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A History of Asian Americans in the California Legislature
California Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus
The California Asian Pacific Islander (API) Legislative Caucus, formed in January 2001, consists of Assembly Members Mike Eng, Paul Fong, Warren Furutani, Mary Hayashi, Ted Lieu, Fiona Ma, Alberto Torrico, and Mariko Yamada and Senators Leland Yee and Carol Liu. State Controller John Chiang and State Board of Equalization Member Betty Yee serve as honorary members of the Caucus.
Only one API (Mike Honda) was serving in the Legislature when Assembly Member George Nakano (D-Torrance) was elected to the Assembly in 1998. The two served together until Honda was elected to Congress in November 2000. The November election also brought two more APIs to the Legislature with the election of Assembly Members Wilma Chan (D-Oakland) and Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge). This increased the number of APIs in the Legislature to three.
With the number of API legislators quickly increasing, then-Speaker Robert Hertzberg officially sanctioned the formation of the California Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus in January 2001 with Nakano as the Caucus' Inaugural Chair. In May 2001, Assembly Member Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) was elected to the Assembly in a special election, increasing the Caucus membership to four. In November 2002, Assembly Member Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) was elected to represent the 12th Assembly District, bringing the Caucus membership to five. In November 2004, Assembly Member George Nakano left the Assembly due to term limits, but the Caucus maintained its membership of five with the election of Assembly Member Alberto Torrico (D-Newark). In September 2005, Assembly Member Ted Lieu was elected to the 53rd Assembly District in a special election – bringing the membership of the Caucus to six. In February 2008, Assembly Member Warren Furutani (D-Gardena) was elected to the 55th Assembly District in a special election. The Caucus membership reached a historic high of 10 State Legislators with the swearing in of Assembly Members Mariko Yamada (D-Yolo) and Paul Fong (D-Mountainview) and Senator Carol Liu in 2009. As a result of the increase membership, the Caucus became one of the largest Caucus in the State Legislature.
Assembly Member Nakano served as chair of the Caucus from 2001-2002 and was succeeded by Assembly Members Wilma Chan and Carol Liu as co-chairs of the Caucus in 2003. In 2003, the Caucus established and advocated for budget and legislative priorities for the first time in its history. As a result of the state's fiscal crisis, many key programs serving the Asian Pacific Islander communities were proposed for elimination or reduction. The Caucus advocated for these programs and was successful in their effort to help preserve programs such as the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program, Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants, Food Assistance Programs for Immigrants, and acupuncture as a Medi-Cal optional benefit. The Caucus also successfully authored and won bi-partisan passage of Assembly Joint Resolution 30, which called for the apology and resignation of Congressman Howard Coble (R-North Carolina) for his remarks about the Japanese American Internment.
In March 2004, Assembly Member Judy Chu succeeded Assembly Members Chan and Liu as chair of the API Caucus. The Caucus continued its advocacy work with the adoption of budget and legislative priorities for 2004. Budget priorities for 2004 included preserving cash and food assistance programs for immigrants, cash benefit program for Filipino veterans, and higher education funding. The Caucus also held its first annual API policy summit and dinner, "Speaking in One Voice" on June 7, 2004. The all day conference brought API leaders together from around the State to assess the state of Asian Pacific Islander American affairs and develop an agenda for the future. The summit culminated in a dinner honoring Dr. Wen Ho Lee and four community legislative heroes for their contributions to the API community.
In March 2005, the Caucus members elected Assembly Member Judy Chu and Assembly Speaker Pro-Tempore Leland Yee to serve as Caucus co-chairs.
In March 2006, Assembly Member Alberto Torrico was elected to serve as chair of the Caucus. In November 2006, Assembly Members Mike Eng (D-Monterey Park), Mary Hayashi (D-Hayward and Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco) were elected to the Assembly, while Assembly Members Judy Chu, Carol Liu and Wilma Chan left due to term limits. Assembly Member Leland Yee was elected to the Senate, keeping the Caucus membership at six.
In January 2008, Assembly Member Ted Lieu was elected to serve as chair of the Caucus. In February 2008, Assembly Member Warren Furutani (D-Gardena) was elected to the Assembly in a special election. His election increased the Caucus membership to seven as well as reaching a historic high of ten APIs to serve concurrently in the Legislature.
In early 2009, Assemblymember Ted Lieu was reelected to serve as chair of the Caucus. In January 2009, Assembly Members Mariko Yamada (D-Yolo) and Paul Fong (D – San Jose) along with Senator Carol Liu (D – Altadena), who previously served as one of the founders of the API Legislative Caucus as an Asssemblymember, were sworn in as State Legislators. As a result, the membership of the Caucus increased to 10 APIs. The “Connecting the Dots” API Policy Summit was held in May and merited a visit by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Gary Locke. October saw the election of Assemblymembers Warren T. Furutani and Mary Hayashi to lead the Caucus as Chair and Vice Chair respectively.
Since the establishment of the API Caucus, its members have authored and supported a wide array of legislation benefiting the API community, including in the areas of civil rights, language access, health disparities, hate crime prevention, consumer protection, and cultural preservation. Members serve in key leadership positions in the Assembly that allow them to have maximum influence on the State's policymaking process and its subsequent impact on the API community.
During its eight year history, the Caucus has worked to fulfill its mission of representing and advocating for the diverse interests of the API communities throughout the state. Other Caucus activities have included: serving as a resource to the community and assisting with advocacy efforts, convening the annual API Policy Summit, holding joint briefings and hearings with other ethnic Caucuses and community groups on issues of common interest, and supporting the activities of the Commission on Asian Pacific Islander American Affairs.