Vivek Viswanathan, who served on Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and as a special advisor to California Governor Jerry Brown, announced Jan. 17 that he is running for California State Treasurer.
The Indian American candidate faces a former challenger for the post left vacant by incumbent John Chiang — veteran politician Fiona Ma, who currently chairs the California Board of Equalization. Ma began her political career on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and quickly moved up to the state Assembly, where she served as Speaker from 2010 to 2012. She won her role on the Board of Equalization in 2014.
Ma has already amassed several prominent endorsements, including one from Indian American Sen. Kamala Harris, and Assemblyman Ash Kalra, the lone Indian American in the California State Legislature.
But Viswanathan at age 30 is himself a veteran of politics. He worked on Clinton’s campaign until what he termed “the devastating end,” working to craft the candidate’s higher education policies.
From Clinton, Viswanathan learned the value of focusing on details and “really listening to people. “With public policy, you can read reports, but it doesn’t tell the human story,” he told India-West. “I’m really proud of what she was able to do.”
In March 2017, Brown appointed Viswanathan as a special advisor to the executive secretary in the office of the governor. “I was inspired by Governor Brown’s leadership in California,” said the candidate. “I’ve watched him pursue bold, progressive goals. I want to be among the next generation of bold, progressive leaders and the state treasurer’s office is the perfect place to do that,” he said, noting that the office would allow him to weigh in on bills being considered by the Legislature.
“The treasurer’s office is the place to dream California’s future,” said Viswanathan.
Among Viswanathan’s top goals are addressing the state’s massive housing crisis. He said he would repeal the state’s mortgage interest deduction for second homes and redirect the resulting funds to help people purchase their first homes.
Viswanathan also wants to build more affordable housing and spoke of finding more revenue to achieve that goal. He endorsed a $3 billion bond measure that would finance low-income housing and help veterans buy homes. California voters will vote on the measure this November.
By increasing the overall supply of homes, Viswanathan also hopes to address the shortage of affordable rental units.
The candidate also noted the high volume of student debt and wants to craft a program that would allow graduates to refinance their loans through the state. Viswanathan also wants to open up a college savings account for every baby born in the state.
He also wants to expand the state’s rainy-day fund.
Last December, SB 54 – passed by the state Legislature amidst much debate – declared California a sanctuary state, limiting the ability of state and local police to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. Shortly after winning office, President Donald Trump issued an executive order, cutting federal funding to sanctuary cities. District Judge William H. Orrick in San Francisco last November issued an injunction to permanently block Trump’s executive order.
Viswanathan told India-West that the state needs a cushion to protect itself against possible drops in federal revenue.
The young candidate is making his way around the state, sharing his platform with voters. “I’m gratified by the support I’ve received from the Indian American community. There are not a lot of Indian American public officials at the state level,” he said.
Viswanathan has pledged to run his campaign without taking money from corporate interests or PACs. The candidate – a New York native who is an alumnus of Harvard and Stanford: he did his undergraduate studies at Harvard, earned an M.Phil. from the University of Cambridge, followed by JD and MBA degrees from Stanford – said he hopes to build a movement around public financing for political campaigns.
Viswanathan is the son of Kusum and Ramaswamy Viswanathan, both from Tamil Nadu. Kusum is a pediatric oncologist/hematologist; Ramaswamy is a psychiatrist. He also has an older brother, Vikram, and a younger sister, Divya.