How Orange County Lawmaker Janet Nguyen Took the California GOP Convention (and Twitter) by Storm
Everybody loves an underdog. Even better when that underdog has an inspiring story like that of California State Senator and former Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen, the first Vietnamese-American state senator in the United States.
Nguyen was born in Saigon in 1976, shortly after it was taken over by the North Vietnamese. Her family fled to California in 1981, narrowly escaping communist rule by boat.
Nguyen’s experiences as a Vietnamese refugee had a major impact on her life and career in public service, so she was struck when the California State Senate chose to lionize the late Sen. Tom Hayden, a vocal anti-war activist who made controversial visits to North Vietnam and Hanoi during the Vietnam War.
Two days after Hayden was memorialized, Nguyen took to the State Senate floor to voice her criticisms. Nguyen said she wanted to offer a different historical perspective. She began to issue a statement before her colleagues, which she says was meant to honor the bravery and service of American soldiers who served in Vietnam.
“It was an opportunity for me to stand strong and thank all of the American soldiers who fought in Vietnam, because without you this person standing in front of you would never have an opportunity to be in this great country and be able to even be alive. I know you suffered when you came back here and had the backlash and were treated wrong — and it was wrong.”
But Nguyen was cut short. First, her microphone was turned off. The senator was told she was out of order, but she refused to quit speaking. That’s when she was forcibly removed and escorted off the Senate floor by the Senate’s sergeants at arms in an incredibly jarring scene.
California’s GOP Convention followed a day later and Nguyen was its superstar. By then, a Twitter campaign had already taken off, buoyed by hashtags like #StandWithJanet and #ShePersisted—the latter a reference to a similar situation this month involving U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat. Convention attendees were wearing pins that read, “I Stand With Janet.”
“It’s an extremely strong, galvanizing moment for the party, and obviously she’s the focal point. It’s big for both of them,” said political strategist Mike Madrid. “Her profile is certainly raised statewide, and she’s gotten a heck of a lot of media attention. It’s also an opportunity to reframe what’s happening in the party — this is an immigrant, this is a refugee, this is a woman of color who was clearly put down here.”
Even some Democrats were bothered by Nguyen’s removal from the Senate floor. Steve Maviglio, a Democratic strategist who ran against Nguyen in 2014, called the decision “boneheaded.” A number of newspapers, including the Orange County Register and the San Diego Union-Tribune, also criticized the incident as an affront to free speech.
Nguyen has since posted the entire statement she intended to give on her website. You can read it here.