Emil Guillermo: Michelle Steel's shame sours hopeful signs after 2022 midterms

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I knew it wasn’t going to be a “red wave.”

I was watching Republican Allan Fung, dubbed by Fox as one who could flip Rhode Island’s decidedly blue Congressional District 2. When he lost, I knew some election day prognosticators would be confounded.

America did not exit from democracy on Tuesday. Voters went to the polls and saved it.

That included many Asian Americans, and thanks to the AALDEF exit poll, I will share some of their views.

But don’t think Tuesday was a return to normalcy where losers conceded gracefully and we were all working together.

It’s not that normal yet. There’s still some odious Trumpism present.

Yes, election deniers mostly lost on election day. But the Jay Chen deniers won.

And for that, we must say, shame on you, Michelle Steel.

Make that Michelle Park Steel. That’s her name when the Korean American isn’t hiding behind her GOP operative husband’s surname and wants to show her AAPI-ness.

Steel is going back to Congress representing California District 45, but she did it by lying and slurring the good name of her Democratic opponent Jay Chen.

Steel used race twice in diabolical ways against Chen.

First, she played the victim game by falsely claiming Chen was making fun of her accent. He wasn’t.

But then as the race tightened in October, Steel doctored ads to make it look like Chen had ties to the Chinese Communist Party and was teaching propaganda in schools.

That wasn’t a red wave, more a red splash of racist lies.

Chen, a decorated Navy intelligence officer and a proud Asian American whose grandmother fled China for Taiwan, was being portrayed by Steel as a communist sympathizer.

He definitely is not.

But Steel made that her doubly racist, Asian-on-Asian weapon, pandering to her constituents in the Little Saigon part of Southern California’s Orange County. And then by defiling Chen’s good name.

Steel already had the white conservatives in Orange County. But there’s nothing like a little racism to invoke generational trauma in the Vietnamese community to boot.

District 45 is a strange mix in Southern California, with the larger part in conservative Orange County. That enabled Steel to win handily 55 percent to 45 percent.

But a smaller part of the district is in Los Angeles County, which Democrat Chen won 53.9 percent to 46.1 percent.

That’s redistricting for you. Steel already had a huge advantage over Chen. But then she added a little racism just to make sure. She must have figured she had lots of money pouring in from Kevin McCarthy’s PAC.

What’s a small lie compared to “the big lie”?

There is none. It’s still despicable, and yet it’s Steel who’s going back to Congress.

After the racist lies in her campaign against a fellow Asian American, how can she be trusted as a worthy public servant?

What does an Asian American think? That’s not just a subtitle of the daily web show I do, it’s what people should want to know about us on all issues great and small. Because we’re here.

And we won’t be ignored.

But we are, ignored that is. When does anyone ever highlight us in media exit polls? There’s never a big enough sample to get a reliable sense of what we think when they think to think of us.

Enter the AALDEF exit poll for the 2022 midterm elections, a multilingual (11 languages) poll of 5,351 Asian American voters in 15 states on Nov .8.

For me, it served as confirmation that roughly two-thirds of Asian American voters are Democrats, with one-third Republican. That was true for the House, Senate, and Gubernatorial races.

But 2022 was not just about donkeys and elephants; this was an election about the fight between the election deniers vs. the defenders of our democracy.

When asked if the outcome of the 2020 Presidential election was legitimate (asked in DC, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Texas and Virginia only) 59.2 percent said Yes.

But 16.3 percent said No, putting them solidly among the election deniers. 24.5 percent said they didn’t know.

Compare that with the national generic numbers in the CNN exit poll, where 63 percent said yes. But more than a third said no.

Asian Americans aren’t election deniers.

And they offered up a higher approval rating for Joe Biden, 45.3 percent vs. 31.4 disapproval. 23.3 percent said they didn’t know.

Asian Americans also won’t deny your right to an abortion, according to the AALDEF exit poll.

When asked if they support access to legal abortion, 63.8 percent supported, 15.8 percent didn’t know, and 20.4 percent were opposed.

Abortion was ranked high in mainstream exit polls after inflation as a motivating factor to vote.

But the AALDEF poll showed the top three factors influencing their House vote to be: Economy/Jobs (15 percent), Health care (14.5 percent) and Education (13.1 percent).

Exit polls are also famous for asking other extraneous yet relevant questions along the lines of “while you’re here, let me ask you about…”

So when asked if one had been a victim of anti-Asian harassment or violence in the past two years, only 21.6 percent said yes; 78.4 percent said no.

These are answers the mainstream public should be interested in. But what does it mean? That non-voters are more likely victims? Or it could mean that the more you are a full participant in the system, the less likely you are to be a victim of anti-Asian harassment or violence. Perhaps that’s one more motivation to vote.

Another area that was surprising was on the question of trans rights.

When AAPI voters were asked if they support laws to protect transgender people from discrimination, 65.2 percent supported, 20.9 percent said don’t know, and 14 percent were opposed.

Who would’ve known? The large number is a revelation for me with transgender members in my family. I am glad the question was asked.

Finally, there was support for teaching a unit of AAPI history in K-12 schools: 82.7 percent yes and only 17.3 percent no.

That’s important in an era when school boards are seen as latest battlegrounds in the battle for inclusion or censure. The past is important, but so is the present because every Asian American first is history.

And in this election, there was one worth noting.

I am more NorCal than SoCal, but my Los Angeles friends have been telling me about Kenneth Mejia for some time.

Mejia, 34, a Filipino American CPA allied with progressive labor groups, won for Los Angeles City Controller, the guy who signs the checks. Mejia beat a veteran termed-out Los Angeles City Council member, and he won convincingly by a landslide.

With a number of progressives winning for city council, there appears to be a sea change going on in the most populous Asian American city in the most Asian American state. A coalition driven by labor is gaining traction in LA.

Image by AALDEF
Image by AALDEF

Mejia is a bit of an odd duck wild card. He’s outspoken and has had to delete some tweets in the past. But he’s also an accountant. A fiscal progressive? In this long game of politics, I’d say he’s both evolving and emerging as a new generation pol to watch out for—in a good way.

Interesting to note, Mejia did not appear to have the endorsement of Filipino American pol of the hour Rob Bonta, the California attorney general. (While votes were still counted, Bonta was leading in his race.) I suspect Mejia was considered too extreme for the generally progressive Bonta? At least for now.

So on the national scene, we may have averted disaster with a rousing win for democracy.

But these local races help define Nov. 8 too.

Michelle Steel is a shameful disappointment. Was Trumpism rebuked on election day? Steel’s Asian Trumpism where the ends justify the means is disgusting as well as dishonest. It she still won. She shouldn’t have.

There were also negative things that were observed by AALDEF poll watchers, such as missing interpreters and poll workers asking for identification.

But we can take hope from the emergence of young pols like Mejia, and an understanding of what Asian Americans are thinking as they exit the polls.

Asian Americans are engaged and involved, definitely positive signs in our democracy.

NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on

Image by AALDEF

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.

The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.

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