Washtenaw County, Michigan Commissioner Alicia Ping (R) says she was leaning toward endorsing former Rep. Pete Hoekstra in the Republican primary for Senate. But that’s all over now. On Monday, Ping donated money to Clark Durant, Hoekstra’s longshot rival in the primary. She told me she’d publicly endorse him if Durant asks her to.
Why the change of heart? Hoekstra’s controversial Super Bowl ad, which the Chinese-American Ping called “demeaning”, is a part of it. But it was more Hokestra’s refusal to acknowledge that he’d made a mistake running the ad that really lost him Ping’s support.
“If he didn’t know it was racist on some level, then shame on him,” Ping told me in a phone interview Monday night. “He didn’t apologize or say ‘maybe it was over the top’ or anything. He said, ‘I stand by what I believe in’ and, ‘the liberals are just making a bigger thing out of it.’ Well that’s not the case at all. It’s offensive and it’s racist. It’s demeaning to the Asian-American population.”
According to Ping, Hoekstra is about to be in a world of controversy thanks to his decision to stand by the ad, despite the widespread outrage. She told me that leaders from across the minority populations of Michigan will jointly condemn Hoekstra in an open letter tomorrow, guaranteeing that the negative press surrounding the ad — and his response to it — will be back on TV for another day at least.
It’s possible that Hoekstra, trying to avoid the embarrassing defeat he suffered in 2010’s gubernatorial primary, welcomes the attention on the assumption that cries of racial intolerance from the left will help him court conservative primary voters in the Senate race.
But Ping makes it clear that the ad’s negative effects cut across party lines. In our conversation, she outlined just how hurtful Hokestra’s ad — with its depiction of a Chinese woman speaking broken English — is to Americans of Asian descent.
“You know when we were growing up they used to have that show Sha Na Na,” Ping said. “On the show was a guy named Bowsewr and I remember they used to have these skits [depicting Asians] and I would say to my mother, ‘why do they do that?’ And she would say, ‘Well, it’s supposed to be funny because they’re making fun of the Asian-Americans.’ And I just looked at her and I didn’t understand it because my grandparents were working so hard to get their citizenship and learn the language. And it’s really hard to learn the English language, and it’s really hard to go the other way, too.”
“So when you lived through this, growing up in the American culture and have somebody so easily make fun of it, it’s just painful because these people are working really hard to try to achieve the American dream,” Ping continued. “And to so blatantly be able to cast it off isn’t acceptable.”
Voters will get their chance to weigh in on Hoekstra on Aug. 7 when they head to the polls for the Republican primary. The race is a long way off, but current polls show Hoekstra set to rout Durant on Primary Day. With even Republicans like Ping turning on Hokestra, however, those polls could change.
Here’s the ad in question:
This has been updated to reflect the correct date of the Michigan Senate primary.