The mystery Texan I hinted about in our last Ask an Elected Official is none other than the one and only Representative Hubert Vo.
Texas State Rep. Hubert Vo is the David who slew the proverbial Goliath in his first race for the legislature in 2004, defeating the second highest-ranking Republican in the statehouse.
Rep. Vo is the first Vietnamese American to serve in the Texas legislature, and is also a member of the Asian American Action Fund’s Advisory Board.
This interview with Rep. Vo is one of many “on the ground” reports from primary states – let us know in the comments if there’s anyone else you’d like to hear from. We’re eager to interview more elected officials, candidates and staffers!
My questions are in bold and Rep. Vo’s responses follow. (This has been slightly edited for clarity.)
First, congratulations on your two wins. That’s something, in the heart of Texas, to win against the second most powerful Republican in the statehouse, a 20 year incumbent. Second, I just want to say, I think you have some of the most varied real world experience of any legislator, and that’s a good thing. How do you think your journey has served you as a state legislator, and what accomplishment are you most proud of?
Thank you very much for having this interview today. I came from a background of working hard to improve myself with no hands out. So I have been doing that all my life since I came here to America, and my first job was from a bus boy all the way to being an engineer. I work with people and understand different mentalities, so that’s really helped me with my career and life, so I can really adapt well to any situation. So when I am in business I understand what my employees need, and also how to progress myself. I just work hard and . . . I have the obligation to give back, that’s why I went for this position. With my hard work and dedication again, I was able to succeed. And I believe in the same philosophy of working with everybody that you will be able to accomplish much more. That’s my place as state rep – I reach out across party lines to get things done for the people of my district, people of Texas. I think I have learned a lot in the last four years and I continue to work to benefit my district and also I like to work on education, small business. . .I’ve been very vocal on fairness of taxation for small business.
I understand that when Katrina happened, you took a stand for the many refugees who came to Texas and the Houston area.
Two years ago when Katrina really hit Louisiana, lots of people decamped to Texas and Houston. A lot of people came to my district, and I was able to be part of a team that really provided and gave help to those people. I was involved in getting them a place to stay, finding them food, and getting them jobs. Finally I can say that about 40 percent stayed behind in Houston. Some went back to Louisiana, but what I learned from the experience is that you have to get out there and do the job yourself to get things done for people in need and help them be productive. That’s the enjoyable part of being part of the building block of the community.
I think that your first election certainly reaffirms the motto “Every vote counts,” with something like only 16 votes at the end separating you from your opponent. We’ve certainly seen a lot of new voter turnout, new voter excitement this cycle. What, if any difference, do you see between 04 and 08?
What I can tell you now is turnout in 04 in the APA community, my name was on the ballot, then you saw an increase in 2006. The Asian community came out more in 2006, and now people have knowledge when going out to vote, and they have much more confidence than in 2004. So I can see that in the Asian community, and people start paying more attention to the election cycle, candidates, and the issues they stand for. So through the Asian community, the media has played a very important factor in all that since my election. And ‘til now you know the media has been mobilizing people to go out and vote every election cycle, also they remind them to register to vote. And they have educated the community in terms of the issues and what the candidates represent. People are very enthusiastic about the process every election cycle now in Houston. And again, in 2008, finally just like how any other community turns out, the primary seems to be a little bit less compared to the general election.
What I can see this year is probably that turnout in the primary of 2008, the percent of voters from the Asian community is going to increase because now they’ve been through the process of going to vote in many elections already. And they are very excited about these national candidates. There’s going to be much more increase and in the general election, I can see a very big surge of the Asians going out to vote in 2008.
What’s the investment of the local, state and national party in Texas?
The association promotes the importance of going out to vote and every vote counts. I can see the effort from every association, even the party. Also the Democratic party has put a large effort into translating documents on how to vote in the primary, precinct chairs and all. They have sent different leaders of different Asian communities to have it translated into languages so people can go out and vote, hopefully in larger numbers.
