Santana: Could Vietnamese American Political Rift Affect the 34th State Senate and 48th Congressional District Races?

NICK GERDA, Voice of OC

State Sen. Janet Nguyen (left) celebrates with Supervisor Andrew Do at his election party in January 2015.

A simmering, longstanding rivalry between Orange County’s top Vietnamese Republican leaders has many observers wondering whether the spat could complicate Republican turnout in the race for the 34th State Senate District and possibly even spill over into the race for the 48th Congressional District.

State Senator Janet Nguyen is calling on Orange County GOP leaders to quell a scathing attack coming at her from County Supervisor Andrew Do, primarily through Vietnamese language radio.

“As you are aware, for almost four years, Supervisor Do and his Deputy Chief of Staff Nick Lecong, have dedicated great efforts to undermine my standing in the Vietnamese-American community,” Nguyen wrote in an August email to OC GOP Chairman Fred Whitaker, which was reviewed by Voice of OC.

“These efforts are counterproductive to the goals of the Republican Party and are having an adverse impact on the Party’s standing in the Vietnamese American community,” Nguyen wrote while also accusing Do of “unequivocally campaigning for my opponent. Democrat Tom Umberg.”

Nguyen wrote to Whitaker that Do on Vietlink Radio, which is owned by Lecong, “stated that I dedicate my time to destroy others so that no one can compete against me in future elections, questioned my performance and effectiveness as a legislator, suggesting that I have not done enough for the community and have simply authored resolutions.”

Nguyen also wrote that Do had effectively called for voters to oust her – even though she’s facing a Democrat.

“We need to question ourselves and to recall to eliminate that voice (Janet Nguyen) and to elect another person and that is why I think this November Election is very crucial,” wrote Nguyen, quoting Do.

In the 34th State Senate District, out of nearly 400,000 voters, slightly more than 62,000 identify as Vietnamese with just more than 25,000 requesting a Vietnamese language ballot, according to information on the race from Political Data Inc. (PDI).

Out of nearly 400,000 registered voters in the 48th Congressional District, almost 35,000 people identify as Vietnamese and nearly 13,000 use a Vietnamese language ballot, according to similar information from PDI.

Do was Nguyen’s attorney during her tough 2007 election as a county supervisor, owned a Lee’s Sandwich shop franchise with Nguyen’s husband and eventually became her chief of staff when she was first elected as supervisor. She later supported his run for Garden Grove City Council but then Do mysteriously left public life in 2010, leaving Nguyen’s office and his city council position.

Do came back to Nguyen’s office in 2014 as chief of staff and eventually succeeded her in a special 2015 election as supervisor after Nguyen was elected to the State Senate the year before.

Ever since, the two have remained bitter rivals.

Whitaker acknowledged the email sent by Nguyen as well the intensity of the rivalry between Nguyen and Do, adding that he tries “to stay out of those personality conflicts or challenges.”

“I do what I can behind the scenes,” said Whitaker.

While Whitaker declined to discuss behind the scenes talks, he did say he has one message for all involved.

“Stay focused.”

Do did not return calls seeking comment.

Nguyen’s campaign consultant, Dave Gilliard, said he was stunned to see Do “openly out supporting a Democratic nominee” but added that “Janet has never had a problem” getting out the Vietnamese American vote for her and didn’t see Do’s efforts ultimately impacting her race.

Whitaker also said intense rivalries are nothing new in Republican circles.

Indeed, when former Vietnamese Republican Assemblyman Van Tran ran against Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez in 2010, then-OCGOP leader Scott Baugh had to negotiate a truce between Tran and Nguyen. Tran eventually lost a lopsided race to Sanchez.

Nguyen also did a robocall against Do in his 2016 re-election, which he won by a tight margin.

“The Republican Party is a combination of highly opinionated and strong willed individuals and I think if you look nationally and in the state, we have always had more issues with people taking a different track.

We’re used to it and still manage to win elections,” Whitaker added.