Monday, February 05, 2007

Buzz: Changing of the Guard at 80-20

After years with founding President S.B. Woo at the helm, the 80-20 Initiative and PAC -- a national organization dedicated to creating an Asian American swing vote through promoting a bloc-voting strategy -- is seeing a wave new faces on its executive committee and board of officers. The organization's new President, Kathleen To, announced the leadership changes in a release circulated on February 3.

The message also acknowledges that Woo (who was term-limited out as 80-20 president this year) leaves some very big shoes to fill. (Woo has said he will continue to play a role in the organization, possibly focusing on a recently developed education foundation project.) Indeed, To will face some challenges as she takes the helm of an organization that has been so closely aligned with the name of the founder. This identification with Woo has created some obstacles for 80-20 in its past efforts to build multipartisan coalition. Although 80-20's decision-making committees are constituted of equal numbers of Democrats, Republicans and independents, Republicans who failed to win the organization's consensus endorsements have routinely accused it of partisanship because Woo had been a Democrat when he served as Lt. Governor of Delaware.

The new leadership change, then, can provide a good opportunity for 80-20 to put some distance between itself and these charges, and to strike out in some new directions, too. The message from To suggests that a key goal is "to reach out and co-operate with all other Asian American organizations, [and] reach out to our Congressional Delegations."

For a time 80-20 was regarded as the only national, pan-Asian political action organization of note that could provide formal endorsements, it got a reputation for going things its own way and not really working in coalition with other organizations who were also dedicated to community concerns, voter participation, and so forth. Further, in its early years, 80-20 had reserved its endorsements and member energies exclusively for presidential races, generally shying from Congressional or gubernatorial races and leaving midterm elections alone.

Beginning last year, however, 80-20's consensus focus on combating glass ceiling discrimination through Congressional hearings gave it an opportunity to weigh in on midterm races, and it received high-level attention on the issue from the new DNC chair Howard Dean.

The new board will be holding its annual meeting in Washington DC in April. We will likely see some more announcements of new directions and deals then.