Calif. Hopeful Blazes Trail for Vietnamese-Americans

Among the keepsakes to be circulated at the Republican National Convention (search) in New York is a calendar celebrating the party's commitment to diversity, with pictures of Secretary of State Colin Powell (search), Abraham Lincoln (search), national security adviser Condoleezza Rice (search) and Van Tran (search).

Van who?

The 39-year-old city councilman is expected to win the state Assembly seat in his Republican-leaning Orange County district in November. Tran would become the first Vietnamese-American elected to the California Legislature and the highest-ranking Vietnamese-American. Born into an educated family with political connections, Tran fled Vietnam after the fall of Saigon at age 10 and arrived in Grand Rapids, Mich. The Trans eventually moved to Garden Grove, part of Orange County's Little Saigon and home to the largest concentration of Vietnamese outside Vietnam. Orange County has about 133,000 people of Vietnamese descent.

A former Eagle Scout who became a lawyer, Tran founded a Vietnamese-American voter awareness group in 1990 and testified before Congress about human rights abuses in Vietnam.

Tran's views closely follow those of many native Orange County Republicans. He got his start in politics as an intern for fiery former Rep. Robert Dornan and later worked for Rep. Ed Royce.

A self-described "Reagan kid," Tran favors little government intervention and supports President Bush's tax cuts and the administration's policy in Iraq. A Roman Catholic, he opposes abortion rights and gay marriage. He says his top priorities if elected will be affordable housing and improved transportation.

Tran also supports favors stricter limits on immigration, a key issue in California.

Art Torres, chairman of the California Democratic Party, said he applauds Republicans for seeking out more diversity but said Tran's politics ultimately will prove more important than his personal story.

Torres called it sad that someone who had the opportunity to flee a communist regime and become a U.S. citizen would seek to deny opportunities to immigrants.

"Immigrants who are not citizens, or citizens who were previously immigrants, are not going to buy the fact that just because he's an immigrant, he's going to be for them," Torres said.

Many Hispanics were alienated from the California Republican Party in the 1990s because of measures such as voter-approved Proposition 187, which denied many social services for illegal immigrants.

But Tran maintains that illegal immigration is one of the greatest problems facing the region.

"Immigration and the drain it has on the state is tremendous," he said. "On a personal level, we came through the process legally. So others should get in line to get their papers."