Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Ready to Lead

Dr. Richard Pan, State Senator

Chair, Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus


When I was first elected to the State Assembly more than a decade ago, I had never held public office, yet I knew in my heart I could lead. As a physician, I knew I had a unique perspective to offer and could bring my experience in health care to bear in policymaking to help better lead our state. In fact, I had a responsibility to lead because so many in our Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community are more comfortable behind the scenes and out of the public glare, faithful to the old maxim that “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down.”


To be seen but not heard seems to be the case for too many AAPIs. We are invisible.


However, as a community we must now be heard. We have much to contribute and have unique and valuable insights which will build a better America.


We earned the opportunity to serve and belong at the table when critical decisions about the future of our state and nation are being made. It is not just a question of diversity — it is about contributing to the broader society and having the respect to be granted the opportunity to lead. America is better when the people leading reflect the communities they serve.


The Biden Administration has promised to be inclusive and reflect the diversity of America. For the most part, early indications prove that Biden is making good on his promise, with people of color and women being touted for key Cabinet and senior White House positions. Earlier last week the President-elect received praise for having an all-female communications team.


However, one group that has been notably absent from the discussion are AAPIs. Closer to home here in California, regarding Governor Newsom’s upcoming appointment to replace the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris, no prominent AAPIs appear to be a leading contender despite the fact Harris is a South Asian woman. At a minimum, proven AAPI women such as Controller Betty Yee and Treasurer Fiona Ma should at least be considered — two prominent state-wide elected officials who have proven track records of public service accomplishments.


There are numerous prominent and accomplished AAPI elected officials, business leaders, academics and professionals who also should be in consideration for top jobs and political appointments, either in the Biden Administration or for Governor Newsom’s consideration.


California is a breeding ground for top political talent. The next generation of elected leaders include my colleagues in API Legislative Caucus both past and present and AAPI serving in local offices –– and others such as former State Treasurer and Controller John Chiang. All seem like obvious choices.


Now with current California Attorney General Xavier Becerra heading to Washington, D.C. to serve in the Biden Administration, Governor Newsom will have the opportunity to appoint the next California Attorney General.  With the departure of AAPI Senator Kamala Harris, the AAPI community will be losing ground under Governor Newsom’s watch if he does not appoint an AAPI person to a state-wide office vacancy.  Certainly, the AAPI community has many well-qualified attorneys who would make an outstanding Attorney General.  In our Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus we have a number of qualified candidates including Assemblymembers Bonta, Chiu, Kalra, Muratsuchi, and Former California Legislator and current Congressmember Ted Lieu.


At the Federal level, there are many positions where AAPIs could play a vital role. In addition to successful elected leaders, prominent and accomplished businesspeople, academics and other professionals should be considered, such as Yahoo Co-Founder Jerry Yang and East West Bank President & CEO Dominic Ng. Yang is a long-time Silicon Valley powerhouse, while Ng would be an interesting choice as a strong, early supporter of President-elect Biden and as someone credited with building one of the most successful minority banks in America.


As a community, AAPIs are ready to lead. We will be heard because we want to serve.



Author: Dr. Richard Pan is a pediatrician, former UC Davis educator, and State Senator proudly representing California State Senate District 6 which includes the communities of Sacramento, West Sacramento, Elk Grove, and unincorporated areas of Sacramento County.  Dr. Pan chairs the Senate Committee on Health and the Budget and Fiscal Review Subcommittee on Health and Human Services. He also chairs the Senate Select Committee on the 2020 United States Census and serves as Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Asian Pacific Islander Affairs and Vice-Chair of the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus.