Indian American attorney Susheela Jayapal was elected to the District 2 commissioner post on the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners in the Oregon primary held May 15. The candidate, who is the sister of Pramila Jayapal, the first Indian American congresswoman elected from Seattle, Wash., received 12,869 of the 22,036 votes, or roughly 58.5 percent. She easily beat the three other candidates – Bruce Broussard, Maria Garcia and Sharon Maxwell – who received 14.83 percent, 14.72 percent and 11.73 percent, respectively. Because she received over 50 of the vote, she wins the seat without a fall runoff election.
Jayapal is an attorney by trade and has served as general counsel of Adidas America, where she worked to improve conditions at factories in Southeast Asia (see earlier story in India-West).
Earlier in her legal career, Susheela Jaypal represented the government in suing corrupt and negligent bank officers, and provided free legal services to people seeking asylum. She has spent more than 15 years as a community advocate, and becomes the first Indian American to hold public office in the state of Oregon.
Being an advocate for children, for public education, for the arts and for reproductive health stem from the values she learned from her parents, Jayapal said on her campaign site.
Born in India, she came to the United States when she was 16, to go to college. Her parents believed that a good education was the cornerstone of a good life, and they used all of their extra income and savings to make sure she received that education.
Jayapal, at the age of 20, earned her undergraduate degree in economics from Swarthmore College and, after two years as a financial analyst at an investment bank, went to law school and earned her law degree from the University of Chicago Law School. She was a litigator at law firms in San Francisco and Portland, and then became the general counsel at Adidas America, serving as the member of the senior executive team responsible for the legal affairs of what was then a $1 billion company.
Yet the pull to have a more direct impact on the lives of people in her community was stronger, which led her to leave her legal career nearly 20 years ago. Since then, Jayapal has worked in nonprofit leadership positions with community organizations ever since – working to improve access to reproductive healthcare, prioritizing equity in public schools, and shifting public funding for the arts to invest in communities of color.
Jayapal lives in Northeast Portland. Her children are now 26 and 23 years old, and graduates of Grant High School. Outside of her advocacy work, the candidate enjoys spending time hiking in the Columbia Gorge, reading, gardening, and traveling back to India to visit her parents.
Her sister, Pramila Jayapal, tweeted after her sister’s win: “Congratulations to my sister, @SusheelaJayapal, who just became the first #SouthAsian American ever elected in Oregon! She ran an incredible race and won outright with 57% of the vote. Multnomah County, she will be a strong progressive champion for you!”
In other election news, Oregon state House of Representatives candidate Vineeta Lower didn’t have to sweat it out for the primary election in the 32nd District.
The Indian American Republican candidate, who has a place in the November general election thanks to running unopposed in the primary, learned that Democrat Tiffiny Mitchell will be her opposition candidate.
Mitchell beat out John Orr and Tim Jose in claiming her party’s nomination. The primary winner received 3,011 of the 7,309 tallied votes, according to the Oregon Secretary of State. Her 41.2 percent of the vote was 11 percent better than Orr and nearly 13 percent more than Jose.
Brian Halverson, who ran unopposed as an Independent, will also be running in the November election.
Lower was born in Delhi, immigrated to Eugene, Ore., and grew up in Olympia, Wash. She earned a bachelor’s degree in human development from Warner Pacific and a master’s degree in teaching from George Fox University (see earlier India-West story here).
A mother of three adult children, including two sons who are veterans, Lower moved to Seaside after accepting a long-term position at Warrenton Grade School teaching eighth-grade language arts.
Lower was appointed to the Seaside Tree Board. She retired from the Washington State Department of Transportation, where she worked with the congressional, state and tribal liaisons and supported the secretary of transportation, she said in a Daily Astorian report.
Additionally, Lower worked with federal appropriations, state legislative and constituent relations and was the records-keeper for the Western Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and managed WSDOT’s ballots for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
Lower added in the report that she supported local agencies by writing letters of support to congressional delegates on behalf of the secretary. She also helped create and manage databases to track legislation and created a constituent relations tracking database for WSDOT’s executives and the secretary of transportation on issues called in to legislators.
The candidate said that if she is elected in November, she will work to make roads safer and improve the education system. She added that the graduation rates have dipped lately due to absenteeism, which is something she wants to focus on if elected.
Another Indian American candidate running for the state House in Oregon was Satya Chandragiri, looking to win the GOP nomination in the 19th District.
In a three-candidate race, Chandragiri, a board-certified psychiatrist, did not generate the votes needed to unseat incumbent Rep. Denyc Boles. Boles, in winning, took more than 50 percent of the vote, beating out Chandragiri and citizen lobbyist Michael Hunter, according to a statesmanjournal.com report.
“Join me in congratulating Rep. Boles who won HD19. It was indeed a blessing and a calling for me and our Lord’s will that I could do this,” Chandragiri said in an Instagram post. “Thank you for your support and good wishes. I learned immensely from this journey, touched the lives of many veterans, children, seniors and families. You have been my inspiration. I am here to stay and the mission will continue.”