Indian American women make community proud with historic wins in Nov. 7 elections

Manka Dhingra with her family.


NEW YORK – No doubt, the November 7 election results are a huge repudiation of President Donald Trump, his tumultuous one year in office, and ire against the inability of Republicans to get core objectives accomplished on Capitol Hill, despite a healthy economy and booming stock market.

Overwhelming wins for Democrats from coast to coast, and even in the deep South, including for many liberal Indian Americans and other ethnic minorities, indicate the country’s patience to see “Make America Great Again’ come to fruition has run out. Voters now see most Republicans as a floundering, puzzled lot who have deeply divided the nation – unable to reconcile with the notion of bipartisanship.

The excitement of Election Day was muted, too. Luckily for Trump, he was in Asia, meeting with leaders like China’s Xi Jinping and Japan’s Shino Abe, who both won overwhelming elections this year, have no worries of slipping on that front in the near future.

For American voters, the voting exercise may have also seemed a bit of a futile effort too, to roll back what is already in place on a gigantic, national scale: the Trump presidency, which continues to roll steadily along in a juggernaut cutting through a wide swath, via executive actions issued from the White House, despite logjam on Capitol Hill.

On Election Day, trepidation was also high as to the outcome of tax reforms, the lynchpin of the Trump presidency apart from his clarion call on the campaign trail to clamp down on illegal immigration and build a wall on the Mexico border.

It’s making progress as the House and Senate prepare to roll back their sleeves and indulge in some arm wrestling tactics to reconcile it, get it on Trump’s desk to be signed into law by year’s end, and likely send stock markets zooming to dizzy heights.

However, voters either grinned or grimaced, thinking of tax reform consequences – if at all that sees daylight – as they entered voting booths this week, chastened or fortified, as the case was, by the recent aborted effort to replace Obamacare.

One of the big takeaways from the November 7 elections were numerous critical wins for women candidates across the country, including Indian American Manka Dhingra for a crucial state Senate seat, from the 45th District, in Washington State, which now gives Democrats control of both chambers there, apart from the Governor’s office, and completes their dominance on all West Coast states.

With Dhingra’s win, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and the Democrats can now enact some bills waiting in the wings for long, including opportunity for minorities to participate in local elections, to provide free coverage for services such as birth control and women’s reproductive health, and ban on bump-stocks that modify rifles for rapid fire, noted the Seattle Times. All these are hot button issues, and run contrary to Republican agenda.

There were a slew of other victories by Indian American women in Washington state: Satwinder Kaur won her Kent City Council race; incumbent Maya Vengadasalam retained her Kent School Board seat, running unopposed, and Tanika Padhye prevailed in Redmond’s No. 4 City Council seat.

The New York Times quoted Chris Vance, a former chairman of the Washington State Republican Party, place the blame squarely on Trump, saying: “Among college-educated suburbanites, he is a pariah.”

The Times also noted that even in the deep South, Georgia Democrats captured two State House seats where they previously had not even fielded candidates while snatching a State Senate seat in Buckhead, an upscale area of Atlanta.

Falguni Patel

In New Jersey, the little-known Falguni Patel, who shot to national fame overnight after a racist postcard targeted her and a Chinese-American candidate, Jerry Shi, and called for them to be ‘deported’ rather than given a chance to serve on the Board of Education, in Edison Township, won comfortably. Shi went through too.

Seema Singh Perez created history in Knoxville, Tennessee. In winning a seat in the Knoxville Council District 3, she became the first Indian American to achieve a Council seat in the state. In Charlotte, North Carolina, Democrat Dimple Ajmera comfortably retained her seat.

The pattern of women candidates, despite their ethnicity, prevailing over established incumbents, resonated widely.

Time reported Democrat Danica Roem beat Republican Del. Bob Marshall for a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, becoming the first openly transgender person elected to a state legislature. Marshall had once referred to himself as the state’s “chief homophobe.”

Reports said two Latinas, Elizabeth Guzmán and Hala Ayala made history in Virginia; they are the first Hispanic women elected to the state’s House of Delegates. They not only beat long-term incumbents, but flipped their districts from Republican to Democrat.

In New Jersey, a political novice, Ashley Bennett, defeated seasoned politician John Carman in the election for Atlantic City Freeholder. The latter had shared a sexist meme about the Women’s March in Washington which asked if the march be “over in time for them to cook dinner.”

Time noted that Vi Lyles became the first black woman to be elected mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina; Jenny Durkan was elected the first lesbian mayor of Seattle (and the first woman in nearly 90 years); Michelle Kaufusi became the first woman mayor of Provo, Utah; and Kathy Tran became the first Asian-American woman in the Virginia House of Delegates.

The Iranian American debutant Liliana Bakhtiari was locked in a fierce contest for a seat in the Atlanta City Council, with longtime incumbent Natalyn Archibong. A report in said Archibong, who is vying for a fifth term, prevailed in the contest by a mere 252 votes, out of a total of 9,754 votes cast. However, there were no comments as yet from either of the two candidates on the result. It’s likely there could be a recount, if the Decaturish report were to be accurate.

If she were to ultimately prevail, Bakhtiari, an anthropology student, would create history as being the first openly queer woman to win a seat in council elections in Georgia.

It was not just Indian American women who made the community proud. Several male candidates too broke through a ceiling to create history, with Ravi Bhalla – like Falguni Patel the victim of a racist flier that deemed him as a ‘terrorist’ on the eve of the elections – becoming the first Sikh-origin Mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey.

Bhalla beat his fellow Councilman Michael DeFusco, who was running as an openly gay man, and had the latter won, would have created history too.

In yet another closely watched contest in New Jersey, Vin Gopal, the former Monmouth County Democratic chairman, defeated veteran state Sen. Jennifer Beck, in the 11th legislative district. Democrats were delighted with the result as after capturing both the Assembly seats in the earlier predominantly Republican district two years ago, they now have completed the shutout.

(This post has been updated, with corrections and new material, on Nov. 10, 2017)



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