A History of Asian Americans in the California Legislature
A total of thirty-eight Asian Pacific Islanders (APIS) have served in the California Legislature, including nine who currently serve in the Assembly and two in the Senate.
Past APIs that have served in the California Legislature include:
Alfred Song became the first API and Korean American to serve in the Legislature when he was elected to the Assembly in 1961. Prior to his election, Mr. Song served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II as the first Korean American commissioned officer. He began his career in public service as the first Asian American on the Monterey Park City Council in 1960. Four years after his historic election to the Assembly, Mr. Song was elected to the State Senate. His accomplishments during his three terms in the Senate include serving as Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and establishing and chairing the Senate Democratic Caucus.
March Fong Eu
March Fong Eu became the first API woman and Chinese American elected to the Legislature in 1966. She represented the 15th Assembly District, which included Alameda County. Ms. Fong Eu earned her Doctorate of Education degree at Stanford University and served on the Alameda County Board of Education for three terms prior to her election to the Assembly. She is still remembered for her legislative efforts on behalf of environmental preservation and the protection of women's rights. Ms. Fong Eu served on the Education and Public Health committees, and was the Vice Chairperson of the Committee on Revenue and Taxation. After having served four terms in the State Assembly, Ms. Fong Eu went on to become the first woman and Asian American elected to statewide office as Secretary of State.
The election of Tom Hom to the State Assembly in 1968 increased the number of APIs in the Legislature to three. Prior to his election, Mr. Hom became the first Asian-American to serve on the San Diego City Council and was a successful produce merchant. Mr. Hom represented the 79th District from San Diego and served for one term. He served as the Vice Chairman on the Local Government Committee as well as being a member on both the Commerce and Public Utilities Committee and the Health and Welfare Committee. Tom Hom, the son of immigrant parents who came to America in the early 1900s, was the first Chinese American man to serve in the Legislature.
In 1972, Paul Bannai became the first Japanese American elected to the State Legislature. A veteran of the United States Army Intelligence Service, Mr. Bannai began his career in public service as a councilman for the city of Gardena. He represented the 53rd Assembly District for four terms until 1980. Committees Mr. Bannai served on include: Criminal Justice, Finance and Insurance, Veterans Affairs, Ways and Means, and Rules.
Floyd Mori was elected to the Assembly in 1974 to represent the 15th Assembly District and served three terms until 1980. He served as both mayor and council member for the Pleasanton City Council prior to his election to the Assembly. Formerly a college economics professor, Mr. Mori was an active member of the community and is currently the Executive Director of the National Japanese American Citizens League.
It was another decade before another API was elected to the Legislature. Nao Takasugi was elected to the Assembly in 1992 and left in 1998 as a result of term limits. During his term, he served as the chairperson of the Committee on Revenue and Taxation. Nao Takasugi, a graduate of Temple University and Wharton School of Business, served as a council member on the Oxnard City Council prior to his election to the Assembly. He now serves as the chair of the Oxnard Harbor District Board of Directors.
Mike Honda, Democrat, was elected to the Legislature in 1996. Mr. Honda is a third generation Californian who began his career as an educator in the San Jose school system and went on to serve on the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors. His accomplishments before being elected include interrupting his college career to answer the call of public service; he served in the Peace Corp for two years, building schools and health clinics in El Salvador. In Mr. Honda's career as an educator, he was a science teacher, served as a principal at two public schools, and conducted educational research at Stanford University. During his time in the Assembly, Mr. Honda served as the Chairperson of the Committee on Public Employees, Retirement, and Social Security, and the Committee on Public Safety. After representing the 23rd Assembly District from 1996-2000, Mr. Honda was elected to Congress in 2000.
Assemblymember George Nakano served as a Torrance City Councilmember for 14 years before his election to the State Assembly in 1998. He represented the 53rd District, encompassing the southern coastal region of Los Angeles County. Nakano was appointed by the Speaker in January 2002 to serve as Democratic Caucus Chair, he was the first Asian American to hold the leadership position. He was a member of the Committees for Veterans Affairs, Transportation, Insurance, Health, Budget, Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism, and Internet Media, and the Joint Committee to Develop the California Master Plan for Education. In January 2001, Nakano was elected by his colleagues to serve the inaugural Chair of the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus. The eldest of four children, Assemblyman Nakano was born in Los Angeles and grew up in a poor neighborhood in East Los Angeles. After he and his family spent four years in internment camps during World War II, George returned to Los Angeles and graduated from John H. Francis Polytechnic High. Assemblyman Nakano and his wife Helen, a realtor, have resided in the South Bay for 42 years. They have two grown children and two grandchildren.
