BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE
(With inputs by Veena Rao)
Indian Americans represent approximately about 1% of the U.S. And for the very first time in its history, 5 Indian Americans serving in Congress, represent 1% of the U.S. Congress. The historic numbers bear testament to the rising political aspirations of the diaspora across the highest levels of public service.
Marking another milestone in Georgia, Ashwin Ramaswami recently launched his campaign for the Democratic nomination of State Senate in GA’s 48th district. If elected, Ramaswami will be the first member of the Indian American and Hindu-American communities and the first Gen Z State Senator in the Georgia state legislature. In his exclusive with NRI Pulse, Ramaswami spoke about his motivation to run, his priorities for the state, the importance of representation, his stance on gun control, reproductive rights, and much more.
Ramaswami is a Johns Creek native and second-generation immigrant with a career in public service and advocacy. He has a technical and entrepreneurial background of working with nonprofits, startups, and small businesses. As a civil servant, Ramaswami served at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency on cybersecurity and election security, working with state and local election offices to secure the 2020 and 2022 elections. Ramaswami also worked as a fellow in the Georgia Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division.
Ramaswami attended public schools in Johns Creek, GA. He has a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Stanford University and if elected, will take office with a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center.
What motivated you to run for the State Senate in Georgia’s 48th district?
I was born and raised in Johns Creek; the local Indian American community, my peers and classmates, and the educational opportunities I’ve received have really made a difference in my life. My parents immigrated here from Tamil Nadu, India and both work in IT, and they inspired me to take an early interest in coding and computer science. I grew up going to Chinmaya Mission Balavihar every Sunday, where I learned about my Indian and Hindu cultural values, philosophy, and practices, and I also built web applications to help manage registration and events at Chinmaya Mission. This is where my passion for community service was really forged. Our core values constantly remind us of the importance of giving more than what we take. To this day, I’m motivated to give back to my community to ensure that everyone receives the same, if not better, opportunities than I did.
My heart was always in public service, and after graduating with a computer science degree from Stanford, I decided to work in the federal government on election security. This topic was paramount, especially in 2020 and 2022, and I felt it truly was the best use of my skills and education to help others. I also decided to pursue a law degree at Georgetown, and I later worked in the Georgia Attorney General’s Office in consumer protection.
What really culminated my decision to run, however, was learning that Shawn Still, the current state senator for my district, is an election denier who was criminally indicted for trying to overturn the 2020 elections. I realized that we need someone in office who understands the importance of democracy, the importance of our vote, and who’s willing to stand up for what’s right, not just do whatever is politically expedient. And I realized that I could be that person. I was a civil servant, working to secure elections, and I knew the dangers of politicians who used the system for their own ends. We need to have people who respect the facts and the people’s right to vote.
Given your experience in technology and law, how do you believe your skills and background qualify you for this role?
I worked at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the federal agency responsible for protecting our critical infrastructure from cyberattacks and other threats, under both Presidents Trump and Biden. The transition could have been disruptive, but we decided to set aside partisan bickering and focus on the task at hand: securing our nation. I want to bring that experience and mindset to the state senate, so we can focus on improving Georgia, not political agendas.
I also have experience in law, policy, and technology, so my background straddles key areas that are important at all levels of government. And, I would be the first member of the State Senate with a computer science degree. People in that field don’t usually get involved in politics, but we’re facing a lot of issues involving topics such as AI, data, privacy, and online safety that require that kind of familiarity and expertise. I saw the need for more people who understand technology to be at the table, especially when I was working at the GA Attorney General’s office in consumer protection. We really need someone who understands the technology to have a voice at the table.
Your campaign has raised $108,000 at the time of launch. How do you plan to utilize these funds to support your campaign goals effectively?
Raising $108,000 is a big effort, but it was only possible because there were so many folks who believed I am the right person for the job. I am very grateful for the community’s support. The reality, however, is that campaigning is very expensive, and this amount is just the start. But what we’re going to do first is build our team and make sure that we have folks who are spreading the word, whether it’s talking to voters, placing advertisements, or hosting events around the district. We really want to educate and draw awareness to critical issues that impact our lives, like education and health care, for example. We need to start solving these problems on the state level, not just the federal level.
