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We need representation at the Georgia Capitol: House District 50 candidate Narender Reddy

REPORT BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE
INTERVIEW BY VEENA RAO & JYOTHSNA HEGDE

Atlanta, GA, April 20, 2022: Home to more than 83,000 people, the City of Johns Creek is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the state and nation, representing many countries and cultures from around the world. With two elected Indian Americans on the city council, the city is now bracing for another popular Indian American, Republican businessman Narender Reddy who announced his candidacy for the newly-drawn House District 50 in North Fulton, to represent them at the Capitol.

Reddy is a lifelong businessman and entrepreneur with rich experience in banking, finance, and real estate. In his exclusive with NRI Pulse, Reddy discussed his priorities, policies, and vision for Johns Creek, along with his long-standing association and engagement in the Republican party and the Indian community.

Reddy earned his M.B.A. from the University of Evansville, Indiana. He is a 35-year resident of Georgia, having been appointed by both Governor Sonny Perdue and Governor Nathan Deal to serve as a Board member of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA). As a GRTA board member, Reddy actively works to help Georgia communities with transportation.

He is the owner and President of Sterling Realty Services, Inc., a commercial real estate firm, and was a Founding Director of Quantum National Bank where he used his experience in real estate to ensure successful loan screening of applicants.

Reddy is the father of two grown children, both of whom graduated from Woodward Academy in North Fulton. Both of his children are medical doctors today.

What took you so long to run for office?

I think everything in life happens at its own time. About 10 years ago, I did contemplate running for state senate. At the time, the incumbent was supposed to run for lieutenant governor. He changed his mind, and I didn’t want to run against a Republican senator who was well respected in the community, in political circles and at the State Capitol. So, I dropped. After that, I did not get the opportunity to run for an open seat, until now. Even though my intention was to run for the state senate, I decided to settle for the State house.

Also, (from a personal viewpoint) the time is right because my children are professionally settled, they are married and have children of their own. And I thought I would run for our next generation so that they can be inspired, and more people will think of running for office.

Back in 2004, you were the first Indian American to be elected a delegate to the Republican National Convention held in New York where George W. Bush was nominated for the second term. And then, you were invited to speak at the convention in 2008—where you urged the GOP leadership to make special efforts to bring ethnic groups like Indian-Americans into its fold. You also stressed the lack of a diverse population at the State convention. You were pretty much the only Indian American that we knew of in the party in Georgia. How has that changed in recent years?
It has taken a long time, but I think we are slowly getting there. I see that when I am out meeting people or when I see the voters list from 2018 and 2020, there is a significant size of Indian population who are voting in the Republican primaries, but we still have a long way to go.

I feel that the party is not doing enough to bring different ethnicities in. The Indian American community is close to what the Republican Party believes in—education, family values, ownership, hard work, and success. Unfortunately, Indians have not really understood the philosophy of the Republicans. They think the Republican Party remains all white—which is true to some extent—but unless we make a move, we cannot be in the party and unless we go forward, we won’t have a place at the table. We have to fight for a place at the table. Unless we do that on our own, it’s not going to happen. And it has been 30 years since I’ve been fighting to ‘activate’ Indians politically.

You are a lifelong businessman and entrepreneur with real experience in banking, finance, and in real estate. How is this experience going to help you effectively represent taxpayers?

When legislators campaign, it is all about their slogans. But I don’t believe in slogans. I want action. For example, Johns Creek district is doing well economically. But we cannot take it for granted that this is going to continue. When you look at the tax incentives for new businesses these days, all of them are going into rural areas, but there should be some kind of corporate headquarters that can be moved to John Creek with proper incentives. These things can be understood only by people who have operated a business or with good knowledge of finance.  The incentives that we are giving is to build future revenues. And this is hard to explain, so people resort to slogans. But I want action. I want to do something for Johns Creek; more than what it has already accomplished.

What are your top three priorities for the city of Johns Creek?

Education, Public safety and Transportation. I want to address the gridlocks on highway 120. I want to see Johns Creek’s economy continue to grow. We seem to be okay in terms of public safely. But then, we thought Buckhead is very safe, but not anymore. Bullets are flying and cars are getting carjacked, which is also happening on 141. If you’re not careful, if you don’t support and fund law enforcement, crime could come to Johns Creek. It won’t take long. That’s why I met with the police chief of Johns Creek and discussed this concern. He agrees that we are safe for now, but we can never say it is going to continue like this forever, so they are being proactive in planning for the safety of the community.

One of the biggest issues in Johns Creek is the storm water runoff. Do you have any plans to address this issue?

Yes. One suggestion was to create a state authority or state board but when you make it a statewide issue, you get into politics. A section of people will not be in favor of developing only Metro Atlanta (because most of the storm water problem that we have is in Metro Atlanta). My suggestion would be to have a regional authority combining Fulton, DeKalb County, Forsyth and Milton (if there ever happens to be one in future) counties. They should be funding to build a common solution for the storm issue. One thing they can do is maybe charge a 0.25% sales tax for creating/funding this authority because without money, nothing is going to happen. Ideas will remain ideas unless it is funded. This is one of the problems I am thinking of taking to state legislature. Maybe together we can find a solution.

