Three of the nine Indian American candidates making bids for a U.S. congressional seat in 2012 converged at various Northern California venues last week to drum up support and funds for their campaigns.
“2012 could be the year when we see at least two or three Indian Americans in Congress. This is a historic occasion for our community,” venture capitalist M.R. Rangaswami told India-West at a Nov. 14 fundraiser in San Francisco for Raja Krishnamoorthi, who is running for Congress from Illinois’ 8th district.
“There are no Indian Americans in Congress. Given that the South Asian diaspora is numbering in the millions, it’s time for us to get some representation,” Krishnamoorthi told India-West in an interview before his fundraiser got underway at Dosa restaurant, in San Francisco’s tony Fillmore district.
Rep. Hansen Clarke, D-Mich., the first South Asian American elected to Congress in more than five decades, is the son of an African American mother and a father from Bangladesh.
Illinois’ 8th congressional region underwent redistricting earlier this year. Krishnamoorthi believes he has benefited from that exercise: The new district’s population has the highest concentration of Indian Americans – almost 10 percent – of any congressional district in the nation.
Krishnamoorthi, a former Illinois state deputy treasurer, is running in the primaries against Tammy Duckworth, a war veteran who lost both her legs and severely damaged her right arm while deployed in Iraq.
If the Peoria native wins the primaries, he will face competition from incumbent Joe Walsh, who no longer lives in the re-carved 8th district, but announced Dec. 7 that he would nevertheless run from there for the seat he now occupies (I-W, Dec. 16).
Walsh is a pro-life, Tea Party conservative, who recently received the endorsement of the Gun Owners of America and wants to repeal the omnibus healthcare bill which passed Congress at the end of 2009.
“Walsh is way out of the mainstream for our district,” Krishnamoorthi told India-West, adding that the incumbent has taken an unyielding “my way or the highway” approach during his term in the House.
His own platform is built on the twin issues of jobs creation and solving the nation’s housing crisis.
“We must create a policy for banks we bailed out three years ago to forgive a portion of home loans,” stated Krishnamoorthi, noting that nine million homeowners who are making payments on their properties are still underwater, as the value of their residence has fallen.
The 37-year-old father of two also urged Congress to extend payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits, and advocated for investment in public infrastructure to generate local jobs.
“I view Raja in the same light as President Obama,” political activist Shefali Razdan Duggal, an organizer of the fundraiser, told India-West. “He really has a very strong vision of what our country has the potential to be,” she added.
A day earlier, physicians Manan Trivedi, from Pennsylvania’s 6th district, and Ami Bera, from California’s 3rd congressional district near Sacramento, held separate fundraisers in Palo Alto, Calif.
Trivedi, a physician and Iraq war veteran who served in the U.S. Navy, told India-West the political climate has definitely changed since his last bid for Congress in 2009.
“There’s a lot of buyers’ remorse out there. People are realizing that as Republicans got control of the House, they addressed no concerns of the average American, did nothing about jobs, but focused instead on petty issues,” said Trivedi, adding, “There are a lot of people who are sick and tired of incumbents in Congress.”
Trivedi, who is running unopposed in the Democratic primaries and faces Republican incumbent Jim Gerlach, is also critical of the nation’s new healthcare legislation, and emphasized the need for cost control, which he said was not addressed by the bill.
Key to reducing costs is reducing the number of costly and “useless” tests — such as MRIs for lower back pain — asserted Trivedi, adding that there are many such lab tests and devices that are simply unnecessary.
Primary care needs to be expanded, added the Fleetwood, Penn., native, noting that the main users of emergency rooms tend to be citizens who don’t have a primary care doctor.
“We need more physicians in Congress,” said Trivedi with a laugh, ahead of his fundraiser at Amber Dhara restaurant.
Trivedi – who served in one of the first battalions to enter Iraq in 2001 – said he disagrees with the 2009 surge of 20,000 additional troops in Afghanistan.
“We have never laid out our objectives in Afghanistan. We need to lay out objectives, and get our troops out of harm’s way if we’re not meeting those benchmarks,” asserted Trivedi. “We can facilitate a better government, but it must come from within,” he added.
Obama has called for the withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
The first-time father – who has a 15-month-old daughter Sonia with his wife Surekha – said his new baby weighed heavily on his decision to run again. “I want her to grow up in an America where she can recognize some faces,” he said.
Bera, too, said he has benefited from redistricting, which has allowed him to shed 22,000 Republican voters. The newly-configured district represents one of the best pick-up opportunities in the country for Democrats, he said, following a fundraiser at the Palo Alto home of corporate attorney Alice Smith.
Smith, who described herself as a “proud liberal” and broad member of many progressive organizations, told India-West that after she first met Bera, “it was a no-brainer for me.”
“Dr. Bera comes out on top of the heap,” said Smith. “He is clearly someone who has thought long and hard about the issues that affect our country,” she added, noting Bera’s pro-choice stance and his approach to healthcare administration.
Bera is also running unopposed in the Democratic primaries, and – like last time – has consistently out-fundraised Republican incumbent Dan Lungren, who narrowly beat Bera in 2010 by seven percentage points with a last-minute influx of $694,000 from the organization American Crossroads.
“It is a much better race for us this time around. Most of the national prognosticators are listing Lungren as very vulnerable,” he told India-West, noting that the six-term incumbent’s approval rating is very low.
“There is a real anti-Washington sentiment out there. People are disappointed that the president hasn’t been leading more strongly,” he said.
In an interview with this paper during the last election cycle, Bera also expressed his disapproval for the congressional healthcare bill, which has since passed both the House and Senate.
Some positive aspects of the new law include guaranteeing coverage for those with pre-existing medical conditions and allowing children to stay on their parents’ coverage until age 26.
But Bera is an advocate for a system modeled on Medicare which would be available to everyone. “This is the most effective cost container,” he asserted, noting that if everyone were brought into the healthcare system, there would be no need to cost-shift, as young healthy people could offset the costs of providing care to the elderly.
Bera formerly served as associate dean for admissions at the UC Davis School of Medicine and as the chief medical officer for Sacramento County.