With a self-proclaimed lifelong involvement in politics, Raman Velji is hoping to serve his community in the 28th Legislative District in Oregon.
His passion for politics came over 50 years ago, he told India-West in an interview last week.
“I became active in politics from tender age of 12. In 1963, having interest and enthusiasm I stared attending rallies of different political parties,” the Indian American candidate added. “On the day of formation of Federation Party, I attended the launching at Nadi. Thereafter I became an ardent Federation Party supporter.”
Fast forward to the 1980s and Velji began his involvement in the Democratic Party of Oregon, beginning with a focus on the city level, then graduating to the county and state levels.
“The first federal campaign which I got involved with was that of the Rev. Jessie Jackson during the primary in 1984,” he said.
Jackson fell short in that race to former Vice President Walter Mondale, but it invigorated Velji to take part in Jackson’s 1988 campaign, though he was defeated by Michael Dukakis, the former two-time governor of Massachusetts.
Then, in 1992 and 1996, Velji joined Bill Clinton's campaign, which he proved victorious both times.
It wasn’t until 2000 when he turned an inward focus to his own politics.
In that year, Velji contested and won the position of chairperson for the 1st Congressional District of Oregon. That same year he was approached by some members of the Democratic Party of Oregon to contest as state representative.
“I agreed and was the candidate for House District 9 in general elections. Despite the district being predominantly Republican, I received over 8,000 votes,” he told India-West.
Velji, however, fell short in the election to Republican Max Williams.
In 2010, Velji decided to go back to the country of his birth, Fiji, and help them regain democracy.
“Fiji has been under dictatorship since 2006. News media is censored and the citizens don’t have good source of local news,” he said. “I opted to use social media to keep the citizens apprised of the situation in Fiji. I was critical of the regime as human rights are being violated. The regime is abusing the National Treasury and the rights of indigenous Fijians are being comprised.”
Things got very real for Velji in 2017 when the regime agreed to hold national elections.
“Soon after the date of the election was announced, I declared my intent to contest the general election. A couple of weeks later while I was out of town, my house was broken into and my documents were stolen. Police started to harass me,” he added.
“This did not deter me from my activities. The Intelligence Officers started to follow me and kept a close tap on me,” Velji said. “Finally, when the military started to call me at night and tell me to bid farewell to my families and friends and asked me how I wanted to make my funeral arrangements, is when I decided to come back home to the U.S.”
Now he has an eye on the 28th Legislative District in Oregon, which encompasses his town of Beaverton as well as Aloha.
“After being in Fiji from December 2010 till December 2018 fighting for democracy, I see USA heading towards dictatorship similar to Fiji. I believe that I need to start at state level before jumping to federal,” Velji said.
Among the issues Velji is addressing in his campaign are education, sensible gun laws, women’s right to reproductive decision, fair wage, the environment, small business and undocumented migrants.
Velji says that his experience as a businessperson, freedom fighter as well as seasoned politician makes him well qualified for the office.
The primary election for Oregon is set for May 19, 2020.