Fiona Ma: The sky’s the limit in pol­i­tics BIO

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICA - By QI­DONG ZHANG in San Fran­cisco kel­lyzhang@chi­nadai­

Be­ing the first Asian Amer­i­can woman to serve in the po­si­tion of state assem­bly­woman and speaker pro tem­pore in Cal­i­for­nia since 1850, Fiona Hodge Ma’s pas­sion is pub­lic ser­vice. An elec­torate of 70,000 put her on the San Fran­cisco board of su­per­vi­sors, and an elec­torate of 450,000 put her in the state as­sem­bly.

Now Ma is gear­ing up a cam­paign among the 10 mil­lion people of District 2 to join the Cal­i­for­nia State Board of Equal­iza­tion, with elec­tion day June 3.

A cer­ti­fied pub­lic ac­coun­tant spe­cial­iz­ing in taxation since 1992, she has also been a small busi­ness owner now for eight years. Her pub­lic ser­vice started in 1994 when she was ap­pointed to the San Fran­cisco as­sess­ment ap­peals board, and later be­came a district rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Se­na­tor John Bur­ton work­ing on busi­ness and tax is­sues.

De­scrib­ing her life as “hav­ing no time to stop and smell the roses”, Ma said she is usu­ally out of the door at 8:30 ev­ery morn­ing and back home at 10 pm or later. Her daily life is cam­paign­ing, mak­ing phone calls and con­nec­tions, fundrais­ing and meet­ing her re­spon­si­bil­i­ties on 12 non-profit and ad­vi­sory boards.

“I nor­mally start with break­fast meet­ings, and then 30-minute con­sec­u­tive meet­ings all through the day,” she said. “I also go to com­mit­tee meet­ings, com­mu­nity events, three to four night events and some­times have no time for lunch. Now, since I am run­ning for a po­si­tion that in­volves 10 mil­lion people, I am busy meet­ing vot­ers.”

Ma said she likes to make a dif­fer­ence di­rectly, talk about things that she doesn’t feel are right, and push things that need to be changed.

“Pub­lic of­fice pro­vides a per­fect plat­form for me to do what I want to do and do well by people,” she said, “a per­fect place to have a voice and ad­dress is­sues of pub­lic con­cern.”

One of the im­por­tant cam­paigns Ma ini­ti­ated was Hepati­tis B Virus (HVB) Free in 2007. Ma has chronic Hep B her­self, which was passed down from birth from her mother, and her mother’s mother be­fore her. Thanks to the aware­ness cam­paign, they caught her mother’s liver cancer early on. Ma her­self gets tested ev­ery six months.

“One out of 10 Asians has HVB, and one out of four car­ri­ers will de­velop liver cancer. Asian Amer­i­cans have among the high­est rate of car­ri­ers among all races,” Ma said. “I be­came a spokesper­son for HVB since I found out about my­self. I try to erase the stigma, since many of us Asian Amer­i­cans do not want to talk about it. My mis­sion is to ed­u­cate people, get them to see a doc­tor and get tested. It’s some­thing we should dis­cuss openly. No­body should be ashamed of it. We can save many lives this way.”

Be­ing ac­tive in pro­mot­ing trade be­tween Cal­i­for­nia and China, Ma has been leading del­e­ga­tions of lo­cal busi­ness lead­ers and elected of­fi­cials to visit China since 1999. The des­ti­na­tions were ini­tially sis­ter cities be­tween Cal­i­for­nia and Jiangsu prov­ince, then ex­tended to Bei­jing, Kun­ming, Xi’an, Chongqing, In­ner Mon­go­lia and other des­ti­na­tions.

“Cal­i­for­nia is one of the largest economies in the US, and our re­la­tion­ship with China is very im­por­tant. We need to learn how to get along and com­mu­ni­cate, and bet­ter un­der­stand one an­other’s cul­tures,” Ma said.

Ma’s grand­fa­ther was the first mayor of Kun­ming and both of her par­ents were born in China. But grow­ing up she never con­sid­ered a ca­reer in pol­i­tics be­cause her par­ents told her she could only choose one of four pro­fes­sions: ac­coun­tant, at­tor­ney, en­gi­neer or doc­tor.

Her in­ter­est in pol­i­tics be­gan when she be­came pres­i­dent of the Asian Busi­ness As­so­ci­a­tion in 1994, rep­re­sent­ing women and mi­nor­ity businesses.

