Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Lao American vote: Not a given

While a big focus is being made on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to Laos, it raises questions for me about the long-term commitment and development we'll see out there.

Even as promises for restorative aid and support have come out, we should also bear in mind that as voters, Lao Americans are still very polarized when it comes to choosing between Democrats and Republicans. As one of the largest growing communities in the US with over 200,000 to 400,000 potential eligible voters, in certain areas, the Lao American vote can make a surprise key difference that could affect final outcomes.

At least one Republican think tank that has been supporting development abroad since 2003, the International Republican Institute:

At their website, they discuss their history: "In its infancy, IRI focused on planting the seeds of democracy in Latin America. Since the end of the Cold War, IRI has broadened its reach to support democracy and freedom around the globe. IRI has conducted programs in more than 100 countries."

They further highlight that their board of directors is chaired by U.S. Senator John McCain and many other prominent Republican figures in the public and private sector. Their two core programs in Laos are the Rural Women's Political Participation initiative and Civil Society Development.  One might ask what this will all mean as we interact with participants in these programs in the future.

Many Lao may be drawn to promises of support for small businesses or an anti-communism platform. But others may be drawn to programs that address women's rights and support for family reunification and other immigration policies that reduce barriers to travel and support of their families. Policies that strengthen the security of overseas financial transactions and reduce fraud, corruption and human trafficking are also things that could shift a Lao vote. Because of current deportation policies, some Lao Americans may not find a candidate palatable if they do not create ways to reduce family hardships. UXO issues, veterans rights, etc. There's a lot to consider.

Like many communities, the end point is also that Lao Americans will not support parachute candidates who just drop in and just as quickly fly out once elected. They will support candidates who have built a reputation of trustworthiness and reliability.  This includes showing up at community benefits, new years festivals and other occasions. But also convening meetings to meet the community face-to-face will make a big difference.

These are just some things to consider as we approach November.

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