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“We’re wings of the same bird.” Yee Leng Xiong looks to bring “annoyingly moderate” outlook to State Assembly


Yee Leng Xiong started his career as an elected official early.

A 2012 graduate of DC Everest High School in Marathon County, he first ran for – and won – a school board seat in 2014 at the age of 19.

“My parents always taught us that we need to give back to our community, to our home. We need to do everything we can here to give ourselves back to public service. That mentality was instilled upon me already,” he said in an interview for the 365 Amplified podcast.

That mentality was one of three factors that influenced his decision to jump into that race. Another was an AP American Government teacher who encouraged students to run for office, and the third was seeing a classmate run.

“He didn’t win, but inspired me to throw my hat in the ring,” Xiong said.

Listen to the full podcast here:

Xiong went on to win a seat on the Marathon County Board of Supervisors in 2016 and another on the Village of Weston Board of Trustees in 2018. He served two terms on the Village Board, and continues to serve on the school board and county board.

Earlier this month, he announced his next electoral target: he’s running to represent the new 85th District in the State Assembly.

Professionally, he’s been executive director of the Hmong American Center, providing services for North Central Wisconsin Asian Americans, since 2016.

“I’ve been extremely involved in the community, addressing concerns from the services for elders, mental health services, access to health care, economic development, affordable housing, the childcare crisis, and so much more,” he said. “I’ve also been a huge advocate for our tourism industry,” he added, noting that he also chairs the Hmong Wausau Festival executive committee.

He added that his nonprofit and elected experience “has definitely prepared me to understand the unique challenges and issues that every day our neighbors in the 85th assembly district have faced on a daily basis.”

Xiong, a Democrat, said his decision to run for the Assembly had nothing to do with the possibility that redrawn electoral maps will give Democrats more power in the Capitol.

“One of my mentors once said that all politics are local, and I truly believe that,” he said.

Xiong estimates that the newly drawn district, which incorporates the city of Wausau, village of Weston, and rural areas to the north and east of Wausau, will still lean slightly Republican. He still feels he can win – but might not win a district that leaned too far left.

“One of my friends described me as annoyingly moderate,” he said. “I’m a strong Democrat. I believe in the values of the Democratic Party. But I also believe in making sure that we do what’s best for the residents of Assembly District 85.”

That could include working across the aisle, he said.

“We need to realize that just because we’re a Democrat or or Republican, that doesn’t change who we are as a person … we’re both wings of the same bird and we need to be able to work together,” Xiong said. “I’m more results-driven, more metrics-driven, and that’s from my nonprofit mentality. As a nonprofit executive, you’re always trying to be as fiscally accountable as possible, stretching every dollar in every way you can.”

Xiong said his legislative priorities would include economic development, access to healthcare, affordable housing and public safety, all with a focus on the state government’s contribution to life in North Central Wisconsin.

If elected, Xiong would be the first Hmong American to serve in the State Assembly, and only the second Asian American. Or, as he said, “the representative who happens to be Hmong.”

He added that “it would mean a lot,” especially in light of the difficult and tragic ordeal his parents went through to build a life in Wisconsin.

While escaping a communist regime in Southeast Asia, they had to administer opium to their young son to ensure he’d stay quiet, but he died as a result of an accidental overdose. That was the older brother Xiong never got to meet.

“It was very tragic, but they worked to rebuild their lives,” Xiong said.

After making it to Wausau, they scraped by, digging up worms to sell to anglers. Xiong’s father went on to join a union and work in a factory, while his mother found work as a seamstress.

“Both of them worked hard and brought us to the situation where we are today,” he said. “They built this foundation. My story is just very similar to every other American … who had the same experience of chasing the American dream. And because of their sacrifices and contributions, I’m able to do what I am today, and I’m very proud and thankful for the opportunities they’ve given to us.”

The new electoral maps place incumbent Pat Snyder outside the district, but Snyder has said he plans to establish residence in the new district and run for reelection.

No other Democrats have announced plans to run for the seat. If another Democrat does, the primary election would take place Aug. 13. The general election is set for November 5.