“I had to go to city hall and present to the mayor and boards of su­per­vi­sors in San Fran­cisco and Sacra­mento. I learned that as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Asian Amer­i­cans, be­ing a mi­nor­ity woman and hav­ing im­mi­grant par­ents, I had to fight for ba­sic things that were im­por­tant to our com­mu­nity, such as mak­ing sure that voter reg­is­tra­tion was bilin­gual and get­ting ac­cess to free health care for those who couldn’t af­ford it,” she re­called.

It was also hard for Asians to open restaurants and other small businesses, she said, be­cause of all the red tape, which was hard for them to un­der­stand. “It was from that ex­pe­ri­ence that I de­cided to de­vote my­self to pub­lic ser­vice, to rep­re­sent them, and give them a voice,” Ma said.

Now 48, Ma said “the sky’s the limit” for her goals in pol­i­tics.


Can­di­date at CA State Board of Equal­iza­tion 2014

Age: 48 • BA in Ac­count­ing, Rochester In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, 1988 • MA in taxation, Golden Gate Univer­sity, (1992) MBA, Pep­per­dine Univer­sity-Grazia­dio School of Busi­ness and Man­age­ment, (2000)

• Can­di­date, CA State Board of Equal­iza­tion, (2012–present) Colum­nist, Asianweek. com, (2012–present) Cal­i­for­nia State As­sem­bly, Speaker pro Tem, (2006–2012) Mem­ber, San Fran­cisco Board of Su­per­vi­sors, (2002–2006) Tax ac­coun­tant, Fiona Ma CPA (1994–2002) District rep­re­sen­ta­tive part-time, Se­na­tor John L. Bur­ton (1995–2001) Tax as­so­ciate, Ernst & Whin­ney (1988-1994) In four years, when po­si­tions open for gover­nor, lieu­tenant gover­nor, at­tor­ney gen­eral, state con­troller and trea­surer, she will not hes­i­tate to con­sider run­ning for them.

For now, how­ever, she wants to con­cen­trate on her cam­paign for state board of equal­iza­tion, since it’s the tough­est race she’s faced since 12 years ago — also a year of the horse — when she ran for state board of su­per­vi­sors.

“As a mi­nor­ity woman, I still need to prove my­self all the time,” she said, “since people usu­ally ask me ‘Why you are qual­i­fied?’ in­stead of ask­ing the same ques­tion to a Cau­casian or male can­di­date.”

Ma says pol­i­tics can mean sac­ri­fices in her per­sonal life. Her hus­band Ja­son Thomas Ma Hodge, a fire­man and an elected Oxnard har­bor com­mis­sioner whom she mar­ried in 2011, is com­pletely un­der­stand­ing.

“All of my friends are in pol­i­tics,” she said. “We be­long to the same group and travel to con­ven­tions to­gether. Politi­cians typ­i­cally put their work ahead of their per­sonal lives. My hus­band Ja­son lives at the fire sta­tion 24 hours a day for 911 calls, fire alarms and ac­ci­dents. This is our life, we go to events to­gether, host fundrais­ers to­gether. We are a good match since we both like people and so­cial busi­ness.”

Ma also shares ad­vice with the Chi­nese com­mu­nity. She be­lieves Asian Amer­i­cans’ kids need to be well-rounded com­mu­ni­ca­tors and de­velop lead­er­ship skills, some­thing just as im­por­tant as get­ting all As in school.

“Even if kids get per­fect scores at school and go to the best col­leges, if they don’t know how to com­mu­ni­cate, they may not be the most highly soughtafter em­ploy­ees. To be­come lead­ers, they need to take on projects out­side of their homes, vol­un­teer, have in­tern­ships, and take on more re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. Net­work­ing, de­vel­op­ing so­cial skills, find­ing their pas­sions and men­tors are also im­por­tant for younger gen­er­a­tions.

“And if you don’t like the way things are, you need to vote to make changes in­stead of stay­ing home and do­ing noth­ing. You need to elect can­di­dates who un­der­stand and rep­re­sent your point of view,” she said.

“To­day many pub­lic of­fi­cials in San Fran­cisco are Asian Amer­i­cans, but that did not hap­pen overnight. It took us 20 years to get there, and our younger gen­er­a­tion should carry it on.”


Fiona Hodge Ma, the first Asian Amer­i­can woman served in the po­si­tion of state assem­bly­woman and speaker pro tem­pore in Cal­i­for­nia since 1850, is run­ning for Cal­i­for­nia State Board of Equal­iza­tion.

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