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Candidate Bowen Kou fasts for 24 hours to protest “racist” Lake County mailers 

July 5, 2024 at 7:54:40 PM

Andrea Charur


Surrounded by supporters, during a July 2, 2024 press conference at the Lake County Courthouse, Bowen Kou denounced primary opponent State Rep. Keith Truenow and the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee for political mailers that asserted, without evidence, that China is underwriting his campaign for State Senate District 13. Kou has been the target of blatant racism on the campaign trail.

Andrea Charur for VoxPopuli

Updated July 6 , 2024.

In a press conference earlier this week on the steps of the Lake County Courthouse in Tavares, Republican District 13 State Senate candidate Bowen Kou denounced the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee (FRSCC) and his primary opponent, State Rep. Keith Truenow, for signing off on race-baiting  political mailers that suggested, without evidence, that his campaign is being underwritten by a web of Chinese nationals. 

Surrounded by supporters, Kou spoke for about four minutes, calling Truenow and the FRSCC's actions racially motivated and saying they have “no place in today’s Republican party.” 

“My opponent Keith Truenow has launched a shameful and race-based attack against me, falsely labeling me as a CCP puppet,” he said. “This baseless attack attacked my Asian descent, putting our family, our supporters, our friends and our campaign team in a great danger.” 

Kou held up his American passport and said that he “bleeds red, white and blue.” 

"It takes someone like me to send a powerful message that America is not about where you come from, what you look like, or even your birth place. It's about the idea and what we believe!"

Truenow declined to comment. 

After the press conference, Kou announced that he would stay at the courthouse for the next 24 hours. Without food. Without water. Outside in the record-high Florida heat.  

“I will stand in honor of those people who came here before me, who paved the way for all of us, living in the American dream,” Kou said.

The protest fast, he said, was to promote unity and solidarity with immigrants, highlighting the sacrifice many face to build their lives as he did when he immigrated from China as a teenager, becoming a naturalized American citizen in 2019. The fast was also a response to the anti-Chinese mailers, sent to Lake County Republican voters by the FRSCC, with Truenow's blessing. The mailers suggest Kou’s Asian donors are members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). 

Hong Kou, Kou's wife and campaign manager; Ty Young, the campaign documentarian; and a few young volunteers arranged to stay with Kou overnight, though they planned to hydrate.

“I'm Venezuelan, right? So what if they sent out mailers that said, Oh, he's got friends and family and all that donate from Venezuela,” Vinci Armas, a volunteer who camped out with Kou, told VoxPopuli. “Does he align with the Socialist Party? I just think it's very messed up.”

Hong, teary-eyed, later told VoxPopuli that she worried about her husband’s safety in the Florida heat, but that he was determined to go through with the fast. He completed it Wednesday at 11 a.m. 

Kou believes in the American Dream, which has allowed him to prosper, but takes a hard-line stance on illegal immigration. For instance, in a Facebook post, he claimed President Joe Biden shipped 300,000 illegal immigrants to Florida and vowed to “ensure the deportation of illegal immigrants.” 

In fact, under Biden’s parole program, beginning in 2022, approximately 386,000  “inadmissible aliens” were flown over the southern border and sent to U.S. Customs zones across the nation for processing to reduce illegal border crossings. Florida received 326,000 of these people, who came from the nine nationalities approved by the program. They were released on “humanitarian parole,” which enabled them to receive work permits.

Kou told VoxPopuli in May that if elected, he plans to work with DeSantis and former president and convicted felon Donald Trump  to secure Florida’s ocean borders. 

Ralph Smith, State Committeeman of the Lake County GOP, who spoke during the press conference, said he’s been fielding calls, texts and emails from constituents who say they want “a white man in that position.” Truenow is the only white man running in the Republican primary, which includes Kou and CJ Blancett, who is Black. The primary winner will face Democratic nominee Stephanie Dukes, who is also Black. 

“Now I'm not ascribing this to Keith, but Keith, you got some supporters that are way out of line,” Smith said. “I've seen the dirty side of Lake County racism that I thought had disappeared.”

[Lake County is where four Black teenagers were wrongly accused of raping a white woman in 1949. Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall murdered two of the teens, Ernest Thomas and Samuel Shepherd. Charles Greenlee and Walter Irvin went to prison. They were posthumously exonerated in 2021.]

Smith called on voters to reach out to Truenow and tell him to “stop this garbage.” He said he had been  hesitant to speak out about supporting Kou because of his position, but the mailers changed his mind.

Tavares Mayor Bob Grenier also spoke during the press conference, saying he “saw something rooted in hatred and racism” when he received the “horrible” mailers. Grenier endorsed Kou before the mailers were sent. 

Although the press conference had ostensibly been called to address the pair of defamation lawsuits filed over the weekend in the Fifth Circuit District Court, Kou didn’t mention them. 

One lawsuit was filed against the FRSCC and its chair State Sen. Ben Albritton (running for re-election in District 27) for a late June mailer. A second lawsuit was filed against Florida’s Voice, its CEO Brendon Leslie and Common Sense America founder Steve Crim. That one involves an article that quoted a letter Crim wrote to Gov. Ron DeSantis, describing Kou as a “Chinese national” who may have “ongoing ties with the communist nation.” 

Hong Kou, told VoxPopuli that she’s found her husband’s signs defaced with the words “CCP” and “China Funds” and has recently been bombarded with questions about whether her husband holds dual citizenship in the U.S. and China. China does not permit dual citizenship with the U.S.  

Young, the press secretary, told VoxPopuli Tuesday that Kou has experienced blatant racism on the campaign trail. He said voters have come up to Kou and said, “You don’t belong here.”  Truenow, himself, according to Young, told Kou at the Lake County Fair in April that he "didn't belong in this country" and to "go someplace else."

Kou confirmed the story to VoxPopuli on Friday.

An aide for the Truenow campaign flatly denied the story.

A second attack mailer, sent by the FRSCC and approved by Truenow, landed in voters’ mailboxes on Tuesday just before the press conference. It states that Kou’s “claimed net worth” is $16 million, but that his "actual assets + liabilities amount to barely over $2 million.” It questions how Kou could afford to put more than $1 million into his own campaign. 

Form 6 — aka the Full and Public Disclosure of Financial Interest Form — requires public office holders and candidates for public office at the county level and higher to list their assets and liabilities of more than $1,000.

Kou’s Form 6, which he told VoxPopuli that he filled out himself without assistance, lists his net worth at $16.1 million. The form states that his assets, including three homes, totaled $2,582,847, while his liabilities, including one mortgage of $191,853, another mortgage of $1,623 and a loan of $7,950, totaled $201,426. His annual salary from his company of nine grocery stores and three bakeries is listed as $160,000. 

The numbers didn't add up — a $1,623 mortgage? — so VoxPopuli asked Kou for clarification. Kou responded Friday that the form contained a mistake. The $1,623 mortgage is meant to be $162,036. He said he didn't include his business assets and liabilities because he didn't know where to list those on the form, but said Turbo Capital Inc. (listed as a secondary source of income) holds 100 percent of his business assets. His 401K and Roth IRA are also not listed. He said sold his stocks to come up with the $1 million he donated to his campaign.

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