Rafu Wire and Staff Reports
COSTA MESA — Three candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination participated Sunday in a forum in Costa Mesa organized by a super PAC dedicated to mobilizing Asian American and Pacific Islander voters.
Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer and entrepreneur Andrew Yang fielded questions from MSNBC anchor Richard Lui and Esther Lee, a producer with Spectrum News 1 SoCal, at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Author Marianne Williamson had also been scheduled to attend but canceled due to a scheduling conflict.
The forum was organized by the AAPI Victory Fund political action committee and was held in connection with the AAPI Community Action Summit. It is among a series of forums focusing on select issues or groups.
Gabbard, Steyer and Yang were among the 19 candidates speaking Saturday at the New Hampshire Democratic Party Convention in Manchester. Gabbard also conducted a town hall Sunday at The Art of Living Foundation in South Los Angeles.
Gabbard and Yang are two of the three Asian Pacific Islander candidates in the crowded Democratic field along with California Sen. Kamala Harris. Yang and Harris were among the 10 candidates who joined the Sept. 12 debate in Houston.
“I’m pro-affirmative action and I resent how Asian Americans are often used as a lever” by conservative groups, Yang said. “I think affirmative action is by and large a positive thing… Doing away with it would lead to a very, very stratified education system.”
Some Asian American groups have lobbied against affirmative action, arguing that other minority groups are being admitted to top-tier colleges at the expense of qualified Asian applicants.
Yang also discussed gender inequality and the impact of climate change on Pacific Islanders.
He called sexual assault and rape “a scourge that pervades in our society,” adding, “Strong men treat women well, while weak men do not.”
“This race is going to be a historic opportunity,” he concluded. “This time, the Asian American community here in California can become a crucial difference-maker… We are just as American as everyone else in 2020.”
At the same time, he warned, “Let’s face facts: our community does not donate, or vote, or run for office at the same level of other groups. The danger is that we become an afterthought.”
Recalling his childhood, Yang said, “I was one of the only Asian kids in town, so I got bullied a lot. I had a choice — take it or stand up and fight. I chose to fight.”
At one point, Yang literally rode a wave of support when he jumped into the crowd and allowed them to carry him across the room.
Gabbard pledged to protect LGBTQ rights — something that she had opposed earlier in her career — and to lift the Muslim travel ban.
Speaking as an Iraq War veteran, she said, “Ending meaningless wars doesn’t mean isolation or leaving others behind. It means leading foreign policy and diplomacy across the world.”
Regarding peace talks in Afghanistan, she said she would be willing to meet with the Taliban.
Saying that the majority of Americans, across party lines, support gun control, Gabbard called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to act on legislation that the House has already passed.
On the subject of impeachment, which has divided House Democrats, Gabbard said, “The only solution is to ensure that voters are the ones who throw Trump out of the White House.”
Steyer, who called Trump “a fake and a fraud” and expressed support for organized labor, said that the AAPI electorate “has been a fantastic influence” on California and “a community which … represents the values of America in a deep way.”
Promising to declare a “climate emergency” on his first day in office, Steyer said, “We are taking a very real risk of handing on a world that is unsustainable to our children, which would be unbearable.”