Mid-Terms Draw in More South Asian and Many are Elected

Clockwise from top left: Ami Bera of California; Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois; Sheikh Rahman of Georgia; Ash Kalra of California; Josh Kaul of Wisconsin;  Dr. Amish Shah of Arizona; Nima Kulkarni of Kentucky; Niraj  Antani of Ohio; Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Ro Khanna of California.

Clockwise from top left: Ami Bera of California; Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois; Sheikh Rahman of Georgia; Ash Kalra of California; Josh Kaul of Wisconsin;  Dr. Amish Shah of Arizona; Nima Kulkarni of Kentucky; Niraj  Antani of Ohio; Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Ro Khanna of California.

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: This year’s election cycle saw another large crop of South Asian who ran for office – local, state, national or judiciary – even larger than those who contested for offices last time around in 2016.

Back then four Indo-Americans – all Democrats – won in the national elections: Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, Rohit “Ro” Khanna from California and Pramila Jayapal of Washington in the US House of Representatives and Kamala Harris of California in the US Senate. They joined fellow Democrats Ami Bera of California who won re-election and Hindu-American Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. They joined Harvinder “Harry” Anand, who became Mayor of Laurel Hollow, New York in 2007; Satish Hiremath, Mayor of Oro Valley, Arizona in 2010; Satyendra Singh Huja, became Mayor of Charlottesville, Virginia in January 2012; Pradeep Gupta Mayor of South San Francisco in 2016. Nikki Haley, became Governor of South Carolina in 2011 and Bobby Jindal became the Governor of Louisiana in 2008.

This November, many of these incumbents won re-election quite handily. Incumbent Tulsi Gabbard (D) with 77.3% or 150,161 votes defeated Brian Evans (R) for U.S. House Hawaii District 2; Ro Khanna (D) with 72.8% or 78,790 votes defeated Ron Cohen (R) for U.S. House California District 17; Ami Bera (D) garnering 54,097 votes (52.7%) to opponent Andrew Grant’s 48,597 for the California 7th Congressional District; Raja Krishnamoorthi (D) won 124,908 or 65.6% of the votes over his opponent, another Indian-American Jitendra “JD” Diganvker (R) an Uber driver and entrepreneur of Schaumburg for the Illinois 8th Congressional District.

According to the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies of the 147 Asian Americans who ran for Federal and State seats, 53 were in Hawaii, 23 in California and the rest across the country though this does not include those who ran for local judicial seats or other country or school board seats. According to the APAICS list, 17 South Asians ran for office in the midterms and represents a positive development for the community as a whole to share power with the mainstream majority.

Among those who won in Sate House races were Nima Kulkarni of Kentucky; Amish Shah of Arizona; Ash Kalra of California; Sheikh Rahman of Georgia and Niraj Antani of Ohio. Others who ran were Jay Jalisi, Kumar Barve, Kris Valderrama of Maryland; Padma Kuppa of Michigan; Latha Mangipudi, Julie Radhakrishnan, Aboul Khan of North Hampshire; Nasif Majeed, Jay Chaudhuri , Mujtaba Mohammed of North Carolina; Pramila Jayapal; Vandana Slatter and Manka Dhingra of Washington.

Nima Kulkarni is a Democratic member-elect for the Kentucky House of Representatives to represent District 40 winning 74.2% or 8,619 votes to defeat Republican Joshua Neubert.  She graduated from Atherton High School and earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in business administration from the University of Louisville and a J.D. from the University of District of Columbia School of Law. Her career experience includes working as the founder and managing attorney of Indus Law Firm.

Dr. Amish Shah, MD, MPH is a Democratic member-elect for the Arizona House of Representatives to represent District 24 defeating Republican David Alger Sr. Shah, was born and raised in Chicago. His mother and father were engineering students who immigrated from India in the 1960s. His father is Jain and his mother is Hindu. He attended Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics. He graduated from Northwestern University Medical School.

Ash Kalra was re-elected a Democratic member of the California State Assembly, representing District 27 which encompasses parts of eastern San Jose. Kalra has also served as a member of the San Jose City Council in California, representing District 2. He was first elected to the city council in 2008, and he was term limited out of office in 2016. Kalra is the first Indian-American to serve in the California State Legislature.

Sheikh Rahman is a Democratic member-elect for the Georgia State Senate to represent District 5. Rahman won the general election on November 6, 2018, after advancing from the primary on May 22, 2018. Rahman was a 2014 Democratic candidate for District 20 of the Georgia State Senate. He was a 2012 Democratic candidate for District 150 of the Georgia House of Representatives. Rahman, from Bangladesh, is the new state-senator elect from Gwinnett County. Rahman was elected over the incumbent with 68 percent of the vote and ran unopposed in November.

Niraj Antani is a 27-year-old incumbent Republican who won 59.5% or 27,377 votes to defeat Democrat Zach Dickerson in the general election for Ohio House of Representatives District 42. Antani is the State House’s youngest current representative and the first Indian American Republican elected to the Ohio House. When Representative Terry Blair unexpectedly died, Antani was chosen by the Montgomery County Republican party to replace Blair on the ballot. Antani graduated from The Ohio State University with a bachelor’s degree in political science. On March 14, 2018 Niraj Antani made headlines by suggesting that students who were over the age of 18 should be allowed to carry rifles to school.

Joshua L. Kaul is the Democratic Attorney General-elect of Wisconsin running against incumbent Republican Brad Schimel. Kaul is the son of Peg Lautenschlager and Raj Kaul. His stepfather, Bill Rippl, was a police officer. He was raised in Oshkosh and Fond du Lac. Kaul graduated from Yale University as a double major in history and economics and earned his Juris Doctor from Stanford Law School. From 2007 through 2010, he worked for the law firm Jenner & Block, and as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s office Baltimore through 2014. He moved back to Wisconsin and joined the law firm Perkins Coie’s Madison office.

As if to add an exclamation mark to the shifting demographics that are producing South Asian leaders in US politics. Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia focused part of his victory speech on Diwali, comparing his election to the spirit of the Hindu festival. “Diwali is the celebration of good over evil, the celebration of light over darkness, the celebration of understanding over ignorance,” he said, adding, “That’s what today is. That’s what we’re starting today.”