Gene Wu: Changing the stereotypes

Updated: 2014-07-25 11:44

By May Zhou in Houston(China Daily USA)

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Gene Wu: Changing the stereotypes

Gene Wu: Changing the stereotypes

Like many Asians, Gene Wu started his life on a science track, majoring in environmental science in college. A decade and half later, however, he won a seat as a Texas State Representative after working as a prosecutor for three years in a District Attorney Office.

"I tried out a lot of different things until I found what I liked," Wu said. "I knew I wanted to be a leader."

Born in Guangzhou, China in 1978, Wu came to the US at the age of four when his parents immigrated here. He grew up and still lives in southwest Houston.

As an undergraduate at Texas A&M, he was involved in half a dozen student organizations and served as a resident advisor in his dorm. "I like the sense of being involved," he said. He also discovered that he liked discussing public policy.

Wu went on to pursue a master's degree in public policy at the University of Texas in Austin. "I got the idea of running for public office in graduate school. There was a class taught by former State Representative Sherri Greenberg. She talked about how laws were made and brought in popular Texas politicians to talk about the legislature. That got the fire started," Wu said.

After law school, Wu got a job as a prosecutor in the Harris County DA's office. "I was told to go to a trial on my first day at work, and I tried my first case my second day on the job," Wu recalled. He handled hundreds of cases and 31 jury trials before he left to become a state representative.

Wu said he learned something there. "We usually have very high standards for other people when we judge them," he said. "But many people grew up in different circumstances. People who are poor or grew up in a broken home do not have the same opportunities. It definitely taught me to be more understanding and treat people with more kindness."

Wu started to get actively involved in politics while still a prosecutor. He worked on campaigns, debated public policy and in 2011 became president of Houston 8020 - a political action group for Asian Americans.

Wu had thought of running for a seat on Houston City Council several times but eventually decided against it each time.

Then in November of 2011 an opportunity presented itself. Wu was getting ready to take a trip to Chicago to visit the family of his then sweetheart now wife local ABC news affiliate reporter Miya Shay, when he got an email from his State Representative Scott Hochberg saying he was quitting unexpectedly and the deadline to file to run for the seat was only two weeks away.

"So all during the trip to Chicago, even when we were at the museum there, I was calling people: Will you support me? Will you give me money?" he said. He talked to a potential campaign advisor, worked on the numbers, looked at the population, felt that he could win and pulled the trigger.

For his campaign, Wu took out $50,000 of his own savings, his parents chipped in $20,000 and he raised another $250,000. From February to November of 2012, Wu campaigned hard.

"I was knocking on doors eight-to-ten hours a day and lost 20 pounds. I worked more than the other three opponents combined," he said. A relatively young and unknown candidate, Wu eventually won the election with 66 percent of the vote, much to the surprise of many others, but not to him.

It was a very productive year for Wu. He got engaged to Miya Shay after the primary election, married after the run-off, won the general election in November, and his wife got pregnant in December. He now has a nine-month-old son.

Gene Wu: Changing the stereotypes

Since he took office in January 2013, Wu has been active in the community. "I average going to two events a day, and I get about an hour to see my son at the end of each day. It's very draining but I enjoy it," Wu said.

Wu is on the committees for education, energy and criminal justice at the State House because to him, education is the most important issue, energy is important for Houston and criminal justice is his field.

"Energy is an important issue for Houston, and it's important for Texas and China. We try very hard to make sure to bridge the gap between Texas and China and wish to do more business with each other," he said.

Wu said that one of the big issues was the liquified natural gas trade restriction - LNG export is limited to FTA (Free Trade Agreement) countries and China is not one of them. "But that's being fixed," said Wu, explaining that the US House of Representatives recently passed a resolution to change the restriction from FTA to WTO membership.

"Every time I go to DC I make it my business to visit senators and representatives to tell them why this bill is a good idea. If this gets passed and signed by the President, it will be huge for Texas and China," he said.

"I think it will happen, it's just a matter of time. If that happens, I want to talk to Chinese Consulate to encourage more Chinese companies to move to Houston," he said. "This is the perfect area for Chinese companies to do business."

Wu said he wants to "change the stereotypes about Asians that we are bad leaders, we don't like confrontation, we are not very good speakers, so that when my son grows up, he has every door open and no door closed".

Wu is facing re-election in December this year and he is confident he will win. Wu is also actively recruiting, encouraging and supporting other young Asian Americans to run for public office because he strongly believes that the Asian community needs more representation in government.

Gene Wu: Changing the stereotypes

Gene Wu, Texas State Representative, is confident that he will win re-election in December. May Zhou / China Daily

(China Daily USA 07/25/2014 page11)