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Campaign 2008: Other Trailblazers Among Election Winners

New America Media, News Feature, NAM Staff Posted: Nov 21, 2008

Although Barack Obama's election as the 44th president of the United States was historic in many ways, his achievement as the first African-American is arguably the most important. As the wave of celebrations for Obama's victory spread from the Atlantic to the Pacific, it overshadowed other political trailblazers: those minority candidates who made or attempted to make history during the 2008 Election.

From state capitols to city halls across the country, some of these men and women managed to do what no one in their ethnic communities had done. Others held onto their seats to prove that they were not one-hit wonders. New America Media editors canvassed media reports to highlight some of these electoral trailblazers.

We want to hear from you! Be our reporters, and let us know about trailblazers in your communities.


Jesse Arreguin

Jesse Arreguin was elected to the Berkeley City Council, becoming the first Latino to sit on that elected body. At 24, Arreguin is also the youngest person to serve on the City Council in the East Bay city that is home to UC Berkeley, the flagship University of California, as well as many progressive organizations.

Jesse ArreguinJesse Arreguin is the first Latino to serve
on the Berkeley City Council.

Arreguin beat three other candidates for the seat, winning by 11 percent. He is currently the chair of the Berkeley Rent Board where he was involved in issues related to development, housing and tenant rights. According to reports in the Oakland Tribune, Arreguin's interest in politics and activism began in childhood, and in his teens he worked in San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's office.

In a city with some 103,000 residents 13,000 of them Latinos--Arreguin brings more diversity to the Council. As a councilmember, he has said he will focus on affordable housing, increased public transportation and the environment.

Truong Diep and Andrew Do

After the Nov. 4 election, it seemed Vietnamese Americans had lost some political footing in Orange County, home to the largest Vietnamese-American population in the country. The community saw fewer Vietnamese-American candidates elected to office than it had before, including early reports that Truong Diep (a candidate for Westminster City Council) and Andrew Do (a candidate for Garden Grove City Council) had been defeated.

However, the results have flip-flopped, as the Orange County Registrar of Voters continues to count vote-by-mail and provisional ballots. As of Nov. 18, the Orange County Register reports Truong Diep is now in second place with 22.4 percent, which would make him the winner for one of the two open Council seats. By 65 votes, he is edging out Penny Loomer, who seemed initially to have won the second seat. Incumbent Councilman Frank Fry won the first seat with 29.2 percent of the votes.

According to its web site, the OC Registrar of Voters has more than 1,065 vote-by-mail and 32,290 provisional ballots left to count. They have until December 2 to certify election results. If Truong Diep were elected, Vietnamese Americans would have a first-time ever majority (3 of 5 seats) on the Westminster City Council. Truong Diep would be the third Vietnamese-American council member, joining city council members Andrew Quach and Tri Tra.

Andrew DoAndrew Do may become
Garden Grove City Councilman.

In a similar reversal, and with additional ballots left to be counted, Andrew Do appears to have overtaken Robin Marcario for the second vacant seat on the Garden Grove City Council with 15.5 percent of votes, compared to Marcario's 14.1 percent, reports the Orange County Register.

Kevin Johnson

After a heated June 3 contest that left no clear winner, three-time NBA All-Star Kevin Johnson defeated the incumbent, Heather Fargo, on Nov. 4 to become the first African-American mayor of Sacramento, his hometown. African Americans represent just 14 percent of Sacramento's population, but residents in the capital city, like Americans in general, did not vote strictly along racial lines. Johnson will take office on Nov. 25.

Carol Liu

Chinese American Carol Liu was elected senator of California's 21st District, becoming the first Asian-American woman state senator in the United States. The China Press reports that Liu was elected by 65.3 percent of voters. Liu was born in Berkeley and grew up in Oakland, Calif. Her mother is a fifth-generation Chinese immigrant and her father moved to the United States from China after World War II.

Before becoming a state senator, Liu served six years as state representative. Prior to that, she worked as mayor of La Caada-Flintridge (Los Angeles County). Liu is a former public school teacher and administrator.

Truong DiepTruong Diep may become
Westminster City Councilman.


Steven Horsford

After winning control of Nevada's state Senate, Democrats elected Horsford the Senate majority leader. The 35-year-old senator became the first African American elected to lead a majority party. Although many have compared him to President-elect Barack Obama, Horsford had a tougher upbringing, with a single mother struggling with drug addiction, according to Las Vegas Now. Horsford will begin his second term in February.


