Monday, June 16, 2008

Breaking the Curse

“No Filipinos or Dogs Allowed” was a common sign that appeared in motels, boarding houses and night clubs in the 1930s in California. While Filipinos have made progress and are now allowed in places where dogs are still not allowed, the California Legislature is one place where dogs and Filipinos are still foreign creatures.

Unlike more recent Asian immigrant communities (Vietnamese-Americans, Indian-Americans and Korean-Americans), Filipino Americans have never been elected to the California Legislature. But that long curse was about to end on June 3 when West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon was set to win the Democratic nomination in the heavily Democratic 8th Assembly District.

Praised by the state capital’s premier daily, Sacramento Bee , as "one of the most intelligent, talented and hard-working elected officials in the region," Christopher Cabaldon has served an unprecedented six terms as mayor of the city of West Sacramento.and previously served as Vice Chancellor of the California Community Colleges, the largest system of higher education in the United States.

Cabaldon enjoyed the endorsement of every Democratic mayor and county supervisor, every state legislator, US Representative and City Council majority in the district which encompasses Yolo and Sonoma counties. He also raised more money than any Filipino American candidate for public office in the US has ever raised - $590,000 – double what his opponent, Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada was able to raise ($290,000).

If Chris Cabaldon couldn’t win, with all his experience and credentials, with all his endorsements and money, then no Filipino American could ever hope to have a shot at breaking the curse.

But alas, in what can only be described as a stunning upset, Yamada edged out Cabaldon, winning “razor thin” margins in both Yolo and Sonoma counties, garnering 18,519 votes to 17,435 for Cabaldon

As Sacramento political analyst Marcos Breton asked: “How did the brightest, most promising young political figure in Sacramento lose an election last week that he seemed certain to win?”

It was the unions, Breton charged, pointing especially to Bill Camp of the Sacramento Central Labor Council who decided that Cabaldon was "anti-union" because business interests were backing him, ignoring the fact that Cabaldon “oozed potential and is a Democrat admired in more than Democratic circles.”

“Union muscle trumped all that with a barrage of negative ads that made some of Cabaldon's molehills seem like mountains,” wrote Breton. “Many of you say you hate negative campaigns. But Cabaldon's loss to Mariko Yamada in the Democratic primary for the 8th Assembly District proves that going negative works.”

There are Fil-Ams in organized labor throughout the state but neither Cabaldon, nor his campaign consultant, Richie Ross, thought of contacting them to ask them to talk to their union leadership to dissuade them from derailing the most serious Fil-Am hope of breaking the curse.

It was also speculated that Yamada won because she is Japanese American and Cabaldon lost because he is Filipino American. While it is doubtful that voters seriously considered the ethnic backgrounds of the candidates, it may have subconsciously entered some voters’ minds that Japanese American officials, like Rep. Bob Matsui and his widow, Rep. Doris Matsui, have successfully represented the district but no Filipino American ever has. And now may likely never be.

Also running in the June 3 California Democratic primaries was Arlie Ricasa, Director of Student Development at Southwestern College in the City of Chula Vista and a Trustee of the Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) Board. She ran for the Democratic nomination for the 78th Assembly District in San Diego.

Like Cabaldon, Ricasa was endorsed by numerous elected officials including members of Congress, State Senate, State Assembly, County Board of Supervisors, City Councils and local School Boards. She also earned the endorsements of the California Democratic Party as well as various labor, small business and community leaders.

But like Cabaldon, Ricasa lost placing 4th in a pool of 4, garnering just 4,499 votes (13.6%) to the winner Martin Block who obtained 12,054 votes (36.5%).

According to San Diego Fil-Am community leader Aurora Cudal, “the cause of Ricasa’s failed candidacy may be attributed to lack of financial support and lip service by those who advocate for Filipino American empowerment.”

In a message to her supporters, Ricasa said: “While we weren’t victorious in the election, we were victorious in involving so many people who have been historically underserved, underheard and underrepresented. Soon, our time will come. I have faith and so should you. It could be you or one of our supporters who will soon represent us at the State’s table of decision making.”

Cudal added: “In America, the voters have to support their candidate not only through their votes but through their financial support and physical presence at precinct walks, placing yard signs, knocking on doors, and making telephone calls on behalf of the candidate. These practices are so unlike in the Philippines where the candidates give money and feed the voters in order to win.”

The other major Fil-Am candidate to run for public office on June 3 was three-term Milpitas Mayor Joe Esteves who ran for the Santa Clara County District Three Board of Supervisors against San Jose Vice Mayor Dave Cortese and Sunnyvale City Councilman Otto Lee.

Both Cortese and Lee raised $250,000 each while Esteves was only able to come up with $70,000. Cortese garnered 12,980 votes (42.6%) to Lee's 9,075 votes (29.8%). Esteves trailed Lee by 691 votes, as he received 8,384 votes (27.5%). As no candidate won more than 50% of the vote, Cortese and Lee will face each other in the run-off elections in November.

Esteves said he was disappointed in the outcome, attributing his loss to the low voter turnout in Milpitas, Berryessa and other parts of the district where he expected to draw votes. "Of course it's not the best, but I'm just happy because, with the limited resources that we had, I did a good showing," Esteves said.

Esteves’ predecessor, Henry Manayan, ran in 2004 for the 20th Assembly District after also serving three terms as mayor of Milpitas. He failed to break the curse then as Cabaldon and Ricasa also failed to do now.

Will the curse ever be broken?

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