What are your top three priorities for the district?
My priorities are education, the economy, public safety and well-being. I’m a product of our district’s fantastic public education system, but I know we aren’t investing enough to keep it growing. Class sizes are increasing, but we’re not paying our teachers enough. We’ve cut down the HOPE Scholarship and reduced Dual Enrollment and other opportunities, even though the State of Georgia has $11 billion in surplus funds. That really means we’re not investing in the kinds of areas we need to to keep our state growing. We need to make sure we support all students and give them the education they need.
The second is the economy. This is where my background in entrepreneurship comes in. We need to attract and create more high-paying jobs to the area, which goes hand in hand with education. The nation has a cybersecurity jobs shortage. There are tons of jobs available, but not enough people to fill them because they don’t have the right credentials or the right training. There are also jobs that we could create through clean energy and transportation. There are so many ways to encourage economic opportunity while making sure that no one is left behind. I would really make sure that we’re investing in the right programs and infrastructure to jumpstart the economy.
Finally, we have public safety and well-being. We need to pass common-sense gun legislation. We should respect the Second Amendment, but we don’t want guns in the wrong hands. We also need to expand Medicaid so that the most vulnerable people in our society can get the health care they need. I want to focus on these common-sense bills we can pass to make sure our communities are safer and healthier.
How do you plan to engage the community and enlist its support for your candidacy?
Politics is all about trust. I grew up in this district, so there are a lot of folks, like my former coworkers, teachers, and classmates, who are very familiar with me, as well as my values and morals. These are the people who have supported me and vouched for me, so this is really an opportunity for me to go back and serve them.
I also want to build bridges between the communities I belong to and others in the area. I love the idea of working with interfaith organizations to bring in the different religious communities in the district. As a Hindu myself, I think it’s really important for us to come together and understand the issues other communities face, and realize that we’re actually much more similar than we think. I’m making sure we’re talking with the Christian community, the Muslim community, the Jewish community, and all the faiths and belief systems. We need to make sure we’re going to community spaces and not only sharing our vision but also asking what others’ needs are because that’s ultimately the goal of what we’re doing.
What key values do you bring to the table that sets you apart from your opponent Shawn Still?
First is integrity. Our goal as public servants is to fully represent our constituents and to preserve and defend our democracy, which my opponent completely failed to do. He put his political interests over his duty to the Georgia voters. On the other hand, I am steadfastly committed to integrity in my public and personal life. I believe in the importance of being honest and being one in thought, word, and deed. It’s something I learned from my own religious upbringing as a Hindu and reading texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, and something reflected in all faith traditions. I would never, ever forsake that ideal.
The second is energy. I’m young, I come from a background in technology and innovation, and unlike many local politicians, I haven’t been entrenched in the political scene for decades. It’s certainly important to have lawmakers who have been around for a while, but we need to supplement that with fresh voices. I also grew up in this district and have a new perspective from my lived experiences, whether it’s going to public schools here or commuting every day downtown through MARTA to attend Georgia Tech. I know what it’s like, and the challenges, of growing up here: my opponent doesn’t. There isn’t really a voice for people like me, which is why I’m running.
Finally, we have unity. The polarization as we see nationally and at the state level is really detrimental to getting things done. My goal is to work with and listen to both Democrats and Republicans, and to stand against extremism, whether that’s around devaluing the vote or saying that democracy is something that we don’t want. I want to make sure that we hold space for important conversations and make decisions that are based on consensus, not polarizing agendas.
If elected, you would be the first member of the Indian American and Hindu-American communities in the Georgia state legislature. How important is diversity and representation in government, and how do you plan to advocate for inclusivity?
We learn rom a young age that we are a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Government can only exist on the consent of the governed, and the system only works if everyone has a seat at the table. So I think it’s incredibly important to have representation in government. There are so many barriers preventing certain disenfranchised groups from running for office or being represented, and that’s harmful because now they don’t have a voice in the government.
One reason why I decided to run was because we don’t have a single Indian American or Hindu American in the entire state legislature, and I want to be a voice for these communities. But my constituency is very diverse, and I need to engage with other communities and make sure that I’m bringing their voices to the table as well. Ultimately, I don’t really believe in the notion of “us versus them”. It’s our community.
