Filipino-American gains seat in California Assembly

Newly elect California Assemblyman Rob Banta, his wife Mialisa and their three children.

By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS – For the first time ever, a Filipino-American will sit as member of the California legislature.

Rob Bonta, a Democrat, beat another Democrat, Abel Guillen, to capture the seat for the 18th district in the first test of a California law that requires the top two finishers of the primary to contest the general election, regardless of party affiliation.

The 41-year-old Bonta, the vice mayor of Alameda, won with 50.79 percent of the vote, in a close victory that underscored the growing political muscle of Asian Pacific Americans in California.

“It’s significant that there has never been a State Assembly member of Filipino-American descent in the 160+ years of California’s history, especially with Filipino-Americans now comprising the second largest Asian-American group in the state, and the fastest growing,” Bonta said in a statement on election eve.

“I’m honored for this opportunity to finally break through that barrier and serve not just the Fil-Am community, but all of the diverse communities in our district.”

However, two other Filipino-Americans who vied for seats in the California Assembly, lost their bids.

Jennifer Ong, an optometrist who ran a spirited campaign, lost for the 20th district assembly seat and Chris Mateo similarly failed in his bid to win as the 12th district representative.

“I’m all about empowerment and not giving up,” said Ong, who captured 48.7 percent of the vote and lost narrowly.

Mateo garnered 42,000 votes in a district with few Filipino-American voters, and was not able to overcome the advantage of his well-known opponent.

It was also a mixed result for Filipino-American candidates in lower local races.

Milpitas mayor Jose Esteves won his fifth term, capturing a stunning 72.03 percent of the vote in a city where more than half of the population are Asian Pacific Americans.

In Union City, Jim Navarro retained his seat on the council, but other Filipino-Americans running for positions in city councils were not as successful.

Hermy Almonte lost in San Leandro; Stewart Chen was defeated in Alameda and Gary Barbadillo came up short in his city council bid in Milpitas.

No statistical data are available yet on how the estimated 700,000 Filipinos-Americans voted in the federal elections.

According to registration information compiled by the National Association of Filipino-Americans Federations, about 27 percent of Filipino-Americans are registered Republicans, the largest number among Asian Pacific Americans.

About 24 percent are registered Democrats, and more than a third are independents, or refuse to identify their party affiliation.

In a survey before the November 6 elections, about 52 percent of Filipino-Americans said they intended to vote.

Follow Bert Eljera on Twitter @vegaspinoy60 and on Facebook at

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