Dennis Nguyen, first Asian American to run for statewide office

by Elaine Dunn

On a chilly November evening in 2013, Dennis Nguyen (pronounced “win”) announced to a small group of supporters his momentous decision to “crossover.” He will go from the relatively peaceful existence and anonymity of a private citizen to what may make him a household name in Minnesota by November 2014. And he is resolute in this journey and all the rough-and-tumble events that will take place in the coming year to get there.

The intimate Saturday night gathering at the Grand Szechuan in Bloomington was an initial fundraiser sponsored by Dr. Hong Yang, former director of the China Center at the University of Minnesota, who had worked with Nguyen in China. The following morning (Nov.10), Nguyen announced his candidacy for the secretary of state at the Capitol to a diverse group of supporters, including Hmong American Partnership President Bao Vang, RNC Committeewoman Janet Beihoffer, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, former Republican party Chair Ron Eibensteiner, former speaker of the House Steve Sviggum, state Senators Roger Chamberlain, Jeremy Miller, Branden Petersen, Eric Pratt, Julie Rosen, Dave Osmek, David Senjem, and David Thompson; Representatives Jim Abeler, Mike Beard, Glen Gruehagen, Brian Johnson, Ron Kresha and Cindy Pugh. The office is currently held by Democrat Mark Ritchie, who will not be seeking reelection.

Nguyen, a Republican, had never held political office. The son of working class Vietnamese refugees, his family was on one of the last C-130 flights out of Saigon in 1975. Raised in a frugal and industrious family (his father worked three jobs!) in southern California, Nguyen worked after school and on weekends and still managed to earn grades good enough to win him scholarships and fellowships. He holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in economics and Chinese literature from the University of California-Irvine, a J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School, a Master of Arts in international studies from Johns Hopkins University-School of Advanced International Studies, and an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

CI: Why are you running for the office of the secretary of state?
Nguyen: There are three main reasons:
•    My professional experience lies in the business world. I intend to make the Secretary of State’s office the one-stop-shop for job creation and capital formation in Minnesota. The office will be the hub of a 21st-century Minnesota economy — an ecosystem designed to bring together entrepreneurs, investors, lawyers, accountants and bankers to create new, sustainable middle-class jobs. This is not a Republican or Democrat talking point; it’ll be the model for good and efficient government at work.
•    As an immigrant, I believe that honest and expansive elections are the hallmarks of any true democracy. Building on the Minnesota tradition of high voter participation, I will work with election experts and our colleagues in the Minnesota Legislature in a bipartisan manner to increase elections access WHILE simultaneously ensuring elections integrity.
•    I hope to renew the Republican Party. The America of 2013 is not the America of 1953. Whether this perception is true or not, too many people today feel that the Republican Party does not represent them and their ideals. Well, I am here to change this misconception. The Party of Lincoln will reach out to diverse communities in an inclusive manner and spread our message of economic and social opportunity, personal responsibility and good and efficient government.

CI: How do you plan to accomplish that?
Nguyen: I will actively campaign in the minority communities of the inner cities of Minneapolis and St Paul, working class areas of the Iron Range and rural Minnesota. We need to bring ALL people together to get our state moving again.

CI: What’s your problem-solving approach?
Nguyen: I offer a big tent, business-friendly, common sense, solutions-oriented approach to solving the problems in state government. That’s how I operate in world of finance, and that’s how I will operate in the secretary of state’s office.

CI: What will your campaign be focusing on immediately?
Nguyen: I will spend the next five months focusing on two action items:
•    Taking my message to nontraditional Republican audiences (Hmong, Chinese, Vietnamese, Somalis, Hispanics, urban residents, suburban women, single working females and working-class Minnesotans). Asians make up approximately 4.2 percent of the state’s population. According to a Pioneer Press story in May 2013, Asians “improved their turnout rate from 34 percent in 2008 to 56 percent last year. That gave Minnesota Asians the highest voting rate among the 23 states where enough Asians voted for a statistically significant analysis.” I will build on that.
•    Taking our message statewide and fundraising within the Minnesota business community and the Asian communities nationwide.

CI: As a Vietnamese, why did you major in Chinese literature?
Nguyen: By age 16 or 17, I already knew China would become a major world power, so I made sure I learned the language and the culture. My favourite literary work is “Dream of the Red Chamber.” I love that book as it talks about everyday life in Chinese high society in the 1700s. My favorite Asian American novel, of course, is “The Joy Luck Club.” I see a lot of my family in that book!

Nguyen is the first GOP candidate to seek this office. He believes in empowering and creating opportunities, financial and educational, for the Asian American community. His campaign will address economic and social issues, improve election access, and ensure the American dream is available to all Minnesotans. DFL candidates to date are Reps. Debra Hilstrom and Steve Simon.

To find out more about Dennis Nguyen’s campaign, visit or

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