After serving several terms as a Republican congressman from California, Frank Riggs is currently mounting his second statewide campaign in his new home state of Arizona. On Tuesday evening, the GOP nominee for Superintendent of Public Instruction attempted to claim that his record of working with police officers of different races showed him that cops are not racist — but did so by using a pejorative term to describe Asian-Americans.
His use of the offensive term “Oriental” surprised Melany de la Cruz-Viesca, the associate director of UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center. She told ThinkProgress that it is “very rare” to see a political candidate use this “outdated and problematic” term.
“One of our co-founders used to say that the term ‘Oriental’ makes it sound like you’re referring to a rug. Asian-Americans are not rugs, we are a human race,” she said.
Noting that the movement away from the term dates back to the civil rights movement in the 1960s, de la Cruz-Viesca likened the term to the use of the word “Negro” during the slavery era.
Riggs, who has worked as a charter school executive, advocates for teaching the theory of “intelligent design” in schools, attacked his Democratic opponent for having a “Socialist” campaign manager,” and was endorsed in this 2014 gubernatorial campaign by conspiracy theorist Ted Nugent.
He did not immediately respond to multiple ThinkProgress inquiries about his choice of language.
UPDATE: Reached by the Phoenix News Times, Riggs said that he was “not going to answer anything,” and accused the paper of “practicing gotcha journalism.” He also reiterated that he “served in the Army and law enforcement with my fellow officers of different races.” He has not yet taken down the tweet.