The May 15 primaries in four states created some noteworthy firsts for Indian-Americans and South Asians, with a Democratic win at the County level in Oregon, an impressive showing for a Democrat for Lieutenant Governor in Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania Republican with little chance of winning, nevertheless making a mark by sailing unopposed to the Nov. 6 general election for the State House.Primaries were held in Idaho, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Oregon.
Susheela Jayapal, the sister of Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, became the first Indian-American to hold public office in Oregon, winning her election hands down for the Multnomah County Commission from District 2.
Despite it being a four-way Democratic primary, Jayapal made a clean sweep with more than 57 percent of the vote, dispensing with the need to have a runoff election between top two vote-getters on Nov. 6.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) tweeted at 0:02 AM on Wed, May 16, 2018: “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!” tweeted Rep. Pramila Jayapal. In an earlier tweet, the Congresswoman also added the hashtag #DiversityMatters.
Another Indian-American who ran for office in Oregon, was Republican Satya Chandragiri making a bid for State Representative from the 19th District. Chandragiri received 12.5 percent of the Republican vote compared to the 54.7 percent for the winner, Denyc Nicole Boles, and 32.7 percent by the runner-up Michael Hunter, according to results posted on the Oregon Secretary of State’s website. Boles will run against the incumbent from District 19, Democrat Mike Ellison who was unopposed in the primary.
“Growing up in India and the U.S., my mother had Schizophrenia and father served in Air Force, but we remained a close knit family,” says Chandragiri on his election website. He went on to become a physician and a psychiatrist, public servant, and small business owner. “I often say of my early life that: I was born in India but made in the USA.” After living in a number of places around the world, Chandragiri and his wife came to Eastern Oregon in 2000, “to care for rural communities” and relocated to Salem in 2005. He became “proud” U.S. citizens in 2010, he says.
Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, a low-profile Indian-American Inderjit Bains, who ran on a Republican ticket for the State House of Representatives from the 164th District, was unopposed, which means he runs against the unopposed Democratic candidate and incumbent State Rep. Margo Davidson in November. State District 164 heavily favors Democrats with some 4,182 Democrats showing up at the polls to vote for Davidson and only 1,055 Republicans voting for Bains. Ballotpedia results taken from the Pennsylvania Department of State, show. Somewhat of a serial candidate, Bains ran unopposed in the Republican primary of 2016 as well, and in the November 2016 general election, he secured 20.96 percent of the vote to Davidson’s nearly 80 percent. Bains’ Facebook site shows he lives in Upper Darby, PA, and notes he is endorsed by the GOP, and is the treasurer of the Upper Darby Library Board. After the primary, Bains thanks “everyone who came out and exercised their right to vote,” adding, ” I will be working harder to earn your support and vote. We need to have our voices heard in Harrisburg!”
Pennsylvania also saw Bangladeshi-American Nina Ahmad run for Lieutenant Governor in the Democratic primary because she said she wanted to “restore integrity to the office and to be the progressive voice that Pennsylvania needs to take on Donald Trump.” She lost but made an impressive showing coming 2nd in a five-way race, securing 23.46 percent of the vote. Incumbent Mike Stack got fewer votes that Ahmad (16.77 percent). The winner in that Democratic primary was Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, who got 38.17 percent.
“Last night, Susheela Jayapal made history by becoming the first Indian American to hold elected office in the state of Oregon,” Deepak Raj, co-founder of Indian-American Impact Project and chair of the Indian American Impact Fund, is quoted saying in a press release, adding, “We were proud to endorse Commissioner-Elect Jayapal’s campaign and are confident that, like her sister Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, she will be a source of great leadership and inspiration for our community.”
Susheela Jayapal is an attorney by training. She was general counsel of Adidas America and has provided pro-bono services to people seeking asylum.