Joe Vu, the first Vietnamese to run for Congress
By Jackie Bong-Wright
Joe Vu, 56, a chiropractor and a member of the Republican National Committee since 1989, won the Republican congressional primary for the 29th district of Texas last March by a margin of only 275 votes out of 600,000 constituents. He had spent only $75,000 to run against his opponent, incumbent Allen Goforth, a wealthy businessman. He told a selected audience of 200 Vietnamese gathered to show support for him on July 9, in Falls Church, Virginia, that, according to a survey, he got 45% of the middle-class American vote, 60% of the Hispanic vote, and the unanimous support of the 500 Vietnamese residing in his district.
Endorsement and Fund-Raising
Endorsed now by both the Republican party, including Mr. Goforth, and the Houston Chronicle newspaper, Joe Vu is running for Congress for the term 2001-2002. He said the Vietnamese vote would determine his success, and thought he had a 50% chance of defeating his Democratic opponent, Gene Green, in November.
Dr. Vu now needs money. He has to raise $250,000 to get Republican party matching funds of $500,000. The $750,000 will go for advertising on radio and TV, and direct mail to his constituents. So far he has received $75,000, an average of $75 from each of his 1,200 Vietnamese supporters. He is also benefiting from a good deal of in-kind volunteer work.
The Vietnamese community nationwide is also helping. Dr. Vu has been invited, with his expenses paid, to raise funds in Orange County, California, and Washington, D.C. He also has plans to go to San Jose, Seattle, Florida, and many other places to do fund-raising among the Vietnamese communities who reside there.
Asked why he is running for elected office, Joe Vu gave several reasons. First, he wants the Vietnamese community to have an official voice in Congress, as do blacks, Hispanics, and other Asian and ethnic groups. He would also fight for democracy and freedom for the people in Vietnam who still suffer human rights violations in that Communist country.
As a representative, he said he would owe his first allegiance to his constituents. He believes in lowering the tax burden on those trying to make ends meet. He thinks that the nation needs a strong defense, with protection for its citizens from weapons of mass destruction. He wants to set better standards for the school system, with strong academic curricula and a safe schooling environment.
Dr. Vu also supports downsizing the government, and preventing its intrusiveness into people’s everyday lives. He wants to ensure social security’s future and adequate health care for all who need it. If elected, he would aim for a seat on the sub-committee handling education, which he sees as the most important issue for his constituents considering the high drop-out rate among Hispanic youth in his district.
Past political activities
In his youth, Joe Vu was already active in the Vietnamese Catholic Youth movement. He later received a degree in literature, and graduated from the prestigious National Institute of Administration in Vietnam. He went to work as Assistant to the Chief of Staff at the Presidential Palace in Saigon, and, in 1971, he was elected a deputy in the Vietnamese National Assembly. He became the Minister of Labor in early 1975.
Joe Vu fled Vietnam just a day before the Communists from the North took over the South. In the U.S., he worked at a number of entry-level jobs before going back to school. He graduated as a doctor in 1991. He has been active in raising funds for various Christian causes, and was elected President of the Asian American Citizens Association.
A Proven Leader
There is plenty of Vietnamese support fro Dr. Vu. Quan Le, a supporter from Virginia, said, “ Given Joe Vu’s abilities and active past, he deserves to represent the Vietnamese community in the U.S. We are proud that he has the courage to be the first Vietnamese to run for Congress. He has a good chance to win the seat, but if he does not, he has set a good example for younger Vietnamese to be more involved in civic activities, not focused only on their every day professions.” Du Nguyen, a Texas resident and former colleague, witnessing Joe’s dynamism and commitment, volunteered to travel and campaign for him full time. Binh Le, a college classmate, said of Joe, “ He sparkles in whatever he does, since his youth. He has fire inside him. He has always been an outspoken activist in the many causes he believes in. He is a proven leader.”