Assemblymember Carol Liu represented the 44th Assembly District from 2000 to 2006. The district includes the cities of La Canada Flintridge, Pasadena, South Pasadena, Temple City and Duarte. Her interests ranged form K-12 education to career/technical education, adult education and higher education. She was Chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee and a member of the Assembly Education Committee, the Assembly Committees on Transportation and Governmental Organization, and California's Seismic Safety Commission. Liu also chaired the Legislative Women's Caucus in 2005 and is a past Co-Chair of the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus. In 2003, Liu was recognized as the "Legislator of the Year" by both the California State Student Association and the University of California Alumni Associations. Liu was again named "Legislator of the Year" in 2004 by the National Organization for Women. Before being elected to the assembly, Liu served in the public education system for 17 years and was a member of the La Canada Flintridge City Council in which she served two terms as Mayor. In 2008, Carol Liu was elected to the State Senate and succeeded termed-out Jack Scott. As a State Senator, Carol Liu represents the 21st District which includes the cities of Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena, La Cañada Flintridge, San Gabriel, Temple City, and Los Angeles communities including Altadena, Tarzana, Encino, Reseda, Van Nuys, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, North Hollywood, Highland Park, Glassell Park, and Griffith Park, Silverlake, Los Feliz, Eagle Rock, Echo Park, Atwater Village, and Chinatown.
Assemblymember Wilma Chan represented the 16th Assembly District from 2000 to 2006. The district includes the Alameda, Oakland and Piedmont areas. Her primary concerns were health care, senior services, early childhood education, environmental health, job creation and economic development. Chan served as the Chairwoman of the Assembly Committee on Health, Assembly Select Committee on California Children's School Readiness and Health, and the Assembly Select Committee on Asian Trade. She also co-chaired the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus and was the Assembly Majority Whip during her term. Most notably, Chan is the first woman and the first Asian American to serve as the Assembly Majority Leader. In addition to her leadership roles, Chan sat on the Assembly Budget Committee, Education Finance subcommittee, Assembly Committees on Transportation, and Labor and Employment. In 2004, Chan launched the "Adopt A School – Partnership for Success" program which linked local organizations with public schools. Prior to her role as Assemblywoman, Chan served two terms on the Board of Supervisors, where she was the first Chair of the Alameda County Children and Families Commission.
Assemblywoman Judy Chu was elected to the California State Assembly in May 2001. She represented the 49th Assembly District, which includes Alhambra, El Monte, Monterey Park, Rosemead, San Gabriel, San Marino and South El Monte. During her time in the Assembly, Dr. Chu held several pivotal roles, such as Chair of the State Assembly Appropriations Committee, Select Committee on Hate Crimes and Chair of the California Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus. She was also a member of the Budget Conference, Assembly Revenue and Taxation, Labor and Employment, and Environmental Safety and Toxic Material committees. Prior to serving in the State Assembly, she served on the Monterey Park City Council for thirteen years, from 1988 to 2001, and served as Mayor of the city three times. Dr. Chu has been dedicated to education throughout her career. She started her career in public service as a board member of the Garvey School District from 1985 to 1988. Dr. Chu was named by California Journal as one of California's top new legislators. She has received a 100% rating by the Children's Advocacy Institute, the Congress of California Seniors, the Better Business Alliance and the California League of Conservation Voters.
In 2002, Shirley Horton was elected to the State Assembly representing the 78th District. During her time in office, Mrs. Horton served as the Vice Chair of the Committee on Higher Education and was a member of the Business and Professions Committee and the Transportation Committee. Prior to being elected to the State Assembly, Shirley Horton served on the Chula Vista City Council from 1991-1994 and in 1994 was elected as the first Asian American mayor of Chula Vista where she served two terms before being elected to the State Assembly.
Ted Lieu was elected to the State Assembly in 2005 during a special election and represented the 53rd Assembly district. While serving three terms in the Assembly, Ted served as the Chair on the Committee on Rules, Joint Committee on Rules, Select Committee on Aerospace, and from 2007 to 2009 served as Chair of the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus. During his tenure with the Assembly, Ted Lieu was also a member on the Governmental Organization, Judiciary, and Veterans Affairs Committees. Prior to serving in the Legislature, Ted Lieu served four years of active duty with the United States Air Force JAG Corps; he still remains in the Air Force reserves today and is a Lieutenant Colonel. He also is a former Torrance City Councilmember and was the Commissioner for the Torrance Environmental Quality of Energy Conservation Commission. Ted Lieu is currently serving in the State Senate representing the 28th State Senate district after being overwhelming elected in a special election in February of 2011.
