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We are all better off if Congress reflects our diversity: Raja Krishnamoorthi

New York, Nov 9 (IANS)
Raja Krishnamoorthi won a seat in the House of Representatives from Ilinois on Tuesday, becoming the fourth Indian American elected to Congress.
Democrat Krishnamoorthi was elected from the Illinois Eighth Congressional District that covers some of the suburbs around Chicago.
He defeated Republican Peter DiCianni in the traditionally Democratic constituency.


Photos by Kiran Mudigonda

Atlanta, GA, July 10: To say that Raja Krishnamoorthi, Democratic nominee for Illinois’ 8th Congressional district, has bipartisan appeal in the Indian-American community would be an understatement. At a recent fundraiser organized by Dr Prasad Garimella and the Georgia friends of Krishnamoothi at the Global Mall in Atlanta, Democratic and Republican attendees were equally effusive about the suave, affable candidate who has a good chance of being only the fourth Indian-American to ever make it to the US Congress.

Krishnamoorthi won big in a three-way Democratic primary by capturing 57 percent of the votes. He has two opponents in the November 8 general election- Republican Peter DiCianni and independent candidate Bill Fraser. The district has a sizable Indian-American population.

“Our community is successful in every other field, but we are way under represented in Washington DC,” said Dr Garimella, who hosted the fundraiser. “We have only one Indian-American (Ami Bera) in the US Congress, while the Jewish community, which is only double the size of the Indian community, has 30 members in the Congress and the Senate.”

Alluding to the time in history when Indians in East Africa were given weeks to leave the country, despite being the wealthiest community there, Dr Garimella said it is important- especially in these divisive times- to come together and support our own so we can have a say where important decisions are made.

The sentiments were echoed by Dr Sreeni Gangasani, a Republican and co-host of the fundraiser, who said he liked Krishnamoorthi’s personality and wanted him in the Congress, “so he can take care of our interests in the future.”

To this, Parmesh Erramilli, another Republican added: “When you raise the footprints of a community in the social fabric (of a society), its viewpoints tend to carry weight and be taken into cognizance. Our children have hyphenated identities. However, they should be treated as Americans, not as Indians. For the sake of our children, Indian-American footprint in Congress is very critical.”

Shiv Aggarwal, owner of Global Mall, was confident that Krishnamoorthi would be a great asset in Congress, not only for the Indian-American community, but for America as a whole.

Krishnamoorthi sat down with me after the fundraising event, for a one-on-one interview with NRI Pulse. He said the purpose of his campaign was to grow and strengthen the middle class so people would be able to send their kids to college. Strengthening social security and Medicare, making childcare more accessible, giving women full and equal rights in the workforce- these are the issues his campaign is based on.

He said the middle-class, which made America great once, feels like it is under threat. Raja himself began with humble roots in Peoria,Illinois, and attended public schools there. He went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Princeton University and graduated with honors from Harvard Law School.  “An important issue for the country today is, how do we make sure that the middle class stays strong,” he said.

Krishnamoorthi, a small business owner himself, is in favor of increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 cents to $10.10 per hour. “You cannot live on that amount ($7.25 an hour). It is not fair to have the working class being unable to escape poverty even though they are working hard. We have to balance that with the idea that at some point, if the minimum wage is too high, it could discourage employment. We have to find a middle ground that everyone will buy into,” he said.

The democratic candidate who refers to his own suburban electoral district as dynamic, and a “great place to live and raise a family,” has adopted the President’s proposal of a $10.10 per hour as a national baseline, but with a way to adjust the rate depending on urban and rural areas.

While he has come out full force in favor of expanding the cap on H1-B visas, the larger issue, he said, is one of comprehensive immigration reform. “In the next Congress we need to make sure we do everything we can to move the legislation along. It is important that the next President appoint a Supreme Court Justice to break the 4:4 deadlock.”

Krishnamoorthi is upbeat about US-India relations and said it is important that the US and India continue to build that relationship, not only for economic reasons but for military and strategic reasons, because US has important interests in Asia- from Afghanistan to the South China Sea.

“As the world’s largest democracy,India has a unique role in furthering our global shared interests in the Asia Pacific region and in maintaining a vibrant democratic world order,” he said, adding that a lot of American leaders are impressed by Modi and want to do business with India.

To a question on the deeper implications of globalization and immigration as seen recently with Brexit, he said, “A lot of people don’t feel like they are on the up-escalator economically. They feel like globalization, immigration and technology are not working in their favor and so they are lashing out, and their anger and frustration is being harnessed by certain politicians to their political advantage, and to the disadvantage of the population as a whole.”

In the US, he said, Donald Trump was using those same underlying forces to propel his campaign forward, but it is a destructive campaign based on division and blame. “We have to unify, come forward and achieve solutions that work for everybody,” he said. “We need leadership- people in office tackling the very real challenges that these working families are facing on a daily basis, whether it is the out of control costs of college, exploding costs of child care or jobs slowly disappearing because of bad trade deals. We have to address this in a real fashion. If we don’t, we are going to end up these reckless moves.”

On the topic of diversity in Congress, Krishnamoorthi said he would be proud to carry on a growing tradition of increasing representation of the Indian-American community. “I am proud of my roots and heritage. We are all better off if the Congress reflects the full breath and depth of diversity in the country.”

Raja Krishnamoothi got involved in politics as a volunteer when he licked envelopes in 1991 for Bill Clinton’s campaign. To youngsters wishing to run for office, he has this advice: “Get involved- volunteer, lick envelopes, plant yard signs and go door to door. Find a cause that is bigger than yourself- a non-profit or your local mandir- and learn about the challenges your community is facing. Then you can talk about what you would do to solve them. You want to get into a position where you are tackling them – and then some day I would encourage people to consider running for office themselves.”

Madhav Durbha who emceed the fundraiser, said Krishnamoorthi was “a perfect recipe for success.” Nikhil Erramilli, a first generation American remarked that Krishnamoorthi’s career graph would inspire others to achieve high positions in politics.

It certainly would.

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