Election Day 2010: More South Asian Candidates Than Ever!

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This year more South Asian Americans are seeking local, state and national office than ever before. (If anyone has the actual count, let us know!) An article by Prashant Agrawal in the Wall Street Journal, notes: “The rise of the Indian-American politicians has just started.”

As per PoliticsDaily.com, “Seven Democrats have launched their first U.S. House races, most in areas with tiny Indian-American populations.” On a larger scale, you may have heard of Bobby Jindal (R-LA) –  first a congressman, then elected governor, his name is being tossed around as a possible White House contender for 2012. Nikki Haley is the Republican nominee for Governor of South Carolina. And Jay Goyal, (D-Ohio), has just been listed as one of  Time Magazine’s “40 Under 40 – Rising Stars in American Politics.”

Divanee’s Sabeen Hafsa Ahmad had a chance to have a quick chat with Rep. Goyal before election day.

Rep. Jay Goyal (D-Ohio)

A quick fact-check about Jay Goyal: State Representative Jay Goyal (D-73rd District), first elected to the Ohio House of Representatives in November 2006, serves as the Majority Whip in the 128th Ohio General Assembly. Rep. Goyal serves his hometown of Mansfield and other areas of Richland County in the Ohio House of Representatives.

In his second term at the Ohio House of Representatives, Rep. Goyal has been appointed as the vice chair of the Faith-based Initiatives committee and member of the Veterans Affairs; Finance and Appropriations; and Economic Development committees, as well as the Agriculture subcommittee of Finance and Appropriations.

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Divanee: So you’re running for re-election. How do you feel being a South Asian candidate running for office?

Jay Goyal: I don’t necessarily view it through that lens that much. I just view it as running in an area which I was born and raised in. Here I am representing this area which is my home and really always has been my home so I view it as that. in terms of how the [first] election went, there were a lot of concerns about how my ethnicity might have played in the race. I come from a relatively blue-collar, relatively conservative area, so there was a question as to how well that might work out [but] I think the key to my campaign was to knock on doors. So I went around from door to door to door to door; I knocked on 15,000 doors, and by doing that, I was able to connect to people on a one-on-one basis. And whatever concerns they may have had related to my ethnicity, related to my youth, or whatever the case may have been, I think those concerns were really addressed through that door-to-door effort.

As the Wall Street Journal’s Agrawal puts it, “Jay Goyal is a name to watch in Ohio: He could well be the next Indian-American to become governor.”

Divanee: Currently there’s quite a politically charged climate, especially with the emergence of the Tea Party , how do you feel the election is going to play out in terms of that?

JG: Overall the environment for democrats in 2010 is certainly not what it was in 2006 or 2008, there’s no question about that. There’s an enthusiasm that we’re seeing for tea party candidates that we aren’t necessarily seeing for democrats. As far as the Tea Party is concerned, you know, I spoke at a Tea Party meeting in Mansfield, [Ohio] a few months ago, and there were some very difficult questions, and there were quite a few people who were very angry – but you know, there is also a segment of the Tea Party of people who are just scared. They’re either scared of their own economic security, or they’re scared of the economic security of their own children, and they just want some change to happen in terms of where the country is headed. So [with] those people you can have a very productive, constructive dialogue – so we’ll have to see how it plays out with them but you know, I think for them (Tea Partiers), it’s just a manifestation of their being concerned about the economy.

Illustration by Peter Arkle for TIME

Divanee: So you think it’s more of an economic question then? Or do you think that ethnicity and culture have a negative role, and if so, that there is a way to dispel those fears?

JG: Yeah I think it is more of an economic question. I think they, like every organization have elements [or] may have certain feelings that people would not be okay with. But the experience I’ve had in meeting [tea partiers], is that there is an overriding concern basically about the economy. I think getting involved and talking one-on-one dispels those fears.

Divanee: So how would you recommend getting involved?

JG: There are so many easy ways to get involved. You can volunteer, donate money, you can get your friends and family to volunteer. It’s really easy  if you’re committed to doing it. Knocking on doors as well, making phone calls… if you’re committed to doing it, then it’s so easy to get plugged in.

2010 Candidates( from L to R): Manan Trivedi, Ravi Sangisetti, Jay Sean, Jay Gopal, Sam Arora

Divanee: How do you feel about events for South Asian candidates like yourself, having celebrities coming to help you? For example, having Jay Sean at the IALI 2010 Conference?

JG: Jay Sean is such an awesome guy – I mean the only reason he was [at the conference] was to support us and you can tell it means a lot to him and I totally respect him for that.

Divanee: Well we’re wishing you luck and can pretty confidently say that the South Asian community is proud to have you running for re-election.

JG: I have a lot of people who come up to me to tell me how proud they are that I was elected –they’re so happy for me. That means a lot – thank you. It’s so great talking to you guys.

For more information about Jay, head to his website: JayGoyal.com.

Have you found your local polling station? Need help? Look it up in 2 seconds on Google Voter Info!

Co-Editor Sabeen H. Ahmad with Rep. Goyal

Sepia Mutiny has a list of other South Asian Americans running in this year’s election.

Check out this NPR article too!

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