One last thing I’ll note is that for effective representation, we need to make working in the government easier and more appealing. Part of that is paying our state employees more. We also need campaign finance reform so that you don’t have to be a multimillionaire just to run. That’s why it’s so difficult for young people to run. If I win, as the first Gen Z member of the State Senate, this will certainly inspire and empower more young people to run for office as well.
How do you plan to address the needs of both the urban and rural communities within your district?
My district is largely suburban and very diverse, and we face a lot of different issues. One big problem is that so many people commute to Atlanta for work, which leads to these huge, hours-long traffic jams. I think the best solution to that is investing in making MARTA better and safe, which can keep traffic out of 75 / 85. We currently spend a huge amount of money on highways; increasing MARTA’s funding by even a small fraction of that amount would greatly improve congestion.
Another concern is improving higher education opportunities. We have great public universities, but they’re quite far away from this district, and I think there’s a lot we could do to invest in our local community colleges such as Perimeter College at Georgia State University. This can prepare our students locally for greater success. There’s so much competition, which can be very stressful for students, but if we can provide more affordable educational opportunities here, we can alleviate that pressure and ensure our kids have a bright future.
Georgia is a politically diverse state. How will you work to represent Georgians whose political views differ from your own?
My goal is to be someone who listens to everyone. That’s the most important job of a public servant. I think what we’ve seen in our country is that half the people believe one way and the other half the other way, and we refuse to come to an agreement, which prevents any long-term success.
So my goal is always to build consensus. Anything I’m doing, I will listen to every side and make sure that our decision takes into account everyone’s concerns. That’s really my goal here. I think a lot will involve building a diverse team with people from across the district and throughout Georgia, and making sure that we’re intentionally reaching out to other communities which are different from the people I might usually talk with as well.
If elected, you will be the first Gen Z State Senator in Georgia. How do you plan to engage and represent the interests of younger voters in the state legislature? What initiatives or policies do you believe will resonate with the younger demographic in your district?
Young people are very interested in politics, but there’s fewer avenues in politics for them to have their voices heard, which is why we see them at the forefront of many protest movements. I believe protests are very important for raising awareness and challenging the status quo, but I want to provide an alternative for young people to get involved in politics and make concrete changes. I’d love to bring high school and college students into my campaign and really represent their interests. I want to focus on pressing issues like the climate crisis, economic sustainability, and infrastructure. I also want to highlight the importance of ensuring public safety, protecting reproductive rights, and ensuring access to mental health resources and counseling for all.
I think it’s easy for young people to become disillusioned when they see things such as politicians trying to overturn elections or creating restrictive voting laws. So, I’ll make sure to fight to make sure our system works. I’ll advocate for everyone’s voice to be heard in government by creating an independent redistricting commission and keeping our elections secure.
All of these areas are areas where young people are already interested and engaged, and I will provide a platform for them to really use the system in order to make sure that their voices are heard.
Your stance on gun control.
The Second Amendment is a fundamental constitutional right, and it’s really important to make sure that we do have the right to bear arms. I’m all for law-abiding gun owners to have and use guns, but we must ensure that guns don’t fall in the wrong hands. It’s easier to get a gun than it is to get a driver’s license in Georgia, which is incredible. We need to add basic protections such as effective background checks and red flag laws, and prioritize campus safety by reducing gun violence in schools. I definitely think there’s a way to strike a balance between respecting people’s rights, responsible gun ownership, and public safety.
On October 24, 2023, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the state’s “heartbeat” abortion ban is constitutional and will remain in place. The 6-1 ruling rejected a lower court’s reasoning that the six-week abortion ban was unconstitutional. What is your take on this?
I firmly believe that it’s important to support a woman’s right to choose. We can’t allow the government to intrude on every single part of our family lives. I do think it’s important to encourage people to have families and children, but the right way to do it is through support, not force. We should focus on initiatives such as tax credits with people with children, improved access to childcare and family leave, to give families the economic support and opportunities they need to succeed. Let’s focus on incentives to have families instead of heavy-handed legislation restricting abortion.