Both parties woo growing bloc of Filipino voters
THE GROUP is young and growing. It is having babies, raising stable families. It is interested in the community and in getting ahead.
And most important, Hawaii's Filipino-American voters no longer can be counted on to take a Democratic ballot.
This year Gov. Linda Lingle, who notes that she is serving as the honorary chairwoman of the Filipino Centennial Commission, wants to lure more Filipino voters to cast ballots for her.
Republicans have two strong Filipino-American state representatives in Rep. Lynn Finnegan (R, Mapunapuna-Foster Village) and Rep. Kym Pine (R, Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point). And, Lingle added, her labor director is attorney Nelson Befitel, the son of Felix and Crescencia Befitel, who rented Lingle a room when she was a fledgling newspaper publisher on Molokai 25 years ago.
The personal connections are important, but more important is putting Filipinos in positions of trust, says Amy Agbayani, University of Hawaii faculty member and director of Student Equity, Excellence and Diversity.
"To pay attention to Filipino voters, a major candidate must have Filipino leadership within that candidate's own inner circle," says Agbayani.
Although she is a Democrat, Agbayani says that while Filipinos immigrating to Hawaii are considered part of Hawaii's working class and fit within the Democrats' demographic profile, the group is changing.
"All ethnic groups now are becoming more independent," Agbayani said.
NOTING THAT no statewide candidate can win without the backing of at least two ethnic groups, Agbayani says the Filipino voters can play an important part in any campaign.
"Yes, they are likely to be Democratic voters, there is a historical connection and a union connection, but that doesn't mean the Democrats have a corner on the market," Agbayani warns.
Just to make sure, Sen. Dan Akaka's first big rally in Honolulu was at Farrington High School in a heavily Filipino area. Akaka emphasized Filipino voter registration at the rally.
For her part, Lingle has put out a special campaign brochure aimed at Filipino voters.
In the flier Lingle stresses that she headed a trade mission to the Philippines in January, met with the nation's leaders, educators and entertainers, and memorialized the contributions of the sakadas, or Filipino immigrants to Hawaii.
"As time goes on, the community is becoming more accustomed to fully participating and the Filipino voting population is becoming more relevant," Agbayani says.
Does all that help win votes? For any immigrant from another country, having attention paid is bound to pay off.
writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin. He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org