Amidst a charged cultural environment wherein systemic racism is at the top of voters’ minds, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors race has taken on racial overtones…
Contending for the Board seat soon to be vacated by Dave Cortese are longtime District 25 Assemblyman Kansen Chu and former Mayor of Sunnyvale Otto Lee. Chu is not set to run again for his Assembly seat so as to eliminate his commute to Sacramento, leaving this year’s Assembly District 25 race between Democrat Alex Lee and Republican Bob Brunton.
Lee and Chu, both Democrats, anticipate a tight contest come November, one which may grow intenser still as a result of a new call from Lee for Chu to apologize.
At issue are alleged quotes from Kansen Chu in a June 11, 2020, World Journal article. According to a press release distributed by Lee’s campaign, in his World Journal interview, “Chu referred to addressing systemic inequality as ‘entrance tickets,’ and insinuated that ‘many Hispanic American parents explicitly stated that they did not care about their children’s education, they are busy with their livelihoods, and they did not intend to let their children attend college.’ He went on to say that ‘many Hispanic and African ethnic groups are unable to compete’ and that younger people, especially Chinese Americans, in support of ACA 5 don’t understand the issue.”
Kansen Chu, however, emphatically denies having said what he was quoted as saying. Chu responded to the outrage in a public comment today, which went as follows:
“As a lifetime member of the NAACP, an immigrant, and a strong and consistent supporter of communities of color, I fully acknowledge and understand the systemic racism that people of color face then and now. Recently, there was an English translated document of an article in the World Journal, which was originally written in Chinese, suggesting that I made racist comments related to ACA 5. The article was written with the reporter’s opinion and not direct quotes from me. World Journal has since committed to clarify that the words written were not reflective of what I said during the interview.
“I unequivocally deny saying that Latinos do not value education. I did say that there are systemic barriers for Latinos and African American students. What was not said in the World Journal was that I said the solution would be more funding for schools serving underserved communities. My record on supporting education funding and progressive policies in support of minority communities have been strong and consistent. The translated version in English did not accurately reflect what was written in Chinese, which discussed the long-standing systemic racism in our country in addition to the need to make college more affordable to achieve true equality. Many underserved communities in my district will continue to have barriers to college unless we make higher education more affordable for all.”
As for the above-cited ACA 5, why and how does it factor in here?
Assembly Constitutional Amendment (ACA) Number 5 was brought forth to put an amendment for repeal on this November’s ballot. Subject to repeal would be California Prop 209, an initiative stemming from back in 1996, the function of which was to erase ethnic and demographic information from hiring and admissions considerations. Whereas ACA 5 passed, Kansen Chu abstained, and Otto Lee is not only calling Chu out for the abstention, but linking the abstention to Chu’s alleged World Journal comments.
At the core of ACA 5 is the existence of systemic racism. An aging law such as Prop 209 could be construed as upholding and reinforcing systemic racism by nullifying ethnic and demographic considerations in the course of making hiring or admissions decisions. As such, Prop 209 opponents can frame the law as one that merely serves to disadvantage already marginalized communities. On the other hand, Prop 209 could be framed by the law’s supporters as promoting equality by removing ethnicity and demographics from the equation altogether—a view generally in alignment with those on the contemporary American right.
In his statement, Chu did add, “Over the course of ACA 5 going through the Assembly, I received close to 25,000 calls and emails opposing the legislation.”
During his time in office, Kansen Chu has been a vocal proponent of peaceful race relations, introducing a Compassion Bill late last year and holding one hearing attended by The Beat in 2018 on bias-related bullying.
However, said Otto Lee in a publicly administered statement, “It is clear from his comments that Mr. Chu understands systemic racial inequity exists, and yet he chose inaction. Then to use non-English media to make racist statements and to mislead his Chinese-speaking constituents about this vote is incredibly troubling. To speak with such openly prejudiced rhetoric hidden under the veil of a language barrier is both unacceptable and tone deaf to this moment in our Nation’s history. Mr. Chu needs to explain his actions and apologize immediately for both his racist remarks and attempts to mislead voters.”
In conclusion, Lee added, “Prop 209 was wrong 20 years ago, and it’s wrong now. I applaud our legislators bold enough to take action with ACA 5 and who continue to demand major structural changes to fix our broken system.”
Chu also came under fire from the San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP, which in a letter signed by its president, Reverend Jethroe Moore II, wrote, “I can tell you we do care about obtaining education and being on an even playing field. We are very concerned with how your position has been portrayed, and if accurate, you should not be representing any people of color in any elected capacity.”