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Parties make their arguments to Asian Americans

Bill Clinton, Utah attorney general represent major parties; Libertarian and Green party nominees also speak.


LAS VEGAS — Spokesmen for the Democratic and Republican parties, and two nominees of other parties hoping to capitalize on public discontent with presidential choices, laid out their arguments to Asian Americans as the nation’s fastest growing racial group.

Former President Bill Clinton spoke for his wife, Democrat Hillary Clinton. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, a Filipino American, spoke on behalf of Republican Donald Trump.

Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson, a former Republican governor of New Mexico, and Green Party nominee Jill Stein — both also ran for president in 2012 — completed the lineup Aug. 12 at a town hall attended by about 3,000 at Caesars Palace.

On two key issues for Asian Americans, Democrats and the minor parties favored freer immigration policies than Republicans. But only the Libertarian Party backed the 12-nation trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and negotiated under Democrat Barack Obama.

The forum was sponsored by the Asian American Journalists Association and Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote, a nonpartisan group seeking to mobilize political participation.

Asian Americans now constitute the fastest-growing minority group, but at 5.8 percent of the nation’s population, they are still a smaller share than Hispanics (17 percent) or blacks (13 percent).

But in a twist on the Las Vegas tourism slogan “what happens here stays here,” Gloria Caoile — a founder of APIA Vote — said “you want the whole world to know” what happened.

Oregon has an estimated 251,000 Asian and Pacific Islanders, slightly more than 6 percent of the state’s population.

Major-party surrogates

Although the actual Democratic and Republican nominees were absent, the forum gave the major parties an opportunity to offer their arguments as to why they should be elected.

Bill Clinton and Sean Reyes did so in their 30-minute talks, much of which focused on their parties’ economic platforms. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump spoke on those issues days earlier.

“You want a president like Hillary, who sees you as a part of the American quilt of diversity,” said Bill Clinton, who was president from 1993 to 2001.

“You just have to decide whether it is good or bad for us to have the most diverse workforce in the world. I think it’s our great meal ticket to the 21st century.”

Reyes had the task of clarifying Trump’s Aug. 4 comments suggesting that Filipino immigrants might pose a threat to the United States. Trump included the Philippines on a list of nations that he said should be barred from sending immigrants because of terrorist incidents.

“What Mr. Trump was trying to communicate — and I have full authority to make this clarification — was that he welcomes law-abiding Filipinos who want to come to have a better life and better opportunities, whether they want to live here or go back to the Philippines. He welcomes them,” Reyes said.

“What he was talking about specifically was terrorist elements, which do exist in the Philippines. There is no one here from the Philippines who can dispute that.”

Reyes, the first minority-group member to hold statewide office in Utah, was appointed to a vacancy in late 2013.

Third-party views

Meanwhile, Richard Lui — an anchor for MSNBC and NBC News — interviewed Johnson and Stein separately on stage.

Both parties are seeking to boost their standing in national polls to qualify for the nationally televised presidential debates.

“There is no way I am going to win the presidency if I am not in the presidential debates,” Johnson said.

The threshold set by the national commission is 15 percent. The most recent third-party qualifier for debates was Ross Perot, who ended up with 19 percent of the popular vote — but no state electoral votes — in 1992.

Libertarians are averaging about 10 percent, and the Green Party 5 percent.

This time Johnson is running with Bill Weld, a former Republican governor of Massachusetts.

“A wasted vote is voting for somebody you do not believe in,” Johnson said. “Vote for the person you believe in. That’s how you bring about change.”

In 2012, Johnson drew about 1 percent of the vote nationally, Stein .36 percent; in Oregon, Johnson, 1.3 percent, and Stein, 1 percent.

“We’re not just deciding what kind of world we will be, but whether we are even going to have a world or not going forward,” Stein said, referring to issues such as climate change and military spending.

Immigration divisions

Clinton, Johnson and Stein differed sharply with Trump, who has called for building a wall along the border with Mexico and deporting the estimated 11 million people — 1 million of them from across the Pacific — who lack proof of legal presence in the United States.

Bill Clinton said Hillary Clinton would move quickly to seek congressional action, and if necessary, go even further with executive orders than Obama has.

“If you wasted the money to round up and deport every undocumented person in this country, you would disrupt millions of families — and along with the heartbreak, it would drive this country into a recession,” he said.

“We need people who are working hard, taking care of their kids, trying to be part of the fabric of America. We have played politics with this issue long enough. We have pretended it’s something that it is not long enough.”

Johnson, who was governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003, called Trump’s proposed wall “crazy.”

He added as the audience laughed: “Donald Trump right now is watching the Olympics to see how high the Mexican pole vaulters can go.”

Stein also supports a path to U.S. citizenship for those now here illegally.

“We must celebrate our latest wave of immigrants, who add to the diversity and the strength and the power of our nation,” she said.

She added: “One of the most powerful things we can do to stop the crisis of immigration is to stop causing it in the first place through misguided economic and trade policies, and the war on drugs, that do so much to destabilize other economies and other societies and force people to become refugees in order to have the security, the stability and the opportunities they deserve.”

Reyes did not speak specifically about Trump’s more controversial proposals, but said this: “He knows the importance of promoting legal immigration, because illegal immigration has cost American taxpayers billions and billions.”

Split on trade pact

Trump has criticized free-trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“Our current trade policy allows countries, like China and Mexico, to take American jobs,” Reyes said. “Mr. Trump believes in restoring jobs that have been outsourced to foreign countries to ensure that every American — including every Asian Pacific American — can have a well-paying job.

“For too long, America has been losing to foreign interests. But no more. Mr. Trump believes in America first — no exceptions.”

Bill Clinton did not mention the latest agreement during his talk. But the question was raised by a Vietnamese American, who said Clinton himself backed many such trade agreements during his own presidency — and that Vietnam, which established normal diplomatic relations with the United States in 1995 while Clinton was president — is a party to the latest agreement.

Unlike a number of businesses based in the United States and looking for short-term gains, Bill Clinton responded, Asian companies play for the long haul.

“It would never occur to them to close down an operation in the mother country and move it someplace else,” unlike some U.S. businesses, Clinton said.

“I can understand why there is so much resistance now, particularly to multinational trade agreements.

“More and more of our companies are dominated by a stockholder mentality, which makes it hard for us to accept any trade agreement. We need to fix this problem in America — and Hillary is the only person running for president who talks at all about how to do that.”

Stein did not speak to it directly while on stage, but the Green Party urged Congress six months ago to oppose the trade deal.

Johnson said his party is for it.

“I am afraid that most Americans have associated free trade and crony capitalism as one and the same,” he said.

“The reality is that free trade is the opposite of crony capitalism — free trade when it is described as devoid of government interference.”

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