Kramer v. Kramer
"Everybody knows politics is a contact sport."
-BARACK OBAMA, The New Yorker, May 31, 2004
In an unusual turn of events, two Indian-American candidates are in a play-off against each other and, against incumbent Mike Honda, in the race to capture Northern California's 17th Congressional District seat. Vanila Mathur Singh, 43, a Republican anesthesiologist and associate professor at Stanford University announced her candidacy some months ago, in the political contest involving Democratic challenger, Ro Khanna, 38, and incumbent Mike Honda, 72, who is also Asian American. Ro and Vanila are challenging Honda in June's "top-two" primary, in which all candidates of all parties compete head-to-head and the top two vote-getters advance to the November general election, regardless of party.
It's a circumstance that's divided Northern California's tight-knit Indian American community, pitting community organizers (Vanila's parents, Lalit and Leela Mathur are founders of the Rajasthan Association of North America, and are widely credited for the construction and maintenance of the local Hindu temple) against political heavyweights (Ro enjoys the support of community leaders such as cardiologist and India-Post publisher, Dr. Japra; Fremont council member, Raj Salwan; Fremont vice mayor, Anu Natarajan; Fremont Planning Commissioner, Yogi Chugh, to name a few). The Ro camp is disgruntled that Vanila's entry into the race is bound to pull Indian American votes away from their candidate.
Vanila dismisses the charge as "self serving," stating instead, "No votes belong to any candidate. They have to be earned. In fact, it’s a sign of how far the Indian American community has come that we actually have a choice. . ."
It can't be denied that Ro Khanna has garnered an impressive show of hands; a recent fundraiser at Dr. Japra's home was attended by about 200 guests. Not everyone there was a supporter, though. I had a chance to talk to an older woman, well known to Vanila's family. She stated she was there because of her husband's ties to Dr. Japra, but declined to say for whom she would cast her vote.
I had a chance to interview both candidates. Here are their responses to some of the questions asked.
1. What are the top two or three issues that you’ll be talking about in your campaign from now up till November?
Vanila: Our campaign will focus on the economy and jobs, healthcare, and federal spending. These are the American people’s top issues and ours too.
Ro: When I served in the Commerce Department I traveled across the country meeting with manufacturers of all sizes. I gained an understanding not only of their challenges but also of the competitive advantages that America has in manufacturing and exporting. When I returned home to Fremont I wrote a book called Entrepreneurial Nation. It’s all about how to keep the best jobs and opportunities right here in America. Now I’m putting some of that experience to work as a lecturer in economics at StanfordUniversity. We need more people in Congress who understand how the economy works and will reach across the aisle to get things done.
I’ve received overwhelming support from the top innovators and technology leaders in Silicon Valley because I have articulated a clear vision on how to grow the economy and prepare students for the jobs of the 21st century. I have focused on how to make sure teachers are trained and certified in science, technology, engineering, and math fields – and making sure we are providing career-long support for all of our educators. I’ve also pushed for schools to start teaching coding starting in elementary school. We should be exposing our children to the practical applications of 21st century innovation early on. The ability to code expands opportunity for students from all backgrounds. Lastly, we need to support our entrepreneurs and small businesses. That means making sure they have access to capital and to the export market. It also requires streamlining burdensome regulations and making compliance easier so more young people can get their businesses off the ground.
I will continue to be a relentless champion for immigration reform. We need to give DREAMers a pathway to citizenship and we need to ensure that we have a higher supply of skilled labor to meet current demand. This includes startup visas so that we are encouraging immigrants to start businesses and hire American workers.
Additionally, I’ve pledged to protect social security and ensure that people like my parents have the ability to retire with dignity.
2. What do you think of another Indian-American being in the race?
Vanila: I think it is outstanding that more Indian Americans are getting involved in politics. Our community needs to recognize its own influence.
Ro: I welcome her to the race and am interested to hear what her positions are and why she wants to represent the 17th district in Congress.
3. I want to talk about your campaign. Are there going to be any negative ads about your opponent, Ro Khanna? How about Mike Honda?
Vanila: I see no reason why any candidate in this race should run negative ads. I think our message of economic opportunity and responsible government are good for California and the 17th District, and we can run a positive campaign on these ideas.
Ro: I am very confident with the grassroots campaign that I’m running, and I will continue to articulate a forward-looking vision for Silicon Valley. I’ll let the media and pundits do the handicapping.
4. What do you have to say of the Narender Modi visa-denial issue?
Vanila: It is my understanding that Ambassador Powell recently met with Minister Modi. I trust that the State department will handle this matter impartially, and its decision will continue to reflect the best interests of the United States.
Ro: This is a state department issue.
Very politely put. The children are behaving themselves. . . for now!
Disclosure: I have known Vanila Mathur Singh personally, and, socially for the past two years.