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October 01, 2004
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ARCHIVE: Asian-American Voters

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PLASKON: Thousands of people come and go like desert dust in this fast-growing region. A large portion that stay are Asians and Pacific Islanders. 80 thousand Phillipinos call Las Vegas home and an estimated 50-thousand Hawaiians have arrived in the past 8 years. Trying to settle in to new lives, few have time for politics says Henry Fan. He's eating with his son Justin at the Chinatown Plaza.

SOUND: Background.

FAN: I just don't think that Chinese people are too interested in what is going on here, what Chinese believe I think is still true today: Work hard, and anything else doesn't matter.

PLASKON: But the apathetic here are being chiseled away by the enthusiastic.

SOUND: Drums at festival.

PLASKON: Jostlin Celcer is a Hawaiian Chinese canvasses Asians to vote every day.

CELCER: When they move here they don't know where to vote, they don't know how to vote, they don't know how to register, basically they just don't know and that is why we are here. That is why we are here to tell them it is really a simple process and we tell them where to go. We will even pick them up ha, ha, ha.

PLASKON: 30-thousand attended this local Island festival in September. It's part of a series of 7 events before the election where Rozita Lee of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance has headed up registration efforts. She lures in potential voters with tempting parties like this and training workshops too.

LEE: We are having financial strategies tonight. We are training people so that they can become better at their check books and better at their management. This is actually aimed at women and we will also have the registration forms ready in case they are not-yet registered.

PLASKON: Between events the labor alliance calls potential voters, so far they've contacted more than 45-thousand.

SOUND: Phone Bank.

PLASKON: Last election year, they registered 6-thousand new voters through these methods, and this year the goal is to double that. Helping the effort along this year are Celebrity and politician visits. This weekend the Democratic governor of Hawaii will visit Las Vegas. This month Wayne's world actress Tia Carrera will be here for voter registration efforts at an Asian-American Fair and congressman Mike Honda will be there too. Meanwhile local leaders like Pastor Gail Kamakahi have carried the torch, preaching sermons of empowerment through voting. She's proud to say every member of her church is registered.

KAMAKAHI: I think more and more the Asian Pacific community are finding out and being educated and if they keep hearing it they will start to step up to the plate.

PLASKON: Democrats are trying to take possession of the Asian voting block. No Republican campaigns were at the recent island festival, but the campaigns of three Democrats were. Debbie Elliot is a Scheduler for congressional candidate Tom Gallager has given out 60 packets supporting her candidate and registered 20 people.

GALLAGER: Everyone that has come by here and everyone that has registered has been a Democrat and everyone that has expressed an opinion has been a democrat and so hopefully it will be Democrat. So like I said I don't like to categorize.

PLASKON: Democrats appear to be benefiting most from registration efforts overall in Nevada, overtaking the number of registered Republicans by more than 1-thousand voters in September. But a poll of Asian Americans by Tarrance Group and Bendixen and Associates shows it's hard to pin a political party on Asians considering their various cultural origins. 56 percent of Vietnamese support the war in Iraq while 64 percent of Chinese oppose it for instance. The poll does show Senator John Kerry ahead of President Bush by 7 percent among Asians in battle ground states, but 7 percent is also within the poll's margin of error. For now, Las Vegas is the focus for the national 20-thousand member Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance. It sent Executive Director Gloria Caoile to work full-time on get out the vote in Nevada instead of other battle ground states.

CAOILE: Nevada is better in some sense because it is a big state but it is a small concentration where folks are. We are talking about all the statistics are in Clark County. We are not having to travel days and day and hours and hours to get to folks you know.

PLASKON: Next week she's bringing local newspapers together, asking them to run ads and stories about the importance of voting.

CAOILE: It engages them to be part of the political process. It is not just the New York Times that is talking about the politics now, it is us to and it is empowering and that's what it is really about.

PLASKON: Back at the Chinatown Plaza, Henry Fan is reading one of those Asian papers. He's frustrated with publishers' lack of reporting on politics.

FAN: You see this, they are mostly adds, look at it, here is a page, you have 20 percent adds the rest are articles, they are not into it to get the community going.

DAN: I think I should go vote, that is all I know.

PLASKON: Nearby, Dan from Thailand is frustrated. He registered to vote months ago, but hasn't received anything in the mail. It's need-to-know people like Dan that registration advertisements would target.

DAN: How do I know where to go, see they don't give me nothing.

PLASKON: With the help of community newspapers he might shortly get the information he needs and thus be empowered to vote.

Ky Plaskon, News 88.9, KNPR

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