A top official with Orange County’s Democratic Party resigned from his leadership post Wednesday in the face of uproar among local politicians and community members in Little Saigon over a Facebook post he shared three days ago praising Vietnamese Communist figure Ho Chi Minh.
“In the past days, the trauma that Ho Chi Minh’s dictatorship wrought on Vietnamese members of our community has been made abundantly clear to me,” said Jeff LeTourneau, vice chair for the Democratic Party of Orange County (DPOC) in a statement Wednesday.
It was the same day top party officials held a special meeting to discuss his standing as a vice chair.
“To the almost 35,000 Vietnamese members of the Democratic Party in Orange County, and to all Vietnamese members in our community, I apologize for sharing the post,” he said in his statement.
In resigning as vice chair, LeTourneau also stepped down from his co-chair positions on the party’s resolutions and bylaws committees.
His resignation came three days after he shared a Facebook post praising the late Communist leader as someone who “liberated an entire poor, colonized nation from 2 of the most powerful military forces in the world” — which he deleted 90 minutes later.
Ho Chi Minh died around six years before the Fall of Saigon in 1975, which marked victory for his north Vietnamese party in the war, but has come to symbolize despotism for many of the thousands of south Vietnamese who fled the country fearing reprisal after the war. Saigon was later renamed after him.
Orange County’s Little Saigon counts one of the largest concentrations of Vietnamese Americans in the U.S. — many of whom fled Vietnam in the days and years following the Fall of Saigon — as well as one of the largest concentrations of Vietnamese people outside Vietnam, period.
LeTourneau on Tuesday told Voice of OC his resharing of the remarks were meant to appreciate how Ho Chi Minh “was able to get his country free from colonialism and military occupation” despite his stature and lack of wealth.
“To me it meant this: ‘Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do great things because you don’t have an office or money or power … don’t let anyone tell you you can’t be a leader — leaders come in all shapes and sizes,’” he added.
Yet local elected officials and candidates for elected office — vying for congressional, state, county-level, and city council seats spanning Little Saigon — quickly weighed in after LeTourneau’s sharing of the post.
“Many Vietnamese Americans have direct relatives who gave their lives fighting for freedom and democracy against Ho Chi Minh,” said Republican state Assembly candidate Janet Nguyen in a Monday Facebook post, challenging her Democratic opponent for the 72nd State Assembly District seat, Diedre Nguyen, “to reject the Orange County Democratic Party’s endorsement and money if this is what they stand for.”
Diedre Nguyen on Tuesday was one of numerous local Democratic elected officials and candidates who convened a news conference at Westminster’s Freedom Park — a Vietnam War memorial — to distance themselves from LeTourneau’s sharing of the post.
Joining her were Democratic Congressman Harley Rouda — whose district slices in parts of Little Saigon and is challenged for his seat by Republican Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel — and Sergio Contreras, a Democratic Westminster City Councilman who’s challenging Republican incumbent county Supervisor Andrew Do in the First District.
DPOC Chair Ada Briceño, standing in front of Nguyen, Rouda and Contreras at Tuesday’s news conference, distanced her party from LeTourneau’s remarks.
“Many Democrats across Orange County have denounced this statement,” she said, referring to the “candidates and elected officials like the ones you see in back of us.”
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC staff writer and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @photherecord.