How do you feel about George’s economic and medical response to the pandemic – the issues of stimulus checks, mask and vaccine mandates, and also the federal Cares Act?

Governor Kemp did an excellent job of protecting our health. People suffered, some lost their lives because of the pandemic, but he did not shut down the economy. That’s the reason we had 1.2 or $1.6 billion in surplus, which is being given back to the taxpayers. No other state can claim that kind of progress in the economy during the pandemic. In the beginning, our own citizens were negligent. They were not careful in protecting themselves; going to places without a mask and ultimately, they learned to do that. But we don’t need to have a mandate. And only once there was a problem of not having enough beds in the hospitals. In the end, they prepared thousands of beds. We were able to catch up with everything. The administration was very good. And even the CDC agreed to that.

What are your views on the SB 202, the voting law which critics say restricts the voting rights for historically marginalized communities?

Someone has to explain this to me. In the past 25 to 26 years, nobody has ever stopped or intimidated me at the polling booths or anywhere. I don’t know why people say that. And what is wrong with requiring a photo ID for a mail-in ballot? If you don’t have a photo ID accompanying your application, voter harvesters can collect somebody’s name and they can mail the applications and they can get to their address the ballots and mail them back. These kinds of possibilities are out there. In India, we have more than 800 million voters, all of whom have a photo ID. Is America so poor that we cannot afford a photo ID for the application or to produce it at the polling station? People objecting to this kind of thing just want to find any issue. The bill has no teeth to it. It is already in practice. Most of the proposals that they include in the bill 202 is a reinforcement of that law. But we really don’t need that when it not going to accomplish anything more than what is already in place.

What is your education policy? And explain your position on Critical Race Theory in classrooms.

Johns Creek doesn’t have charter schools. The only charter schools we have access to is in Alpharetta. Northview and Johns Creek high schools are highly rated high schools in Georgia. My thinking is that we need to encourage the over performers or gifted students to compete with more students of their caliber rather than competing with underperformers. So, we can take the cream of these schools and let them go to charter schools where they can compete with high caliber students. That is when they can accomplish more in their lives, increase their ranks also maybe go to Ivy League schools.

About CRT—why do we spoil a young mind creating these doubts? When I see my grandkids playing in the school grounds, I see them hugging and playing with all kinds of people. They don’t see color, or other differences. Why create this kind of color barrier in their minds so that they will say okay, I’m maybe I’m white so I have to play with a white kid only. Or maybe I’m Indian and I have to play only with an Indian kid. We cannot keep talking about color. The more we talk about it, the more it is going to be there. We can do CRT kind of things at a higher level—after high school maybe, or at least junior year of high school, but not in the fourth grade or third grade. We don’t want to introduce these racial theories and create more divide. I don’t want to corrupt young minds.

There are they say about 1.4 million Georgians who are uninsured and many more are at risk of losing coverage. What are your views on health care issues in Georgia and what would you do to improve them?

I know that Stacey Abrams is proposing that we need to reduce the income level to get more people in. With the money that we allocate for Medicaid, if you keep on increasing the people only but not the budget for it, the quality of health care for current users will go down because this is the same pot but more people. We need to increase the budget. And the other thing is, if the federal government hands out money, and if you accept it, it comes with a lot of strings. But I think the state and federal people should sit together and discuss how to include more people into Medicare without compromising the quality of the service that they are providing. But I do agree that we need to decrease the income level because the same income that we’ve had four years back is not buying us the same quality of life today because of inflation and other things.

We hear and I have personally experienced the effects of labor shortage in Georgia and Johns Creek, many of who have quit the work force. Many who quit cited poor treatment and pay at their workplace. What would you do to improve working people’s economic conditions so that they return to work?

They are increasing minimum wage. Even though it is a $7.25, now we cannot find people for $15 per hour. Even Chick fil A and QT are paying $15, and are still not able to find enough people. I’ve noticed that during the pandemic, people lost the aptitude for work. They would rather have free money from the federal government. They’ve lost the ambition to work and succeed.

And it’s not only during the pandemic. It started about about 15 years ago. I’ve been in this country 40 years. The ambition that we had at the time and the affluence we saw in the community at that time is not there anymore. People are kind of adapting to socialistic thinking now—all that I need is two meals a day and a small apartment. I’m happy with that. I don’t know what happened to this country, but that’s the attitude. You cannot force a mandate that we should work. People have the freedom to choose what they want to do. If they want to work they will if they don’t, they don’t.  But industries are suffering, particularly small businesses, because they are not getting enough people and when they increase the cost, the customer is not coming back. So, it is a big issue. Actually, the governments, both at the state and federal levels, should focus on this and also stop giving freebies.

How certain are you that District 50 will vote Republican and what is your strategy to make that happen?

