GOP Involvement in 1984 - A very Special Year!!
This was a major and busy year for all political activists. The newly formed Texas AANRF chapter was two-year-old and chaired by Esther. The primary goals for Esther were to rally Asian/Pacific Americans (APAs) politically as much as possible at all levels. In addition to the congressional races, most APAs were more interested in the presidential reelection of President Reagan. Not all people (APAs) immersed themselves, as Esther did, into the mainstream GOP campaign activities such as all grassroot efforts, i.e., volunteer work at campaign offices for phone bank, mailing, walking, yard signs. . . Besides being a delegate from a precinct, and a senatorial district, Esther was also interested in attending the 1984 National GOP Convention in Dallas but did not know how to pursue it.
Before the GOP ‘84 National Convention in Dallas on August 20-23 1984 --
Attending a political party’s national convention is quite an honor and experience for many people, including Dr. Esther Lee, back to 1984. One day, out of curiosity, she asked congressional candidate Jesse Helms regarding the process to become a national convention delegate during her campaigning for him in the early spring of 1984. He advised Esther to contact Senator John Tower’s office for the opportunity.
Esther’s first contact with Senator John Tower’s state director Molly Pryor was back years ago for the petition on behalf of Dr. and Mrs. D. Chao. They were in the process of adopting a baby boy from Taiwan but encountered certain obstacles. Esther approached Molly for help. Eventually, the Chaos successfully adopted this baby boy and they sent Esther a dozen roses to express their appreciation. Esther later invited Molly and her husband over for a homemade Chinese dinner with other GOP leaders and activists as thanks.
With Molly Pryor’s prompt assistance, Esther’s request to attend the GOP National Convention was granted. She was appointed to be an alternate delegate paired up with Mr. James Lyon, a prominent businessman in TX. Since her husband had no interest in attending the convention, Esther offered the “spouse” ticket to Don Wang, a Chinese American business leader as he expressed great interest in getting into mainstream politics. Since then, Esther basically “introduced” him into the political arena by involving him in as many political events as possible. For example, she gave him opportunities to speak at various events. He later became the founder and chairman of the Metro Bank in Houston. He has been politically and economically very active and successful in the Houston area since 1984.
However, Dr. Esther Lee's personal political experiences at the 1984 GOP National Convention did not turn out all positive as she expected. The painful lesson of the 1984 GOP National Convention shared below was the turning point for Esther’s future political focus and direction. Ultimately, this event led to the birth of Texas Asian Republican Caucus (TARC) in the following year.
At the 1984 GOP Convention --
Technically, political conventions are not open to the general public. Only delegates, convention workers, political party staff, media personnel, and invited guests, i.e., spouses are permitted to enter the building with proper official credentials. There were no other Asian Americans from Texas in the convention, except Don Wang and Esther. During the Convention, Esther only met two other Chinese American delegates, David Chan, then a candidate for state treasury of Oregon and Anna Chennault from Washington, DC.
The planning for a political National Convention takes months prior to the Convention. Behind the TV screen, there are many political and social activities designed and scheduled for different states delegates and political players. Various committee meetings are held during and prior to the convention dates. The most important committees are platforms/resolutions, and rules/regulations. The committee members begin their tasks months prior to the Convention. Everything is strategically planned and executed including speakers at all events especially the major general assemblies.
As mentioned in the files of 1982, zealous but inexperienced Esther founded the Texas Chapter of Asian American National Republic Federation (TAANRF) in the summer under the Asian American National Republican Federation (AANRF). AANRF was loosely organized by a New York businessman, Ben John Chen with the encouragement of Anna Chennault who was an active GOP operator in Washington, DC. On paper, it was under the National Republican Heritage Groups Council (NRHGC) within the Republican National Committee (RNC) in Washington, D.C. The AANRF’s officers could hardly communicate in English but had a good business and social network in NYC Chinatown for political donations. As “led” by Anna Chennault, Ben John Chen, chairman of the AANRF formed a group of about 30 – self-designated delegates - from NYC to the Convention site in Dallas. Esther met the group as an officer of the Texas AANRF chapter. These NYC visitors thought they would be at the Convention floor/arena as the TV screens always showed. Sadly, without proper credentials, they all ended up in a meeting place with close circuit TV set-up outside the Convention; they had no access to the convention floor. Esther was one of few Asian Americans who had the required credentials to enter the Convention. Being an alternate Esther could only sit in a reserved area for Texas delegates and alternates while her “paired” delegate, James Lyon was absent.
