Tulsi Gabbard, First Hindu Presidential Candidate, in Houston

By Pooja Salhotra

Houston: Service before self. That’s what Americans hope for in elected officials. Yet, we often are left with self-serving politicians who fail to address the challenges most Americans face – issues like affordable healthcare, access to quality education and a fair criminal justice system.

But those issues were the subject of discussion at She the People, a presidential forum focused on women of color, held on Wednesday, April 24 at Texas Southern University. Eight of the twenty Democratic candidates attended and answered questions from the event hosts — Aimee Allison, founder of She the People, and Joy Reid of MSNBC — and from audience members. While each candidate made compelling points, one candidate’s background stood out, particularly in an era of corrupt politics.

That candidate is Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, the first Hindu congress member and a war veteran.

“The vision that our founders had for this country of a government of, by and for the people has been lost,” Gabbard said. “As a soldier, someone who understands in a very deep and personal way what it means to put service above self, […] I will bring that to the White House to make sure that that mission – the mission of the President, of the White House, and our nation’s capital is solely focused on how we can best serve the American people.”

Gabbard, 38, grew up in a multicultural household. Her father is a Catholic of Samoan and European ancestry while her mother is a practicing Hindu of German descent. This background, Gabbard said, exposed her to diverse perspectives that are needed in politics today.

Gabbard began her political career at only 21 years old, when she was elected to Hawaii’s House of Representatives. In 2003, Gabbard enlisted in the Hawaii Army National Guard, where she served for over sixteen years.

Gabbard was deployed to the Middle East twice, an experience that has helped define some of her key policy stances, such as her disapproval of regime-change wars. When asked about what type of foreign policy she would embrace, Gabbard noted that the U.S. needs to stop being “the police of the world” and instead should reallocate money towards domestic policies such as providing healthcare to all.

With other issues, Gabbard also espouses a domestic agenda. When asked about the Mueller Report and whether Russia poses a threat to U.S. voting rights, she recognized that any interference to voting should be taken seriously. But, rather than challenging Russia or trying to impeach Donald Trump, she pushed efforts to secure our voting process. Gabbard emphasized a bill called Securing Americas Election Act, which would require states to either use paper ballots or to have a verifiable paper backup. Gabbard introduced the legislation in 2018, but it has not moved forward.

Gabbard has not made significant headway in the polls, but her supporters applaud her for speaking out on controversial topics.

Vijay Pallod, a Gabbard supporter who attended She the People, said he sees Gabbard as a “unifier.” Attendee Sheetal Mhatre lauded Gabbard’s “open-mindedness, inclusivity and genuine personality.” “She’s a very upright person with high integrity,” added Jitin Agrawal. “She stands for the issues, whatever she thinks is right, irrespective of whether it falls on the conservative or liberal side. That’s why you’ll see a lot of conservatives supporting her as well.”