Indian-American Democratic candidate wants her party to stay out of primaries

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More than a year ago, Democrat Veena Lothe, an Indian-American attorney born and brought up in West Virginia and now living in the Greater Richmond area in Virginia, decided to run for the State Senate from District 12.

Veena Lothe, an attorney, is running for the Virginia State Senate from District 12, primaries for which are scheduled for June 11, 2019. (Photo: Veenalothe.com with permission from Veena Lothe)

Over the months since February 2018, the single mother of two, has collected some impressive endorsements from local and state elected officials and activists, and has been knocking on hundreds of doors. She wants to defeat incumbent Republican State Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant who won handily in 2015, but whose district veered to the left to bring Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat to office just two years later.

Now, especially since February and March, Lothe is concerned that attempts may be ongoing behind the scenes by Democratic Party high-ups to favor other Democrats running against her in the June 11 primary. About one of them, Virginia State Delegate Debra Rodman, who announced a bid for the same District 12 Senate seat this March, news reports (Richmond Times-Dispatch March 5, and Bluevirginia.us, March 11), say she decided to get into the race, “Bolstered by support from Gov. Ralph Northam’s PAC and a Democratic Party poll showing she could do well.”

Rodman is white, while Lothe is Indian-American and Marques Jones, another candidate who declared his bid last Summer, is African American.

The ethnicity and race of candidates takes on some relevance as controversy is bubbling about these attempts by party higher-ups to influence the primaries especially in light of Gov. Northam’s admission earlier this year, about wearing blackface during his years in medical school, something that talking heads are discussing might affect the prospects of Democrats in upcoming elections this November as well as in 2020.

“The party should stay out of choosing the candidate,” Lothe told News India Times. “The person chosen in the primary should be chosen by people and the party should not favor one over the other,” she asserted.

Despite the controversy, Lothe is hopeful of her chances going into the primaries with her strong campaign team which includes 200 volunteers “from kids to senior citizens” among them many Indian-Americans, fanning out to reach more than a thousand households and counting.

She is not accepting money from big corporations though she needs a tidy sum of around $1.5 million to win the race, she says. She sees the support from grassroots activists who underlined the 2017 and 2018 Democratic victories, as pivotal to her race.

People have been “wonderful” in their reception of her candidacy, Lothe said. “Regardless of what is going on in Washington, people here still believe in our Democracy and our government. They are optimistic. They feel however, that nobody is listening and are wanting to talk.”

The issues she has heard most about from her constituents is the need for a strong economy, good jobs, and easier health care access, as well as good public education. “The economy may be doing well but it is not lifting everybody, especially the students laden with debt having to take up any jobs, women hold jobs and paying for day care …”

Being an attorney, Lothe says, she is conditioned to think not just of what shoul dbe done but how to get it done. “So being in office is not just about bringing in legislation, but how to get it done by looking at the experiences of states around the country, and finding the real fit,” she said. “Be very strategic and goal oriented in what we want to achieve,” she says.

“Another thing differentiating me from other candidates is my bottom-up campaign,” Lothe contends. she has got the support of Indian-American and South Asian groups in the state and this March 30, Asian groups are holding a fundraiser for her. Distict 12, she notes, “is very heavily populated by Indians and South Asians in some parts,” and she is hoping that will work in her favor.

Lothe’s parents came to this country in the early 1960s, and her physician father served in West Virginia, where he decided to settle his family despite the opportunity to move elsewhere after finishing the required two years in underserved areas that foreign medical graduates need to do. Despite being a rare Indian face in the community, Lothe says, “people get past these difference,” and she did not face any real problems growing up in one of the more impoverished areas of West Virginia in the Appalachian coal fields.

In 1993, she graduated from Cornell Law School and also received a Masters degree in Industrial and Labor Relations from West Virginia University. She clerked at a union-side labor law firm in Washington D.C., which profoundly inspired her, according to her website.
Lothe began her legal career with a firm in Philadelphia specializing in civil rights law and union-side labor. She represented victims of sexual harassment, racial discrimination and age discrimination. She subsequently opened her own practice, continuing to represent employees but also developing an immigration practice. A significant portion of her practice load has always been pro bono or at drastically reduced fees, her biography says.

She moved to the Greater Richmond area in 1999, raising her two kids there. She is active in the community as a school volunteer, a board member at the Shady Grove Y, a Sunday school teacher, and a grassroots activist.

Her son is a junior at high school and her daughter is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.
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