At just 29, Kesha Ram, D-Vt., has established herself as a voice of the many communities in the state of Vermont.
Having served four two-year terms as a state representative in the Legislature, Ram is now shifting her focus to the post of lieutenant governor, which she hopes to win in 2016.
Born to a father who immigrated to the U.S. from India and mother born-and-raised in Illinois, Ram grew up in the Los Angeles area, where her parents met while they attended UCLA.
“My father had a passion for opening a small business,” Ram told India-West. Her parents started an Irish pub, McGinty’s Irish Pub, and the hard work it took her father to get that going was instilled early on in Ram.
She chose to direct that passion and energy into political work.
Even while she was attending the University of Vermont, which she chose because she felt a “strong sense of community” during a visit prior to committing to the school, she had developed her political voice. The young Indian American served as the university’s student body president and was still enrolled as a senior when she ran for, and won, a spot as state representative eight years ago.
A descendant of Sir Ganga Ram, known for creating what is now the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in Delhi, Ram raved about her great, great grandfather being a public servant in India. That trait to serve was passed onto her.
“When I first ran for the legislature, it was the start of the great recession,” Ram recalled to India-West of her first campaign when she was just 21 and ending her college career. “We were lucky if we could shape our future. It felt important to be a voice for our experience.”
During her four terms and eight years in the state House, Ram has dedicated herself to improving civic engagement opportunities for residents of Vermont, as well as helping vulnerable populations get access to much-needed services.
She is the public engagement specialist for the city of Burlington Community and Economic Development Office, building relationships and empowering people to participate in city government.
Previously, she was the legal director for Women Helping Battered Women, assisting victims of domestic violence in the courtroom and throughout family and criminal legal proceedings. She also taught preschool.
Currently, Ram serves on the boards of the Center for Whole Communities, Emerge Vermont and the University of Vermont.
“Eight years later,” she added, “people in Vermont have the support so a family can thrive, by paying student debt, having affordable child care, or being able to buy their first home.”
Making the leap from the state legislature to lieutenant governor is a transition she takes pride in as she believes she will be able to help people from each corner of the state.
“We have another pivotal shift,” she stressed to India-West. “We have to shape our future before the future shapes us.”
With that in mind, Ram made basic economic issues to support Vermont families her platform.
One of her hot-button issues is to resolve a digital divide Vermonters are facing. Not only does it affect Vermont families, it also detracts visitors and tourism to the state, she noted.
“As lieutenant governor, I’m able to create an opportunity agenda for the entire state,” Ram said, adding that the office is open part-time but she is devoted to working the position full-time, even when not in session. “(The position) relies on relationships and brings people together for a common goal. I have proven I can do this during my time in the legislature.”
The lieutenant governor has two tasks: to preside over the state Senate and to serve as governor if anything should happen to the governor.
Some of the other issues Ram hopes to work on, if elected, include tackling the growing issue in her state of opiate addiction and substance abuse, as well as renewable energy.
“We are struggling with this surge of opiate addiction and are trying to tackle issues to improve quality of life,” she told India-West. “Climate change is a real and perceived threat in Vermont, where we’ve had highly unpredictable winters. It hurts our seasonal industries. This is all the more important to reach our (90 percent) renewable energy by 2050 goal.”
Other issues Ram hopes to tackle if elected include early learning investments, affordable higher education, access to homeownership, keeping promises to seniors and equal access to opportunity, which includes marriage equality.
“Vermonters are looking to work with the governor regardless of party,” Ram said. “They are looking for someone to work around the clock to advance the vision of the state.”
Ram, who will turn 30 later this year, believes she has the energy and passion to visit not only the big cities like Montpelier and Burlington, but the rural towns that have their own needs with special concerns.
“It’s important for me to demonstrate that,” she asserted, adding she has made several trips throughout the state to hear concerns of the people in all Vermont communities during her campaign, which she officially declared in October 2015.
“What I love most in my service (are) those conversations and hearing those stories. Lieutenant governor is the first opportunity I have to serve all Vermonters,” she added.
Another Indian American legislator, Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif., has announced he is in full support of Ram in her quest to become lieutenant governor.
“We need more women and more members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community running for office,” Bera said in a statement, endorsing Ram as well as Pramila Jayapal, who is running for Washington's 7th Congressional district seat.
“Kesha and Pramila represent the next generation of leaders. Their focus on serving their communities and fighting for progressive values sets a powerful example to younger women,” he added.
Ram said in a recent statement she is “thrilled to have the support of Rep. Bera as I continue to work on solutions that help our community get ahead.”
“Having the support of another member of the AAPI community will be crucial as I continue to fight for solutions and make investments that grow our economy and create opportunity for Vermonters,” she added.
Though confident, Ram says what she’s doing is part of who she is and she won’t stop, regardless of the election’s outcome.
“We have a great shot at winning this election,” she told India-West confidently. “The goals I have to help working families and all Vermonters prosper are goals I always work to expand, regardless.”
Ram, vying for the seat being vacated by Phil Scott, R-Vt., who is running for governor in 2016, is up against fellow Democrats Garrett Graff, Brandon Riker and Sen. David Zuckerman. Former Sen. Randy Brock is the only declared Republican running, while Dr. Louis Meyers has declared his candidacy as an independent.
The primary election for the lieutenant governor seat in Vermont is set for Aug. 2; the general election is Nov. 8.