The expanding influence of the Asian community in the South in general, and in Georgia in particular is evidenced by the recent merger of the four year old Asian American Legal Advocacy Center with the national organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice, which previously had branches in Washington, DC, San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles.
The new affiliation was announced at a recent conference, where Advancing Justice released a new report, The Changing Face of the South: Building Electoral Power in Emerging Constituencies. The report provides a wealth of data on the Asian, Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population in several southern metro areas, including Atlanta.
Georgia’s Asian population grew by 83% between 2000 and 2010. Asians are 5% of the metro Atlanta population, however Gwinnett County, has the largest Asian population in Georgia at 11%.
The Pew Charitable Trusts took this research and wrote a separate report about how Asians are affecting southern politics. Georgia GOP Minority Engagement Director Leo Smith noted that while two thirds of Asian voters chose Barack Obama in 2012, that was less than the 95% of black voters that supported him.
“We obviously have not as hard a row to hoe,” Smith said. “We probably have a lot more traditionalists and conservatives that are already resonating and connecting to the Republican platform than any other racial group we’ve been connecting with.”
Notably, the state’s first Korean-American General Assembly member, B.J. Pak, is a Republican. Pak is also thought to be the first Asian-American Republican to be elected to any state legislature in the region.
Democrats, too, are making their own push in Georgia, and their efforts are as varied as the community they’re trying to reach. The party has two co-chairs for its Asian-American and Pacific Islander Caucus, a Korean-American and an Indian-American.
Aside from voter registration drives, the party and others involved in the community have organized meetings with local officials and business leaders in a “bridging the gap” efforts, as Tim Hur, one of the co-chairs of the party’s Asian-American and Pacific Islander Caucus, put it.
“As the population grows, there’s always a rough period,” Hur said. “We have a lot meetings with officials to tell them that, ‘Hey, we’re not going anywhere.’”
Hur had an unsuccessful run for the Democratic nomination for House District 105, losing to Renita Hamilton 61%-39% in May.
Because Asians come from many different countries and backgrounds, it’s possible they won’t become the unified voting block in the way African Americans have. While the group tends to favor Democratic candidates now, it’s possible that the GOP could make significant inroads. As the Pew story notes, two of the South’s Republican governors, Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley both hail from Asia.