Ten Gurdwaras across the U.S. hosted viewing parties to watch live the 2nd APIAVote Presidential Town Hall, held July 21 at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.
President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney participated in the town hall, via videotaped messages. Rep. Mike Honda from California, representing the Obama camp, and former Rep. Tom Davis, representing Romney, took pre-vetted questions from the audience.
The event was organized by Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote, a nonprofit non-partisan organization focused on increasing voter participation in the AAPI community. APIAVote is co-chaired by veteran political strategist Toby Chaudhuri.
Speaking at the beginning of the town hall, Chaudhuri reflected on the Colorado tragedy that had occurred a day earlier in which James Holmes is suspected of shooting and killing 12 people and injuring 58 during a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises,” at a theater in Colorado.
“This tragedy hits home,” said Chaudhuri, after a moment of silence. “After 9/11, many of our community members were targeted. But what’s happened after each of these tragedies is that our community has come together,” the Indian American said.
“Our nation is at a crossroad. We’ve one from peace to war, prosperity to recession, our wages are down, and unemployment is up. We cannot ignore this election: there is too much at stake,” he said.
“Today is the start of a broader discussion. With the support of both campaigns, we are taking a step forward to figure out how to participate in the process and how to use politics to get our say in government,” stated Chaudhuri.
MSNBC anchor Richard Liu, who emceed the town hall, noted that Asian Americans are the largest immigrant group expected to vote this fall, but have largely been untapped by candidates from either party. In a survey released in May by pollster Celinda Lake, few of those surveyed said they had been contacted by either party. Moreover, over one-third of poll participants said they were independent or undecided, representing a large voting bloc that could be tapped by either candidate. This is especially important in swing states where undecided or independent voters could determine the outcome, said Liu.
Honda, a Democrat from California who is chair emeritus of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, gave a shout-out to the Sikh community before answering questions on behalf of the Obama campaign. “Saat Sri Akaal, my Sikh brothers and sisters,” said Honda, who represents the Silicon Valley and parts of Fremont, Calif.
“I remember the winter day when Obama was sworn in: it was cold outside, but in our hearts, we were warm,” he said.
Obama has rejected the Asian model minority myth and understands the challenges of our community, including higher rates of poverty and barriers to employment, said the veteran congressman.
Under the new Affordable Care Act, three million more Asian Americans will have access to health care, which would also expand coverage of preventive care to diseases prevalent in the Asian American community, such as diabetes, heart disease and hepatitis.
Obama has also expanded resources for programs in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. “The president understands that STEM education prepares our students for the jobs of today and tomorrow,” Honda said.
Answering a question from Sikh American Legal and Defense Fund policy advisor Navdeep Singh about expanded access to capital, Honda said that Obama is a stalwart supporter of small businesses, noting that the Small Business Administration has provided over $9 billion in loans and expanded loan limits, crucial to an economy where larger banks have backed off of in making such loans.
“Asian Americans are at the helm of some of our most successful industries,” said Obama. “Whether your heritage stems from South Asia or East Asia, you’re helping to build a better America,” he said.
Davis, who spent 29 years in Congress, echoed Romney’s stance on immigration for international students who have earned graduate degrees in the U.S. “We should be stapling green cards to the back of their diplomas, not sending them home to compete with us,” he stated.
Davis also criticized Obama’s commitment to immigration reform, saying that the president had put the issue on the back burner. Davis further criticized the ACA, saying the health care act would drive the deficit “way, way up.”
“We must allow the markets to work to drive down health care costs,” Davis stated.
Romney, in the videotaped message, stated, “Our free enterprise system is the best in the world for upward mobility. Government should stand to the side of entrepreneurs, not in their way.” He added that the administration must be proactive in finding international markets for American goods.
Speaking after the town hall, Singh of SALDEF told India-West that the organization was very happy that both candidates participated. “SALDEF believes that the campaigns must address the issues of the Sikh American community,” he said, including the flagging economy, health care, education and immigration reform, but also school bullying, racial profiling and employment discrimination.
“(This event) showed our community that the candidates are willing to discuss their issues,” he said.
SALDEF has launched SikhVote, which aims to increase Sikh American participation in the voting process through grassroots efforts.