Rantz: Democrat lawmaker axed Chinese Heritage Month because sponsor is white
A Washington state Democrat helped ax legislation establishing January as Americans of Chinese Descent History Month because the bill’s sponsor is white. And she saw this as retribution towards the group behind it.
State Senator Keith Wagoner (R-Sedro-Woolley) introduced SB 5264 after lobbying from Washington Asians 4 Equality (WA4E). The group hoped to establish the month “to educate younger and future generations on Americans of Chinese descent’s lives, histories, achievements, and contributions; this bill means to encourage, not mandate, public schools to celebrate everyone’s differences and cultural history.”
But the bill never advanced, and emails obtained by the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH reveal why.
Democrat lawmaker didn’t want a white man’s bill to pass
State Rep. Cindy Ryu (D-Shoreline) complained to House Democrat Caucus members that the bill was “another ethnic appropriation,” according to a March 3 email acquired through a public disclosure request. Her main objection was that Wagoner is white.
In a March 5 email to Democrat House caucus members, Ryu provided a list of reasons she wanted to kill the bill.
Ryu chided it was an example of “cultural appropriation, especially when we have Members of Color who could have easily carried this bill.”
She brought up Wagoner’s spouse, arguing she “may be Taiwanese, but Chinese Americans are much more diverse than Taiwanese alone.” (Wagoner’s spouse is, in fact, Chinese American.)
The lawmaker is also no fan of WA4E. She told other Democrats that its members “occupied our Rotunda and JLOB hearing rooms and halls regarding I-1000…” Initiative 1000 was affirmative action legislation that voters rejected.
Ryu noted that during the I-1000 protest, “it was the first time I saw Republican members embrace people who spoke a language other than English.” It’s ironic criticism of racism when the lawmaker rejects a bill because of the sponsor’s race, implying Wagoner’s wife isn’t Asian enough.
White lawmaker ‘disappointed’
Wagoner was taken by surprise when he learned why Ryu sandbagged a bill he’s been working to pass for two years.
“I’m very disappointed,” Wagoner told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “You know I value my relationships with all my colleagues, including Cindy, so not only was I shocked, but my feelings are a little bit hurt. You know, I don’t pretend to represent the Chinese community. I’m not their voice. But I am trying to be a legislator with ears who listens to them and tries to give them what they want. So this is an important bill. We have days honoring Filipino Americans, Hispanic Americans, Korean Americans, Japanese remembrance, but we don’t have anything for Americans of Chinese descent.”
Wagoner was also fazed by Ryu’s criticism of his wife.
“I really want to make a correction there because she has it wrong. First of all, my wife is a naturalized United States citizen from Taiwan, who is Chinese, and that’s very important to her. Her parents escaped mainland China in 1949, when Mao’s forces took over and escaped to Taiwan. So she is definitely Chinese,” Wagoner said.
Neither Ryu, who is up for re-election, nor her legislative assistant responded to multiple requests for comment.
Ryu was less hostile to the bill publicly. While she wanted to kill the bill, she tried to amend it to the month of May if a vote on it was inevitable.
“If 5264 must run, I’d like to amend the bill to change the month to May. So, could we please hold it for an amendment? My Chinese connection is that my father-in-law lived in Harbin and my mom lived in Shenyang,” Ryu wrote. “Also, I lived with Chinese immigrants in Brunei in co-housing.”
Wagoner inferred this was a ruse. May is already Asian American month. WA4E intentionally chose January for the month because “Lunar New Year is a significant memento of Chinese culture, often falling in January.” But Ryu, who is Korean-American, cited her “Chinese connection” as to why she should be able to amend the bill.
When Wagoner learned of Ryu’s amendment, he asked her to withdraw it.
“I respectfully request you withdraw your amendment to my bill,” Wagoner emailed Ryu on March 4. “I appreciate the intent to connect to other important individuals and groups but feel that it has the potential to dilute the intent of the bill. Having it brought to my attention at this late juncture doesn’t allow time for us to discuss it and give your amendment the consideration it deserves. Thank you for your consideration.”
Ryu responded that “the caucus briefing on your bill was not going well,” and that she only offered the amendment to mitigate their concerns. But it appears this was a strategic move to ensure the bill would be defeated. Ryu knew there would be pushback from WA4E, according to a source with knowledge of conversations. And that’s exactly what happened. WA4E tweeted its disappointment.
Democrat caucus yielded to Ryu
Ryu’s colleagues allowed her to sandbag the bill, even though it’s the kind of identity-based gesture they’d normally get behind.
State Rep. Gerry Pollett (D-Seattle) said he wanted to speak up when the bill came up for discussion, but feared to because he’s white. He wanted to stay in his lane.
“PS – as the guardian of our Chinese-American niece who lived with us through high school and the pandemic, May made sense to us (I asked) because it is the birth month. But, I sure wasn’t going to weigh in because that would have been disrespectful of you and others in our Caucus who have far deeper knowledge and connections,” Pollett emailed Ryu.
Ryu on the offensive
After WA4E released a press release condemning the inaction on the bill, Ryu privately criticized the group as not representative “of the immigrant Chinese nor ABC [American-born Chinese] persons I know…” She explained to a staffer and a group of Democrat lawmakers that she wanted to go on the offensive.
“I am thinking of broadening the outreach to more Chinese American communities and media as well as the Wing Luke Museum,” she emailed.
She indicated that she’d move forward with her own version of a similar bill, which would remove the white lawmaker altogether.
“I am also thinking of a much more inclusive Chinese American Month House bill for 2023, so this work will lay the foundation, but in our own terms,” she emailed.
In April, Ryu started a workgroup to pursue the legislation.
Washington Asians 4 Equality
A spokesperson for WA4E expressed disappointment in Ryu’s purported actions, arguing the lawmakers “seems to hate our group, the largest and most active grassroots Asian American group in Washington State, advocating for Asian American, especially, Chinese American issues.”
“We feel that the main reason for this is that we are a strictly non-partisan group that advocates working with both parties to advance legislation. Representative Ryu will not work with anyone with such a foundational belief that partisan politics should not be the driving force behind the legislative process,” the spokesperson tells the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.
WA4E is hoping the House Democrats condemn Ryu’s actions.
“This racist and intimidating behavior should not be tolerated by either the House Democratic Caucus or any elected officials,” the spokesperson said. “The House Democrat Caucus should condemn Rep. Cindy Ryu’s behavior. Rejecting and blocking a bill because of the sponsor’s skin color is wrong. What Rep. Ryu did is a direct threat to our representative democracy and effectively creates a segregated legislature in Olympia. This should not be allowed to happen.”
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