On August 21, 1984 during the Convention, Anna Chennault rallied the AANRF members/visitors to sign a resolution to request an eminent Asian American to second the nomination of the president or VP on Wednesday. She was hoping that she would be the one. Since Esther was one of the two known Asian Americans who had the credentials to enter the convention, Mrs. Chennault asked her to hand deliver the resolution to Mr. James Baker who chaired the convention. Without knowing the impossibility, Esther nevertheless faithfully accomplished the assignment.
Now, in retrospect, it was a very unwise effort by Mrs. Chennault, but the AANRF members knew nothing about the political process. They only were used by her. If she was truly as knowledgeable about American political process as she appeared to Chinese Americans, she would not have done that. Such a decision for someone to second the nomination was not arranged in the last minutes. Eight years later, Esther finally learned the process of convention preparation as a campaign staff for the Bush/Quayle ’92. Every convention detail was purposefully planned for a long time.
This convention experience was a sad chapter of Asian Americans’ history of political involvement. Esther met many Asian Americans who were trying very hard to get involved in Reagan/Bush’s reelection via the RNC’s National and Ethnic Heritage Groups Council but could not get into the convention as expected. Basically, they were “misled” or misguided” without being involved in the mainstream political process. As a result of this painful encounter, Esther decided to lead the Asian Americans in Texas DIRECTLY to the State GOP Party. Eight years later, Esther was able to see the fruit of her efforts at the GOP 1992 National Convention in Houston.
After the 1984 GOP Convention –
The disappointing lesson at the GOP Convention induced the birth of Texas Asian Republican Caucus (TARC). For two years, Esther had witnessed many Asian American “leaders” being misled to stay detached from mainstream politics. Their “empty” titles and “marginal” groups were not recognized by the state GOP parties simply because they were not functionally involved in the local party activities and campaigns. In other words, they were not integrated into the mainstream. Actually, any individual could get involved in the mainstream and become a delegate without any ethnic affiliation.
After realizing the “wrong” path experienced by many enthusiastic Asian Americans, Esther was determined to form an Asian American group right under the state GOP. That was the only way Asian/Pacific Americans could become delegates to the state and national conventions while maintaining their own ethnic groups. As a result, Esther consulted the GOP state chair, George Strake Jr. who advised her to form an auxiliary organization like the Republican Women’s Club under the state party soon after the GOP 1984 convention. She started contacting several ethnic community leaders and began to draft the By-Laws and Constitution. After many meetings and discussions for more than one year, the final version was adopted on March 2, 1986. So, the Texas Asian Republican Caucus (TARC) was born with the support of Texas GOP state chairman, George Strake, Jr. More details can be found in a separate folder of TARC.
In addition, Esther realized that sharing and training were as important as galvanizing APAs directly under the structure of the Republican Party. APAs need to know that all the delegates with voting powers were either elected at the state level or appointed at both state/national levels i.e., by the White House and Republican National Committee (RNC). Thus, in order to become a delegate, a person must be active locally in the mainstream political structure, from precinct, county, district, state and finally national levels. In addition, Asian/Pacific Americans needed to develop their political leadership skills and knowledge. She began this endeavor with a strong support and guidance from the state chairman, George Strake, Jr. and Harris County Chairman Russ Mather.
Since then, she devoted more time on TARC than NRHGC. However, she continued networking with some Asian American leaders via the NRHGC and supported various Asian GOP groups nationwide. She also recommended people for appointments because she firmly believed in full participation and mainstreaming.