Indian Americans have set the stage for a potentially record-breaking year in U.S. politics as nearly 100 of them are on ballots accross the nation in next week’s mid-term elections. And many are first-timers.
There’s even a race for Congress pitting two Indian Americans against each other, the battle for Illinois’ 8th Congressional district east of Chicago. Long held by popular Democratic incumbent Raja Krishnamoorthi, he is being challenged by Republican newcomer Jitendra “JD” Diganvker. An entreprenuer and Uber driver, Diganvker once supported Krishnamoorthi. He now faces an uphill battle against his well-funded opponent. Diganvker said he entered the political fray after witnessing the struggles of average Americans.
“To support my family, I began driving for Uber, logging over 10,000 rides since last year and learning the value of the gig economy. Talking to my Uber partners and riders, I gained a unique understanding of the needs and frustrations of everyday Americans. These are the people who go to work every day, take care of their families, and believe in the American dream. Yet they feel like politicians in DC and Illinois are failing them,” he said.
Other first timers include:
Josh Kaul, a former federal prosecutor and candidate for Wisconsin Attorney General. A Democrat, he says he is running to make Wisconsin safer by tackling issues such as opioid and meth abuse, sexual assault, consumer fraud, and pollution. And he’s putting the state’s current Attorney General, Brad Schimel, squarely in his cross hairs.
Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni is running for Texas’ 22nd House seat covering the south central suburbs of Houston. His opponent is incumbent Republican Pete Olson, first elected in 2008.
“This election is the most important one in our lifetimes,” says Kulkarni, a former U.S. Foriegn Service Officer. “After serving America for almost 15 years overseas, I could no longer serve under an administration that is violating the basic values that made America the great country it is today. When a judge is told he can’t do his job because he’s Mexican-American, or when the administration refuses to condemn a Nazi rally in Charlottesville, we have to take a stand and speak out for true American values.” he said.
“I’m running for Congress because I believe our country is one that treats those who are less fortunate with compassion, that is reasonable in the way we deal with each other and treats all people with decency and respect.”
In Arizona, newbie politician Anita Malik, a former tech company chief operating officer and journalist, is running for Scottsdale, Arizona’s sixth Congressional district northeast of Phoenix. A Democrat, Malik says she’s running because she believes the “district needs a representative who will listen to constituents and then represent them.” She also says she “understands the small-business culture” of the district and wants “to fight for families.”
The Indian American vote will be important for all these candidates, but according to Gautam Raghavan of the Indian American Impact Project and Fund that has endorsed several South Asians, Indian American voters aren’t that different from other Americans when it comes to issues that concern them including health care, education, immigration.
He said recent polls by organizations such as APIA (Asian and Pacific Islander) Vote reveal that “Indian Americans are, among Asian Americans, the most enthusiastic about voting and the most worried about divisiveness in America today.”
Paul Kilduff is a freelance writer based in San Francisco, California. He has written for the East Bay Times, San Francisco Chronicle, East Bay Monthly and many other publications. He has also worked in radio as a reporter, host and producer and even finds time to draw cartoons.