Setting the record straight on the tobacco tax campaign

The recent post in Capitol Weekly by Jakada Imani and Vien Truong representing the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and the Greenlining Institute was filled with as many misstatements of the truth as the No on Prop. 29’s $50 million tobacco industry funded campaign to mislead California voters.

Imami and Truong give credit to the No on Prop. 29 campaign for its token effort to enlist the few ethnic organizations that have funding ties to Big Tobacco to oppose Prop. 29.  At the same time, the authors totally ignore the fact that the No on 29 website was completely in English.  In contrast,the Yes on Prop. 29 website featured pages for the African American, Latino and AAPI communities with downloadable information in Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese.  The Yes on Prop. 29 campaign developed specific strategies to reach out to and organize the LGBT, African American, Latino and AAPI communities.

Imani and Truoung failed with their cursory attempt to examine  the long list of ethnic community support for Prop. 29.  No less than 29 respected AAPI community-based organizations, seven AAPI medical researchers and doctors and 29 AAPI local, state and federal elected officials were listed in support of Prop. 29.  The complete list is available at Similar lists can be found on the corresponding pages for African American, Latino and LGBT communities.

Furthermore, the Yes on Prop. 29’s public relations campaign secured multiple broadcast stories and articles on AAPI support for Prop. 29 on KTSF, NTD TV, Sing Tao USA, World Journal, Rafu Shimpo, Nichi Bei Weekly, Chinese Times, among others.  Editorials in support of Prop. 29 by prominent AAPIs like Dr. Paul Song were published in AAPI papers.  More importantly, the Yes on Prop. 29 campaign engaged in a groundbreaking volunteer field effort that produced more 375,000 calls to voters throughout the state – of all backgrounds.  Unlike many other campaigns, a portion of these calls were conducted in Spanish, Korean, Cantonese, Mandarin and Vietnamese.

Imami and Truong  point to their efforts on Prop. 23 as the model for political success.  However, political experience shows that the ethnic turnout model for a general election is far different than for a primary election where both presidential candidates have already locked in their party nominations. Historically, the former has the benefit of higher ethnic turnout and the latter has a lower turnout. Imami and Truong also conveniently ignore the collateral impact of the California Labor Federation’s $600,000 statewide campaign to reach out to hundreds of thousands of AAPI voters in November 2010 in support of Jerry Brown with poll-tested messaging and mail that focused on AB 32.  Turnout for November 2010 was nearly 60 percent – the highest since the 1994 gubernatorial campaign.  In stark contrast, turnout for June’s primary was approximately 35 percent.  To take credit for defeating Prop. 23 and criticize the Yes on Prop. 29’s efforts to reach out to AAPIs at the same time in light of the significant difference in election scenarios is naïve at best and self-serving at worst.

Ed’s Note: Bill Wong is a political consultant with over 20 years of experience who worked on the AAPI outreach for Yes on Prop. 29 and the California Labor Federation’s groundbreaking effort to reach AAPI voters in 2010 to support the election of Jerry Brown. UPDATE: This piece was corrected in the second paragraph to show that NAAC withdrew as a coalition member of the Greenlining Institute as of September 2011.

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