowship program. Over three months, they learn about storytelling, self-organizing, voting rights, how to do voter registration, just a lot of trainings on various topics. It’s been about 22 high school and college students. After they graduated, a lot of them love the program and they want to stay involved.
AZ AANHPI for Equity volunteers. Dec. 17, 2022.
So, we created an internship program for the fellows and have ended up getting 10 interns. For us it’s a continuum of leadership development culminating in registering their peers on campus. Youth were the ones who turned out in 2022 and mainly voted progressive.
Right now we have a climate campaign which is led by our youth. And that’s the number one priority issue that will impact them the most and also reproductive rights, women’s rights. That’s another thing that they were really passionate about. When we did the postcard writing campaign, our youth designed the postcards. We want to listen to our youth, have their input, and have them create the messaging.
Interviewer Bio: Eddie Wong is the editor/publisher of East Wind ezine. He has been an Asian American activist in the cultural and political arenas since the 1970s.