Who is Sri Preston Kulkarni? An Upclose and Personal Viewpoint

By Padma Srinivasan

Sugar Land: One evening in early 2018, people were walking in to hear Beto O’Rourke speak at a Town Hall meeting in Sugar Land. I noticed a lone person standing outside handing out business cards telling people that he was running for Congress in Congressional District 22, Fort Bend County to unseat the then incumbent Pete Olson.

No one thought at that time that a movement would build and he would have more than 1000 volunteers to help propel him to within 5% points of beating Rep. Pete Olson.  That person was Sri Preston Kulkarni.

Undeterred, Sri is running again this year for the same congressional seat in CD 22. Many volunteers like me are working hard to get him elected this time.

Sri Kulkarni is more than a candidate running for Congress. He is a family man with a strong moral compass. After his father’s death when he was 19, Sri left college to help his mother take care of his younger siblings. Later, he left his job as a Foreign Service Officer to serve his country.

On the campaign trail, Sri is rarely seen without his mother, his strongest supporter. Sri reveres his mother and the memory of his father. He took time off from his 2018 campaign to perform his father’s 20th death anniversary ritual in the Hindu tradition.

Having known Sri for the last three years, I understand the values and life experiences that underlie some of his policy positions and his plans for the future of CD 22.

Notably, Sri’s foreign policy is driven by his experience as a Foreign Service Officer in the State Department and he recognizes the values of inclusion and decency in a compassionate America. And his views on healthcare and gun violence make greater sense viewed against his experiences as a youth. 

Sri was serving in Jamaica when the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville protesting the removal of a confederate statue unfolded. Sri was asked to defend the statement made by President Trump that there were “fine people on both sides” of the rally. Sri couldn’t and cancelled the interview, for he had witnessed the effects of Nationalistic agendas in other countries – broken democracies. He resigned, to return home and run for office. 

In 1997 when Sri was 19, Sri’s father and his role model, Vekatesh Rao Kulkarni, was diagnosed with leukemia. Mr. Kulkarni passed away a year later. The debilitating illness cost emotional as well as financial hardship on the family as the medical bills piled up.  Sri’s family was near bankrupt, and was in danger of losing their house.  Having seen firsthand the high cost of healthcare has motivated Sri to fight for a comprehensive and sensible healthcare coverage for all Fort Bend families.  He understands the need for people not just to have adequate coverage, but guidance on navigating the legal and financial storms surrounding a debilitating illness and hospitalization. Ideally, Sri would want his constituents to retain protections for pre-existing conditions due to COVID.

Regarding gun violence, Sri knows the fear of a victim. Years ago when he was delivering pizzas, he was mugged near his apartment. After the police sent him home, he was assaulted again and his family too was threatened by the assailants. Years later, Sri and his family were caught in a gas station gun fire from which they narrowly escaped. It is this victim’s perspective that motivates Sri to promote universal background checks and laws preventing domestic abusers from owning guns.

On education and immigration, Sri often invokes his father, who believed that there is no better gift than education. The senior Kulkarni obtained his master’s degree at age19 in India before arriving in America on a Rotary International Fellowship.  A professor of creative writing at Rice University, Venkatesh Kulkarni remained an example of the best that immigrants bring to this country in terms of values such as education, ambition, talent, new ideas and hard work. As a congressman, Sri will fight for these values.

Sri is an effective campaigner. The changes he brought to the traditional campaign playbook by pioneering a concept called the relational organizing method of reaching voters has become increasingly popular and has been adopted by many candidates around the country including Bernie Sanders. Sri’s campaign has brought national media attention to this race, with Senators and Members of Congress going out of their way to campaign to Asian communities, and increased South Asian voter participation.

Tx CD 22 will be in great hands with Sri Preston Kulkarni as our next Congressman.

With assistance from  Ms. Sujatha Srikanth