The Board of Supervisors district that made Janet Nguyen the first Asian-American board member in Orange County's history may not stay with the Vietnamese community.
Two Latino and three Vietnamese candidates are vying for the First District seat, and the best-known candidate is a Latino politician from Santa Ana who previously served in the state Senate.
A special election for the seat will be held on Jan. 27.
The district has 613,490 residents, the most populated of the five board districts, according to the 2010 Census. There is a large block of Vietnamese-American voters from the cities of Garden Grove, Westminster and portions of Fountain Valley. Vietnamese voters helped elect Nguyen to the O.C. Board in 2007, making her the first Vietnamese-American O.C. supervisor.
The district also includes the larger and predominately Latino city of Santa Ana. Historically, turnout among Latino voters has been low.
“Not many people know about the election and I’m hoping that people actually show up to vote,” said Lou Correa on Tuesday after a voter forum featuring four of the five candidates.
Correa, a termed-out state senator, served as First District O.C. Supervisor from 2004 to 2006, before being elected to Sacramento. Now he’s back, looking for his old board position.
Another top candidate running for the O.C. Board is Garden Grove council member and O.C. deputy district attorney Chris Phan. He immigrated to Virginia from Vietnam when he was eight years old.
He took a leave of absence from his DA job in the summer, anticipating Nguyen would win her election, to start campaigning for this election.
During the candidate forum Tuesday, Phan said public safety, job creation and fiscal responsibility are his top three priorities.
“That’s what has made me what I am,” he said. “Having a job to feed my family and to see me through school and work my way through college, I wouldn’t have a chance to be here.”
Other candidates running are Andrew Do, the former chief of staff to Nguyen when she was on the O.C. County Board of Supervisors, TV news anchor Chuyen Van Nguyen, and health care office specialist Lupe Morfin-Moreno.
Having three Vietnamese-American candidates in this race could split the voting block but former O.C. resident and Little Saigon community organizer Phong Ly said the community is different now.
“There will be instances when the community will be compelled to voter by ethnic line,” he said. “But in this race, I don’t think it’s going to come down to that.”
Phan has a formidable opponent in Correa, whose supporters packed the candidate forum Tuesday and included seniors, young people and Vietnamese-Americans. The event was sponsored by the Santa-Ana based Connect-to-Council civic participation advocacy group.
“It’s good to see other candidates trying to make an impact in California,” said Javier Morales, 20 of Santa Ana. Morales said his number one issue is public safety. He wants to see more counseling, activities and services to at-risk young people in Orange County.
The sentiment was the same for Garden Grove resident Diedre Nguyen who said she’s concerned about gang activity.
“We want to promote education, more opportunity for younger kids,” she said. “That ties in with reducing the risk of (them) joining gangs.”