Adrian Garca

Garca, a Houston councilmember, became the first Hispanic to be elected sheriff of Harris County, Texas, reports Houston's Spanish-language newspaper, Rumbo. The Democratic challenger defeated Republican Tommy Thomas by a double-digit margin. Thomas was appointed sheriff in 1995, but his office recently has been plagued by scandal. "In case you haven't heard, there's a new sheriff in town," Garcia told his supporters on election night, pledging to return transparency and accountability to the office.


Aurora Abella Austriaco

Austriaco, a Chicago lawyer, defeated 16-year veteran state Rep. Rosemary Mulligan to become the first Filipino American elected to the Illinois State Legislature, representing the 65th District. In its "post-poll scorecard," published after the elections, The Philippine News said, "Obama's historic march to glory" overshadowed Austriaco's election.


Swati Dandekar

Despite negative campaigning by her Republican opponents, Democrat Swati Dandekar, won a seat on the Iowa state Senate, bucking a trend in a district that has voted Republican for nearly two decades, reports the San Leandro, Calif.-based weekly newspaper, India West. India-born Dandekar had served three terms in the Iowa House of Representatives.

Campaigning on a platform of economic growth, renewable energy, quality health care and education, Dandekar won the seat in a largely rural area with 54.3 percent of the votes.


Raj Goyle

Democrat Raj Goyle beat back a challenge from GOP candidate Fred Pinaire, becoming the first South Asian American in the history of Kansas and the first Democrat to win two consecutive elections as state representative of the 87th District. Goyle won comfortably with 67 percent of votes.


Farheen Hakeem

Although she did not run on a major party ticket, Hakeem put up a good fight on the ballot to represent District 61B in the Minnesota Legislature. Hakeem, a 32-year-old Muslim whose parents moved from South Asia to Chicago in 1962, garnered more than 30 percent of the vote, running on the Green Party ticket. She previously ran -- but was not elected -- for mayor in Minneapolis in 2005 and for Hennepin County Commissioner in 2006.

HakeemFarheen Hakeem loses her bid for
a seat in the Minnesota Legislature.

Hakeem, who wears a hijab, said she blamed her loss on the Democratic Party's hateful campaign. "The same Democrats who claimed to be offended by Republicans calling Obama a Muslim called me a Somali immigrant, even though I was born in Chicago," Hakeem told NAM.

Ashwin Madia

Madia, whose parents emigrated from Mumbai, India, made an impact on the national scene, but failed in his bid for the U.S. House of Representatives for Minnesota's 3rd Congressional District.

An attorney and former Marine Corps captain, Madia won 40.85 percent of votes, losing to Republican state Representative Erik Paulsen, who won 48.48 percent, according to India West. Madia helped reform the legal system in Iraq and pledged to work for a quick end to the war in that country.

The 30-year-old Madia, whose critics pointed to his lack of experience, had to deal with a smear campaign, involving a GOP-backed mailer that darkened his face in photos and printed insinuations about his single and renter "lifestyle," the newspaper reported.


Rashida Tlaib

Tlaib, a Detroit lawyer and community activist, will become the first Muslim-American woman to serve in the Michigan Legislature. Significantly, she was elected in a district with few Muslim residents, the Flint Journal reported.

Tlaib, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, took over for predecessor state Rep. Steve Tobocman, who was barred from seeking re-election because of term limits. Tobocman recruited her to run for office.


Steve Austria

The son of a Filipino-American doctor, who fought alongside U.S. forces in the Philippines during World War II, Steve Austria has won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives for Ohio's 7th Congressional District. Austria, a Republican state senator from Beavercreek, beat Democratic candidate Sharen Neuhardt by capturing 59 percent of votes. He is also the second American of Filipino descent to serve in Congress, after Robert Cortez Scott, a Democrat, who is currently serving his eighth term as Virginia's 3rd District representative.

Jay Goyal

Incumbent state Rep. Jay Goyal retained his seat in the Ohio Legislature, winning handily over Republican Dr. David D. Nitzsche of Mansfield, Ohio. Goyal pulled in 64.17 percent of the votes. This will be his second term as state representative. In 2006, Goyal became the first Asian American elected to the Legislature. Goyal, 26, campaigned on a platform of economic security, job growth and fair school funding.


Nikki Randhawa Haley

Republican Nikki Randhawa Haley won her re-election bid to the South Carolina House of Representatives. Haley overcame a challenge from Edgar Gomez, winning 83.11 percent of votes. Haley, whose parents are immigrants from Punjab, India, promised her supporters fiscal conservatism if she were re-elected.

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