Elected in 2002, Alan Nakanishi served as the Assemblyman to the 10th district for three terms. While serving in the legislature, Alan Nakanishi was Vice Chair of the Health Committee and a member on the Appropriations Committee, Education Committee, and the Joint Legislative Audit. Alan Nakanishi was also the first Republican Co-Chair of the Asian Pacific Islander Joint Legislative Caucus from 2005 to 2008. Prior to serving in the Assembly, Alan Nakanishi served as a Lodi City Councilman from 1998 to 2002 and was selected by his fellow Council members to serve as Lodi's mayor from 2000 to 2001. Alan Nakanishi is a practicing ophthalmologist, having received his M.D. from Loma Linda University. Dr. Nakanishi served two years as a Major in the U.S. Army where he led a surgical department at McDonald Army Hospital. Alan Nakanishi is also the co-founder of the Delta Eye Medical Group, a six physician group with offices in Lodi, Stockton and Tracy.
Alberto Torrico, elected to the Assembly in 2004, represented the 20th Assembly district which includes portions of Alameda and Santa Clara Counties. Albert Torrico served for three terms from 2004 to 2010 and was appointed to be the Majority Floor Leader on May 13, 2008. While in the Assembly, Alberto Torrico served as Chair of the Select Committee on Safety and Protection of At-Risk Communities in California and was a member of the Governmental Organization Committee, Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security Committee, Utilities and Commerce Committee, and Joint Rules Committee. Alberto Torrico, of Bolivian and Japanese descent, became the first Assemblymember to serve in two different ethnic caucuses when he joined both the Latino Legislative Caucus and the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus. Alberto Torrico received his J.D. from Hastings College of Law. Prior to serving in the Assembly, Alberto Torrico served as a City Councilman to the City of Newark in 2001 and was subsequently elected by his colleagues on the City Council as Vice-Mayor of Newark where he served until being elected to the Assembly.
Elected in 2004 to represent the 68th District, Van Tran served three terms in the Assembly. During his tenure in the State Assembly, Van Tran served as Vice Chair of the Judiciary Committee and was a member on both the Banking and Finance Committee and Governmental Organization Committee. Prior to being elected to the Assembly, Van Tran served as a City Councilman and Mayor pro Tempore for the City of Garden Grove from 2000 to 2004. He received his J.D. from the Hamline University School of Law and was a former staff aide to U.S. Congressman Bob Dornan and former State Senator Ed Royce. Van Tran was also the founder of the Vietnamese-American Voters Coalition (VAVOCO).
From 2006 to 2012, Fiona Ma served as an Assemblymember representing the 12th Assembly District, which at the time included parts of San Francisco and San Mateo county. She was the first Asian American woman to serve as Speaker pro Tempore since 1850, and authored 60 bills that were signed into law. Most notably, Ma authored legislation that bans toxic chemicals in products for babies and small children in Assembly Bill 1108. She served on several committees and was the Chair of the Select Committee on Domestic Violence. Elected in 2018, Ma currently serves as the California State Treasurer and is the first woman of color and the first woman Certified Public Accountant to hold the position. Prior to serving in the Assembly, Ma served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors from 2002 to 2006, where she led a campaign to end human trafficking.
Mary Chung Hayashi
Mary Chung Hayashi served as Assemblymember of the 18th Assembly District, which encompasses part of Alameda County, from 2006 to 2012. She became the first Korean American woman to serve in the Legislature. During her time as an Assemblymember, Hayashi authored AB 108, which prohibits health plans and insurers from rescinding an individual health insurance policy, protecting consumers from losing their health care coverage during the times they need it most. Prior to serving in the Assembly, Hayashi served as the Alameda County Coordinator. She is a champion of mental health and suicide prevention.
