Indian American social activist Padma Kuppa Feb. 1 formally announced her candidacy for a House seat in the Michigan State Legislature, running on a platform of fixing the state’s crumbling infrastructure, and bringing fiscal accountability to charter schools.
The prolific volunteer said she has always been active in her community. Kuppa has served on the Boards of the Troy Historic Society and the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion. She was also appointed to the city of Troy’s planning commission, and has served on PTAs at her children’s schools.
“I’ve put in years to build a community. This is just taking it to the next level,” Kuppa told India-West.
The Democrat is currently running unopposed in the Aug. 7 primary for Michigan’s 41st district House seat. If she wins her primary race, she will face off Nov. 6 against Ethan Baker, who characterizes himself as a Reagan Republican. Republican incumbent Martin Howrylak will term out at the end of this year after three two-year terms.
About 26 percent of resident’s in Michigan’s 41st state district are foreign-born, said Kuppa, noting that she has worked to build bridges in the very diverse community. She is a founding member of the Troy-area Interfaith Group, and helped organize the National Day of Prayer Celebration.
Last November, Kuppa – working with the Hindu American Foundation and leaders from the local Jewish community – helped to organize Troy’s first joint Hannukah-Diwali celebration, attended by about 250 people, who feasted on latkes and samosas after singing and praying at the Bharatiya Temple.
Earlier that year, the Michigan state Legislature passed a resolution to recognize Diwali as an official holiday. “We want to raise awareness of the Hindu community, its customs and traditions through the recognition of Diwali, which has been accomplished through this resolution,” Kuppa, who worked with HAF to get the resolution passed, told CityPulse.
“This is my home and I want to feel accepted for who I am in society and this resolution will help with the image of the Hindu community in the mainstream media,” she said.
In a telephone interview with India-West, Kuppa said she is aiming to address the state’s crumbling infrastructure. “We have really bad roads here, and no source of income to keep them well-maintained.” The candidate said she wants to attract businesses to the state to increase a tax revenue stream. She noted that Amazon had planned a one million square foot warehouse in Detroit, which would have employed about 1,000 workers, but ultimately rejected the idea because of the state’s insufficient talent pool.
Kuppa believes the key to attracting both businesses and families to the state is to improve its K-12 education. “Betsy deVos has pretty much destroyed our state,” she said, noting that the Secretary of Education’s hard push towards privatization has left the state’s many charter schools receiving funding but without accountability. Before the White House tapped her for the post, DeVos – who is from Michigan – served as the chair of the American Federation for Children, which seeks to privatize public education by requiring public funds to pay for private school tuition in the form of vouchers and similar programs.
The Washington Post reported that DeVos had been the force behind the spread of charter schools in Michigan, most of which have recorded student test scores in reading and math below the state average.
“Charter schools are failing, doing worse than public schools, but taking money from the state without accountability,” said Kuppa, who is advocating for bench-marks by which to judge the performance of charter schools.
Kuppa was born in India, but grew up in New York. Her family moved back to India when she was a teen.
“As a teenager who very much identified as an American, it wasn’t the easiest move. But it made me appreciate what we have here even more.”
“I returned to the States as soon as I could, showing up to grad school with two suitcases, $250 and the belief that nothing was going to stop me,” she told India-West.
Kuppa earned her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the National Institute of Technology in Warangal, Telangana. She worked for more than five years with the Chrysler corporation, as a project manager, and currently works as a business analyst at Ally Financial.
Kuppa and her husband raised their two children in Michigan. As her children started college, she decided the timing was right to run for state office.
“My dad always said: ‘all politics are local,’” said Kuppa.