My campaign is going to be mostly focused on economy. We want to protect the economic growth of John’s Creek. The one thing I have in my favor is that Dr. Michelle Au, who is current state senator, got demoted now basically because she chose to come and run in Johns Creek as a representative. Her district was redrawn and became more pro-Republican and she didn’t want to take chances. That will work in my favor.

Another reason it will work is because she’s very radically left. In Johns Creek, 40% people are swing voters. They look at the candidate, they look at the issues that candidate is focusing on and vote based on that. They are not really party loyals. There are so many people who voted Republican before who voted for Democrats in the last election. From our analysis, in the beginning even before I decided that I want to run into this this race, I noticed that there is a good possibility that I can win against Dr. Michelle Au. She has a voting record in the legislature already that I can bring in front of the voters whereas I don’t have any voting record in the state legislature because I’m running for the first time. So, my thinking is, whatever a radical left agenda is, it is not suitable for Johns Creek. And she’s not going to budge on her agenda at all. She strongly believes in it. So, I think that is going to help me a lot. For me, winning the primary is more difficult than the November election.

You are in the fray against two strong Republican women. What is your strategy to win against them?
When Igo to the party meetings, I show them my association with the party for the last 30 years. My opponents are grassroot volunteers and grassroot activists. Whenever there is an issue, they will protest and all that, which is a good thing. But at the same time, they don’t have the experience at the legislature level or the Governor’s office or Speaker’s office. When I win the election, I have access to the Governor’s office or wherever I want to go at the high level. I also know a lot of legislators personally. So, what I’m presenting to Johns Creek voters is, if you want to get something done, I am the one you need to look at.

One of my opponent claims that she has been in Johns Creek for 23 years. Reddy moved just now. Well, Reddy moved to Johns Creek now, but he was living just across the Chattahoochee River. I was not living in New York or New Jersey. Those three years don’t mean anything when I’ve been in this area for the last 30 years. And my children went to school in North Fulton even though I lived in Gwinnett. I’ve been aware of North Fulton issues. These two opponents cannot beat me on my experience in the party. I went twice as a delegate to the national conventions. And I was a presidential electoral college member. And also, for the last 18 years, I’ve been serving on the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority appointed by Governor Sunny Purdue, and later on reappointed by other governors. I’ve been serving under three Governors’ administrations. That shows that I can work with anybody. Usually when new governors take over, they bring their own people, they put new people into the boards but that never happened with me. With all these connections and all my working relationships with other people, I can get more accomplished, because I don’t believe in slogans, I believe in action. I will do things quietly.

In September 2021, Racist ‘No Dot’ signs cropped up on Kelly Mill Road and Bethelview Road in Forsyth. And this was a year after the Atlanta Spa shootings. How would you address AAPI hate issues, should they arise in Johns Creek?

These are the very reasons we need to have a seat at the table. Because we cannot be on the sidelines and expect somebody to come and rescue us. We have to have representation in the legislature. Once we have that, when these things happen, we should be able to tell the police to have more patrols in that area. But we have to have the power. So far, what we are doing is, writing letters, reading petitions or we go online and such. But, if you have power, you can talk to the Governor or you can talk to county police chiefs and tell them to have more patrols.

We need representation at the State house. So far, no Indian American has run for this office. And one thing I want to share with you is when I go knocking on the doors—I have been to 1200 homes so far, but my goal is to finish 4000 by the time the primaries over—our own Indian American people shut the door on me saying, “Oh, you Republican. We are registered Democrats.” What some of our Indian friends don’t understand is that there is no registration in Georgia to register your party affiliation. Registration is required in states like New York and New Jersey. Here, you can vote beyond party affiliation.

We’ve known you for 20 years now. And we’ve all been friends whether we are Republican or not. But now the country is so divided. Even families are divided. What do you think we can do to heal the country?

Believe it or not, as a Republican, I’ve had a tough time in our own community, particularly in the last four years. I’ve lost a couple of friends I’ve known for over 25 years. They stopped talking to me. Healing is not going to happen overnight.

So, what I request the voters of the Indian American community to consider is this – if you elect me and when you call me for some help, I’m not going to ask if are you a Democrat or Republican. You are a voter. That’s all. And also, you have known me for a long time. I have helped the community with my political influence. I’ve made phone calls to senators or congressmen to get things done. The Indian community should consider this a united effort to elect one of their own to the state legislature. Let me give the Jewish community as an example. The Jewish community is only double the size of our population in the country. Today they have 26 congressmen and 10 senators, and we have four congressmen, that’s it. And we’ve never had a seat at the Senate.

Even though the Jewish population is only 2.4% of the population, they have two Supreme Court chief justices and five years ago they had four. The Jewish community comes together when one of their own is contesting in the election. And they are also like Indian Americans with more than 70 – 75% of them registered Democrats. But come election time, they look to see if there is a candidate who is Jewish. They will vote for him because they know that they can count on him. We (our community) should do the same and vote for a candidate of their community, irrespective of party affiliations.

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