From 2006 to 2012, Mike Eng served as the Assemblymember representing the 49th Assembly District, which includes part of Los Angeles County. Eng authored the State’s Homeowner Bill of Rights, which allowed more Californians to keep their homes during the country’s foreclosure crisis. He also passed the first California law to separate out Asian Pacific Islander ethnic demographic data at two state departments in order to identify and serve the specific needs of the many Asian and Pacific Islander communities. Eng pioneered the first comprehensive survey of America’s largest community college system, which revealed one in five students is homeless and almost two thirds routinely experience hunger and paved the way for beginning solutions.
Elected in a special election in 2008, Warren Furutani served in the Legislature until 2012, representing the 55th Assembly District in Southern California. Mr. Furutani founded the Community College Caucus, led the Assembly Select Committee on Career Technical Education and Workforce Development and served as a member of the Higher Education Master Plan Review Committee. During his tenure, Mr. Furutani served as the Chair of the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus and spearheaded legislation to establish Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution to educate Californians about the incarceration of Japanese Americans and prevent future violations of our civil liberties.
From 2008 to 2014, Paul Fong represented the 28th Assembly District and the which at the time included part of Santa Clara County. During his time in the Assembly, he worked with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project and introduced legislation that protects endangered turtles. In addition, Fong worked to save sharks by authoring Assembly Bill 376, which bans the possession, sale, and distribution of shark fins. As a former Assemblymember, Fong continues to fight for workers’ rights to a living wage and respectful working conditions. Mr. Fong is a former Chair of the API Legislative Caucus.
Mariko Yamada served as the Assemblymember for the 8th Assembly District from 2008 to 2012, and the 4th Assembly District from 2012 to 2014. During her time in the Legislature, she chaired the Assembly Aging and Long-Term Care Committee and the Assembly Select Committees on Sustainable and Organic Agriculture and State Hospital and Developmental Center Safety. She championed legislation related to aging and long-term care reforms, regulating private long-term care insurance policies, protecting victims of dependent adult abuse, consumer protection and civil rights. She worked to strengthen religious protections by authoring Assembly Bill 1964 the Workplace Religious Freedom Act. Before being elected to the State Assembly, Yamada was the first person of color to sit on the Yolo County Board of Supervisors.
Das Williams served in the Legislature from 2010 to 2016 and represented the 35th and 37th Assembly Districts, which encompasses parts of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Williams served as the Chair of the Assembly Committees on Higher Education and Natural Resources. He co-authored Assembly Bill 1014, which created stricter gun safety and allows family members to get a judge's order to remove firearms from a relative who is perceived to be a threat. Williams also authored legislation focused on creating a dedicated revenue source for higher education, and establishing harsher punishments for students who commit sexual assault. Williams currently serves as County Supervisor on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.
Kansen Chu was the Assemblymember from 2014-2020 representing the 25th Assembly District, which includes parts of Alameda and Santa Clara counties. He served as Chair of the Committee on Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism, and Internet Media and the Assembly Select Committee on Hate Crimes. Chu also served on the Committees of Assembly Revenue and Taxation, Transportation, and Water, Parks, and Wildlife. During his time in the Legislature, Chu has strived to remove language barriers, and spearheaded legislation to make language assistance policies in hospitals readily available to patients. He has also focused on the issues of mental health, public safety, education, environmental protection and justice, and good governance. Chu previously served on San Jose City Council and was the first Chinese American to do so.
Young Kim served as the Assemblymember for the 65th Assembly District, which encompasses parts of Orange County. She became the first Korean American Republican woman to become a state legislator in California, and served from 2014 to 2016. She was born in South Korea, and her experience of being an immigrant helped her understand some of the struggles faced by people in her district, where one-third of residents are immigrants.
Todd Gloria served as Assemblymember from 2016-2020 representing the 78th Assembly District, which includes parts of San Diego County. He is only the second person of Filipino heritage to be elected to the Legislature, and has had a lifelong career in public service. Gloria has been credited as one of the most accessible elected officials in San Diego, and keeps regular close contact with the San Diegans in his district. As an Assemblymember, Gloria has authored legislation dealing with the issues of election reform and housing solutions, and served as the Majority Whip and the vice chair of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus. Gloria has previously served on San Diego City Council and was elected as Mayor of San Diego in 2020.
Tyler Diep served as Assemblymember from 2018-2020 representing the 72nd Assembly District, representing parts of Orange County. He served as the Vice Chair of the Committee on Housing and Community Development and the Committee on Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism, and Internet Media. Diep is a taxpayer advocate, and opposes new and higher taxes. His priorities included common sense infrastructure spending, promotion of job growth and creation, strong commitment to public safety, and protection of access to healthcare.