BY MAI NGUYEN DO
Although a large share of election-related media coverage has focused on Asian American candidates — like Bobby Bliatout and Sara Gideon, who are running to represent their district or state in the federal House and Senate — there is a record number of Asian American candidates running for state legislature seats across the country this year whose candidacies are equally deserving of attention. This year, 158 Asian Americans are running for state legislatures, an increase of 21 Asian American state legislature candidates since the 2018 midterms. State legislatures handle a variety of crucial issues, such as policing and the environment, so representation is just as important in state legislatures as it is in the federal legislature.
Chinese and Japanese Americans comprise a large portion of all Asian American state legislature candidates on the ballot this November. 42 are Chinese and 36 are Japanese. Although East Asians are now just over one third of the Asian American population, about 61% of Asian American state legislature candidates running this year are of East Asian descent. About 22% of Asian American state legislative candidates are Southeast Asian and 21% are South Asian, compared to 23% and 14% respectively in the 2018 midterms. These changes may be reflective of changes in the overall Asian American population, as South Asians continue to be a growing share of all Asian Americans.
Out of the 158 candidates, 75% (117) are Democrats and 25% (39) are Republicans. The Republican candidates are not necessarily concentrated in red states; many Asian Americans, such as June Yang Cutter and current State Senator Ling Ling Chang, are running for state legislatures in Democratic states like California.
About 60% of the 158 Asian American state legislature candidates are running for re-election. In addition, about 60% of the candidates are men and 40% are women. Out of the 95 incumbents, 63 are men and 32 are women, while 33 of those who are either challengers or pursuing open seats are men and 30 are women. Chinese and Japanese Americans comprise the plurality of Asian American state legislature incumbents on the ballot this November, with 29 Chinese and 25 Japanese Americans running for re-election.
While most are from Hawaii and California, many are also running for state legislatures in all the regions of the United States, including the South and the Midwest. According to our analysis, there are Asian Americans running for state legislatures in 30 states.
These candidates also come from diverse occupational backgrounds. For example, service industry worker Francesca Hong is running for the Wisconsin State Assembly in District 76, marketing professional Emily Weber is running for Missouri House of Representatives in District 24, and anesthesiologist Michelle Au is running for Georgia State Senate in District 48.
The diverse array of Asian American candidates up and down the ballot across the country are helping to demonstrate that Asian American leadership isn’t limited to stereotypes. From teachers to to small business owners to organizers to healthcare professionals, Asian American candidates are building out an Asian American bench at not just the state level, but also at lower levels of government. While representation at the federal level remains important, ensuring that Asian Americans are also represented at all levels of government, whether the water board or the state legislature, is key to ensuring that Asian American voices are being heard when it comes to issues, like water safety or the cost of rent, that are more directly legislated at these lower levels.