Two Indian-American candidates won their bids for the state legislature of the critical swing state of Virginia in the Nov. 5, elections. Both made history in several ways, becoming the first ever from the community to sit in that conservative state’s legislature and one marking the first Muslim and first Muslim woman to make her way to the State Senate.
The Nov. 5, 2019 elections were held in 8 states, with Virginia sending voters to bring in lawmakers to both houses; and New Jersey holding elections to the State Assembly. The other states fielded candidates for statewide offices such as the Attorney General or Governor, etc., as well as several measures on the ballot.
Ghazali Hashmi, candidate for the State Senate in Virginia from District 10, won a decisive 54 percent of the vote, according to results posted by The New York Times.
Suhas Subramanyam won with 62 percent of the vote in Virginia State Assembly from District 87, defeating Republican Bill Drennan who got 38 percent, The New York Times election results showed. The seat was originally occupied by Democrat John Bell, who decided to run for Senate, leaving it open for both parties to contest.
Meanwhile, in New Jersey, incumbent State Rep. Raj Mukherji, handily won his seat back from Assembly District 33. He was the only Indian-American running for any seat in the state legislature, despite the fact that Indian-Americans and Asian Americans make up a significant percentage of the population in that state.
In North Carolina, Charlotte City Councilor Dimple Ajmera, handily won re-election; and in California, Mano Raju won his race to remain the San Francisco Public Defender.
Democrats viewed Virginia as their key battleground hoping to flip it from Red to Blue. They were successful in doing so.
Just days before election day, President Obama tweeted out his endorsements for Virginia, listing Hashmi among the Democrats running for a Senate seat.
“Proud to endorse an outstanding group of Virginia Democrats in Tuesday’s election—candidates who’ll not only advance the causes of equality, justice, and decency, but help ensure that the next decade of voting maps are drawn fairly. That’s good policy—and good for our politics,” Obama said.
“Today we sent a message that the status quo is no longer accepted. Thank you all for your support and passion in helping me become the next state Senator for Virginia’s 10th District! I couldn’t be more honored to be a part of the change to come for Virginia,” Hashmi posted on Facebook and Twitter.
“This victory, is not mine alone. It belongs to all of you who believed that we needed to make progressive change here in Virginia, for all of you who felt that you haven’t had a voice and believed in me to be yours in the General Assembly,” she added.
Hashmi defeated incumbent Sen. Glen Sturtevant.
“It’s clear Indian-Americans are doing well in tough districts and states,” New Jersey State Senator Vin Gopal, the first and only Indian-American in that state’s upper house, and the second from the community to be elected to the state legislature.
“Last night was a testament to our community’s growing prominence in American politics, and we look forward to continuing our work recruiting, training, and supporting Indian Americans as they run for office in 2020 and beyond,” said Indian American Impact Fund, a PAC that supports Indian-American candidates around the country.
The victory in Virginia is a feather in the cap for Seema Nanda, the first Indian-American CEO of the Democratic National Committee.
“After flipping the Senate, I’ll have Democrats by my side to fight to protect Virginians from the climate crisis and senseless gun violence, and work to expand our access to affordable health care and funding for public education. I can’t wait to work together in the state Senate,” said Hashmi, who describes herself as a “lifelong Democrat” whose family has lived in Chesterfield County for nearly 30 years.
Ghazala grew up in Georgia, and was inspired by President Jimmy Carter and his commitment to social justice, her bio says on Facebook. A college professor and administrator, Ghazala has worked in the Virginia Community College System for over 17 years.
In 2013, she was named by Chancellor Glenn Dubois as a member of the statewide Strategic Plan Taskforce and helped to develop Complete 2021, a six-year vision for Virginia’s community colleges.
She is a Board Member of the Richmond Chapter of the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities (VCIC).
Hashmi is married to Azhar and the couple has two daughters, Yasmin and Noor.
“I realized I had a choice. I could remain unheard, unseen, and unrepresented; or, I could speak out, be visible, and dare to claim for myself and other marginalized communities the right to full participation in our democracy.” Hashmi said.
Subramanyam, a former technology advisor to President Obama on becoming the first Indian-American elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, said he was “incredibly honored and humbled.”
“My mother landed in Dulles Airport 40 years ago from India to start a new life and live the American dream. Never could anyone have imagined that 40 years later, I would represent the area in Richmond,” Subramanyam posted on Facebook the morning after the win.
He thanked voters in the 87th district for coming out “in record numbers.”
“We made history and sent a message that the solution to our divisive politics is to raise the bar, not lower it,” Subramanyam said.The hard work and drive of his campaign staff, he said, is what put him over the top, after two years of campaigning.
“The AAPI Victory Fund spent a six-figure budget in turning out the AAPI community in Virginia in 2019 and it help (helped) to yield state-wide control to Democrats for the first time in 26 years,” Shekar Narasimhan, founder and chairman of AAPI Victory Fund, told News India Times.
“I moved to Virginia in 1979 and finally, Virginia’s elected officials are beginning to look like the people they represents. America should follow soon,” Narasimhan said pointing to the election of 5 Asian-Americans to the state legislature, up from just 1 before Trump was elected.
“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to serve in a Democratic majority and fulfill some of the critical promises I made when I started this campaign–fully funding our schools, keeping our communities safe, and putting an end to politics as usual in Richmond,” Subramanyam said, adding, “My promise to the people of Loudoun and Prince William: I will always listen to you, work tirelessly for you, and do everything to empower you. The campaign is over, but my work for you has just begun.”
Subramanyam is married to Miranda.
“Both (Subramanyam and Hashmi) ran strong positive campaigns with a major focus on bread-and-butter issues around common sense gun reform, higher pay for teachers, health care equity, a raise in the minimum wage etc.,” noted Narasimhan.
New Jersey State Rep. Mukherji and fellow incumbent Democrat Annettee Chaparro, both won their seats from District 33, defeating Republicans Holly Lucyk and Fabian Rohena. Mukherji received 43 percent of the vote and Chapparo 42 percent, with 99 percent of the votes counted, reported The New York Times.
Mukherji was first elected to the N.J. State Assembly in 2013. A healthcare lawyer and investor, Mukherji served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve as a Sergeant, joining at the age of 17, after 9/11. At the State Assembly, Mukherji has served as Majority Whip from 2018 to the present. He has been a member of the Telecommunications and Utilities Committee as Vice Chair, and on the Budget Committee as well as on the Joint State Leasing and Space Utilization Committee. He has been the primary sponsor of at least 18 bills, and co-sponsor on numerous others.
He was formerly, the Deputy Mayor of Jersey City. At 24, he was appointed Commissioner and Chairman of the Jersey City Housing Authority. His public service experience includes teaching Constitutional Law as an Adjunct Professor at New Jersey City University and service as a municipal prosecutor.
The son of immigrants from India, Assemblyman Mukherji supported himself through high school, college, and grad school as an emancipated minor when economic circumstances forced his parents to return to their native India, for his father’s health reasons.
Mukherji is married to Natasha Alag and the couple has one son.