A number of Indian-Americans ran unopposed in the primaries and runoffs held in Arkansas, Texas, Kentucky, and Georgia May 22. Among the contested wins for the community was that of Congressional candidate Sri Preston Kulkarni in Texas, who defeated a fellow Democrat in the primary runoff to contest an incumbent Republican in November.
Unopposed were Gayatri Agnew, a senior executive at Walmart, in the Democratic primary for the Arkansas House of Representatives from District 93. Agnew faces incumbent Republican Jim Dotson in November. In 2016, Dotson was unopposed in the November general election, and in 2014, he defeated Democrat Leah Marie Williams, winning more than 70 percent of the vote. (All vote counts are from Ballotpedia which gets official figures from relevant state agencies).
Chintan Desai, a school teacher from Helena-West Helena Arkansas, also a Democrat from Arkansas, running for the U.S. Congress from District 1. Desai’s Republican opponent, incumbent Rick Crawford, was also unopposed in his primary. In 2016, Crawford defeated his Libertarian opponent by a wide margin, garnering more than 76 percent of the vote. And in 2014, he defeated both a Democrat and a Libertarian, with more than 63 percent of the vote in the general election. Crawford first won his seat in 2010. District 1 intersects with what is described as a “Pivot County” where voters gave a majority to President Donald Trump in 2016, but voted in favor of President Obama in 2008 and 2012, Ballotpedia reports.
In Texas, Sri Kulkarni won decisively in the Democratic primary runoff for the U.S. Congress from District 22, defeating fellow Democrat Letitia Plummer with 62.12 percent to her 37.8 percent. This was after an earlier primary where the two of them were the top two vote-getters, making a run-off necessary.
Kulkarni’s victory come Nov. 6, hangs in the balance, running as he is from what is considered by analysts as a safe Republican district currently in the hands of Pete Olson, first elected in 2008. In the Republican primary, Olson won more than 78 percent of the vote in a four-way race. In the most recent general election in 2016, Olson defeated his Democratic rival, Mark Gibson, 59.5 percent to 40.5 percent.
Ballotpedia describes District 22 as ‘Safely Republican”, and the Cook Political Report as “Solid Republican.” The “Cook Partisan Voter Index” for the district is ‘R+10’ – meaning that Republicans scored 10 percentage points more votes in the previous two presidential elections, Ballotpedia reports. Two other ratings, Sabato’s Crystal Ball and Inside Elections rate it as “Safe Republican” and “Solid Republican” respectively, according to Ballotpedia.
However, Kulkarni has stellar credentials as a former foreign service official and has served on Capitol Hill as a defense advisor to one of the rising stars of the Democratic Party, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
Indian American Impact Fund, a political action committee set up to support progressive candidates, called it a “big night” for candidates from the community.
“IAimpact (@IAImpactProject) tweeted at 10:55 PM on Tue, May 22, 2018:
It was a big night for desi candidates!
Excited for Kulkarni for Congress who won his primary runoff tonight, and to Gayatri Agnew for Arkansas District 93 and Chintan Desai for winning their nominations in Arkansas….”
The AAPI Victory Fund, another organization that supports Indian-American and other Asian and Pacific Islander candidates for office, has endorsed Kulkarni, as well as Aftab Pureval running from Ohio’s District 1, Omar Siddiqui from California’s District 48, and Suneel Gupta from Michigan’s District 11,
Gayatri Agnew says she is running because she strongly believes in her community and country. “My mother taught me that if you see injustice you don’t just wish things would change – you work hard to make them change,” she says on her website. And while most families including hers live well, “certainly not all.” and her points to infrastructure, high rates of child poverty and rising homelessness in the district.
“I am running on a platform of jobs, high-quality education, and political civility. I’m running to improve the lives of all of our citizens. It’s a new day in the 93rd. Join me,” she declares.
Before being appointed senior director of Walmart’s foundation, Agnew worked in California and Washington in both public and private sectors. She attended Foothill-De Anza Community College before transferring to Seattle University. She holds both a Bachelors of Arts in Political Science and a Masters of Business Administration from Seattle University. She and her husband Ryan have two children, Rohan and Kamala.
Born and brought up in the U.S., Chintan Desai, who will be facing off against incumbent Republican Rick Crawford in the Arkansas Congressional District 1 race in November, was born in San Luis Obispo, California. He hearkens to his immigrant parents in his profile on the election website. His mother and father, Daksha and Dipak, immigrated from Mumbai, and “With little money and few friends, they built a new life for themselves and their son,” he says.
Desai’s father worked at a local fast food restaurant and his mother worked at an arts and crafts store. They both worked second jobs at a motel. It was their hard work, Desai said, which was responsible for his attending the University of California, Davis, where he studied Political Science. Desai joined Teach for America and taught fifth grade social studies at KIPP Delta Public Schools, in the rural Arkansas Delta town of Helena.