WASHINGTON : Many Indian-American candidates have been successful in the primary elections held across several states of the US this week. Padma Kuppa, 56, a two-term state representative in Michigan, who is now running for the state Senate from the 9th district, was unopposed for the Democratic primary on August 2 and will now face Republican candidate Michael Webber, in the November 2022 elections.
“My reasons for coming into the political scene were because I recognised many gaps in the American dream including issues such as equity in pay for women ; equal opportunities for all children and funding for education at the elementary level,” Kuppa told Times of India in a recent exclusive interview.
Kuppa, who lived in America as a child with her parents, who were PhD students, and went back as a masters student herself and later got a job, feels that her biggest challenges as an immigrant have been understanding how the political system works in the US and finding campaign funding.
“Women’s reproductive rights and privacy in medical decisions are some of the Democratic values which have drawn me to the party. I am rooted in the community here in Michigan and feel that I have the ability to bring people together on common ground.
Some of the issues that I have worked on include the value of green spaces and our water resources and supporting local small businesses,” says Kuppa who, during her campaigns, has worked within the Indian community and with several non-profit organisations.
She feels that even though the national parties in the US have been engaging in a big way with younger Indian-Americans; she herself has rich experiences from both India and America.
“Everyone loves young guns; but I bring to the table my immigrant experience as well as corporate experience in America; my inter-faith experience of living in the US as a Hindu and my experience of pluralism in India,” says Kuppa who went to REC Warangal for her engineering degree and has family in Hyderabad. She is the first Asian immigrant in her state’s legislature and feels she has received a lot of support from the Indian-American community.
“My immigrant background and my own journey, from a student on an F1 visa through the long wait on the H1B work visa for permanent residency, has made me a strong advocate for many Indian families who are facing the challenge of waiting for several years for green cards. They are not voters, but I have raised awareness on several issues that impact them in the state legislature,” says Kuppa who supports immigration reforms based on employment and elimination of country based caps which adversely affect Indians.
In another important development, entrepreneur and Michigan state representative, Shri Thanedar has won the Democratic primary for the state’s 13th Congressional district. Indian-American Impact, an organisation that supports South Asians running for political office, is celebrating his being on the November ballot.
“Thanedar’s primary win is a historic first for the South Asian community. We congratulate him and his campaign manager, Linto Thomas, for executing a powerful campaign and moving forward his candidacy for Congressman in Detroit, Michigan,” Neil Makhija, Indian-American Impact executive director, said. He added that as a politically underrepresented and under-engaged community, Indian-Americans nationwide were celebrating the victory.
“Every seemingly small win throughout the country establishes immeasurable progress in our battle to expand Indian-American representation within our elected government. What happens in primaries over the course of this year matters, and the work we do to elect politicians that look and think like us creates the foundation necessary for our community to participate in conversations we’ve been excluded from for far too long.”
In Washington state, Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal won the primary; while in the state primaries state Senator Manka Dhingra and state Representative Vandana Slatter moved on to the November elections.
Other Indian-Americans who were successful in the Democratic primaries were state representative Ranjeev Puri and Sam Singh and Aisha Farooqi for state Senate and state House, in Michigan; Anita Somani for Ohio state’s 11th House district and Priya Sundareshan for the state Senate from the 18th district in Arizona.
In yet another electoral success, Indian-American Dimple Ajmera was re-elected as councillor of Charlotte, North Carolina city council, a position that she has held since 2017. Ajmera, the first Indian-American and the youngest woman on the Charlotte city council, defeated fellow Democrat Braxton Winston.
“When my father passed away unexpectedly nine years ago, I was devastated. His death made me think about what was important in my life.How could I continue his legacy and improve the lives of those around me,” Ajmera told Times of India in a recent interview.
The clearest path that stood out for her was a life of civic engagement and public service. “I decided that it was time to be part of the solution and devote my energy and time to make Charlotte a place where everyone has a chance to succeed and prosper regardless of their background,” she said.
Her parents immigrated to the US from India when she was just 16 with almost no resources and she credits them for instilling in her the values of hard work, education, and giving back to the community. “My goals for Charlotte are driving an equitable city with safe sustainable neighbourhoods with job opportunities, efficient transportation, public safety, women’s equality and economic development,” Ajmera said.