What issues are voters most concerned about? I know nationally, jobs, the economy and the foreclosure crisis weigh heavily on people’s minds.
Here in Texas, the subprime market has not affected Texas. The economy of Texas is still holding up pretty strongly because of jobs and especially due to the oil economy, oil-related jobs in Houston and also Texas has naturally a large energy sector. So the economy has not been affected much in Texas, but of course the concern within the Asian community is that the economy is not better than what we have seen in the last 8 years, and they are concerned about healthcare – that some families are not able to afford healthcare for their children, that’s something they want to see changed down the road.
So that is the APA community’s concerns, are those the same as the rest of the district, the rest of your constituents?
They share the same concerns and also about education because they can see that jobs have gone overseas and that the jobs are getting more and more difficult to get nowadays. So they emphasize education. They want Texas to have a better educated workforce so we can compete globally. What they want is when a student graduates from college, after graduation they can go out and go to work. So that’s the other concern that they have.
Are you supporting anyone for president?
I have supported Senator Clinton since last year when she first announced her candidacy. I feel like we need a better economy, we need better healthcare here for our nation, and I supported Senator Clinton because I feel like she has the experience, have been a senator for many years and also she has gone to the White House before. She was indirectly behind the scenes but gained knowledge from Bill’s presidency during those eight years, and will draw some experience out of that. With that hope and experience she can better lead our country, so that’s why I supported Hillary. I think to me, the combination of Hillary and Bill benefit our country much more than other candidates.
One bit of advice for anyone looking to run for elected office – something you know now that you didn’t before?
I think before someone decides to be effective for their community, to serve, I would recommend that person first make sure that their family gets situated, and are financially sound before you get yourself involved in the process of giving to the community. Because it’s more than a full time job, and sometimes you have to be strong and move on. So before someone has the idea of running for office, to better serve constituents, to better serve our community, to lead our community, one must overcome those obstacles before they should start to get involved.
Good advice. I also have a question about the Vietnamese American community and their relationship to politics. It certainly seems like the older generation was heavily Republican, but now, the younger generation seems to be going more Democratic. What is your perspective?
Your question is true. When the Vietnamese Americans first came to the United States, a majority leaned toward the Republicans because they feel like they are socially conservative people, people who came through the war and understand that we have to fight in order to protect this country. So we felt like we belong to Republican party more but after 30 years here in the US they have a different approach. They can differentiate between the Republican and Democratic parties now. And the new generation coming up, the children, they are more adapted to the system here, and they understand the difference and benefits. . . They have really shared that knowledge with their parents. I can see that slowly now the older generation seems to be more independent; they go for the candidate who will do the best job for the community now. I can say that 9 years ago, if you ask Vietnamese Americans “What party?”, the majority would say Republican.
Nowadays, they say independent, or 50-50 Republican-Democrat. I can see that this presidential election especially on the Democratic side excites a lot of Vietnamese Americans to go out and vote with the Democratic party because they understand it’s about the economy, and jobs for their kids and the general welfare.
Well, I just want to say thank you for stepping up, because sometimes I talk to people in my parents’ generation who say that it has to be the younger people who run for office, and that they want to wait for the younger generation because they are better at speaking English and they are more used to America, so they don’t run even though we need it. So I just want to say thank you because I think you are an inspiration for people from my parents’ generation and from the younger generation too.
Thank you Caroline, you make me feel old by saying that.
Oh, no! [gasps, cracks up]
The force behind me is really the Democratic party, it gives each individual a chance to advance himself or herself in the process. I was very much moved by the Democratic party, by the democratic way they do things. That really encouraged me to get involved, and I think that people really try to give me respect to give somebody an opportunity to advance themselves, and also I’m always thankful for being able to be part of the American dream, and I just want that to be available for everybody here in this country, because that’s the way this country became one of the super powers in the world.
Thank you again for taking some time out of your busy schedule to talk to us.
Thank you very much Caroline for giving me the opportunity to talk to you today, hopefully my answers will help the APA community.