Information about a drug arrest when Indian American Democratic candidate for Texas’ 22nd Congressional District Sri Preston Kulkarni was 18 has put a twist into the race just days before the primary. The charge was later dismissed.
Kulkarni acknowledged Feb. 27 that he was arrested when he was 18 years old in 1997 for having possession of less than a gram of cocaine, according to a Houston Chronicle report.
The news of the arrest comes ahead of the March 6 primary, in which five Democrats are vying to earn the nomination of the party to head to the general election against five-term Republican incumbent Pete Olson (see India-West story here).
The felony charge was later dismissed by a Harris County judge after a two-year probationary sentence, a disposition known as "deferred adjudication" that is frequently meted out for first-time drug offenses, the report said.
Kulkarni, now a 39-year-old ex-foreign service officer and one-time Senate aide, described the incident as a youthful indiscretion at a stressful time in his life when his father was terminally ill with cancer, the publication said.
"We should not be stigmatizing our youth for the rest of their lives," he said in the report.
Kulkarni disclosed the arrest after the case was raised by the Fort Bend County Chapter leader of Our Revolution, according to the Chronicle.
Doug Beaton, the leader of the chapter, warned Fort Bend County Democratic officials on Kulkarni's previously undisclosed past in a letter posted on social media, it said.
The letter suggested that Kulkarni, whose full first name is Srinivas, is running under an assumed name and that he had previously registered with the Federal Election Commission to run for a congressional seat in Massachusetts.
Kulkarni said neither charge is true, the report added.
The Chronicle said that the candidate has several variations on his name, including Srinivas Rao Kulkarni, the name under which he was adjudicated on the drug charge in 1997. His full name is Srinivas Rao Preston Kulkarni. Preston is his mother's maiden name, the report said.
He said the accusation that he first filed to run for Congress in another state stems from a "computer glitch" that abbreviated the state of the 22nd Congressional District as "MA" for Massachusetts, instead of "TX" for Texas in his December filing, according to the publication.
Despite the error being fixed, the discrepancies have been used to raise doubts about Kulkarni's ties to Fort Bend or Brazoria County, as distinct from Houston, where he was raised as a child before heading off to the University of Texas and then a career as a foreign service officer in the State Department, it said.
In 2016, he acknowledged he voted in Massachusetts because he was there working on a master's degree in public administration from Harvard's Kennedy School.
Fort Bend County's past Democratic chair, Don Bankston, a member of the party's state executive committee, said the attack on Kulkarni is off base and potentially slanderous, according to the report.
Kulkarni's backers say there was no intent to run from his past. Federal law allows candidates to run under known nicknames that clearly identify them, it said.