Calif. assemblyman in hot water for racially charged remarks

Kansen Chu via

Assemblymember Kansen Chu is facing backlash for racially charged remarks made to a Chinese language newspaper.

Chu last week raised eyebrows when he abstained from voting on Assembly Constitutional Amendment 5, a measure that allows voters to decide whether the state's ban on affirmative action -- which boosts hiring minorities and underrepresented communities -- should be repealed.

Chu added fuel to the fire when he reportedly told Chinese media that many Hispanic parents told him when he was a Berryessa Union School Board member that they don't care about their kids' education, are busy with their livelihoods and didn't intend to let their children attend college.

Since 1996, California has been one of eight states that have banned the consideration of race in university admissions, public employment and public contracting.

The vote on ACA 5, which would initiate a November ballot measure to repeal Proposition 209, California's ban on affirmative action, largely split down party lines with nearly every Democrat in the Assembly voting in favor and almost all Republicans voting against.

Chu was one of three Democrats who voted to abstain.

The measure was opposed by some Chinese American groups who argue it would affect their access to jobs and educational opportunities.

In his June 11 comments to World Journal, a Chinese language newspaper, Chu reportedly said many Hispanic and African ethnic groups are "unable to compete or have the ability to continue their studies" due to unresolved structural economic and educational problems.

He said "entrance tickets" do not solve structural problems, according to a translation of the article provided by the NAACP.

Chu, who's running for Santa Clara County supervisor, told San Jose Spotlight on Sunday that his comments were taken out of context and twisted by his political opponents.

He said the translated version of the Chinese article did not accurately reflect the discussion that centered around systemic racism and the need to make college more affordable. He called allegations of racism "a desperate ploy by my opponent."

"I unequivocally deny saying that Latinos do not value education," Chu said, "I did say that there are systemic barriers for Latinos and African American students.

"What was not said in the World Journal was that I said the solution would be more funding for schools serving underserved communities. My record on supporting education funding and progressive policies in support of minority communities have been strong and consistent."

However, Chu's political opponent in the supervisorial race, Otto Lee, questioned the legislator's fitness for office and demanded an apology.

"It is clear from his comments that Mr. Chu understands systemic racial inequity exists, and yet he chose inaction," Lee said. "Then to use non-English media to make racist statements and to mislead his Chinese speaking constituents about this vote is incredibly troubling.

"To speak with such openly prejudiced rhetoric hidden under the veil of a language barrier is both unacceptable and tone-deaf to this moment in our nation's history."

Other community leaders and advocacy groups, including the San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP, also condemned Chu.

"Many of us have worked for decades to fight racism and support our brothers and sisters of color," said former Congressman Mike Honda. "Unfortunately, Assemblymember Kansen Chu's statements in the media set our movement back, just when we should be advancing equity for black and brown people and listening to our younger generations."

Former Assemblymember Paul Fong said 2020 may be the year for Chu to retire from elected office.

"I hope Chu spends more time truly listening to the hopes, dreams, and struggles residents of color face before making sweeping and inaccurate generalizations," he said.

Chu in March emerged as the top vote-getter in a four-way race to replace termed-out Supervisor Dave Cortese on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.

He garnered 31.5 percent of the vote, followed by Lee who received 28.9 percent.

Chu stunned political insiders when he told San Jose Spotlight in May that he planned to leave the California Assembly to return to local politics in the South Bay.

ACA 5 now moves to the California Senate where it is expected to pass.