Monday, August 07, 2006

Raj's Interview with Sepia Mutiny

Below is Raj’s interview with Sepia Mutiny. The interview occurred on Monday.

This morning on Sepia Mutiny we are going to try something new. One of the reasons we started SM was to see if we could get more members of the South Asian American community involved with politics and in shaping the national agenda/discourse. One of the many ways to try and accomplish this is for some of you to run for elected office. As you know, we often feature desis from both sides of the aisle who are seeking elected office at a variety of levels from very local to national. Today we are interviewing the Republican congressional candidate for Pennsylvania’s 13th District (near Philadelphia), Raj Peter Bhakta. Most of you are familiar with Bhakta as a former contestant on NBC’s The Apprentice. He is running against first term Democratic incumbent Allison Schwartz. Bhakta’s website lists the campaign issues most important to him and he also has a blog where he writes down thoughts about the race and his district.

So here is the twist. SM isn’t a newspaper nor do we want to be. I am not going to just ask questions and have Bhakta answer the few that I think are relevant. His campaign is asking for help from all quarters including the South Asian American community. He needs both money (his opponent has way more than him) and volunteers. So why don’t you all interview him. Questions from Philly area mutineers are especially welcome. He has kindly agreed to check this website several times today and answer some of your questions directly. Myself and the other bloggers will moderate. This means please be polite and respectful to our guest. Hopefully we get this kind of direct interaction with others in the future and it would be a shame to set a bad example here.

Last week I sat down with Candidate Bhakta (and when I say “sat down” I mean I emailed him some questions and he emailed me back) just to get us started. Think of this as our own version of Meet the Press.

Abhi: I believe you are just over thirty years old and are running for a Congressional seat. That is roughly the same age as a good portion of our readers. What made you decide that you wanted to run for U.S. Congress as opposed to starting out locally and gaining experience with a position in Pennsylvania’s state government first?

RPB: It’s always been my intent to run for political office. When I graduated from high school, I promised myself that I would run for office by the age of 30 - I also had a caveat to run earlier if I made a great fortune before 30. Well, 30 came first.

On a more serious note, I am running hard now because I am convinced that if we don’t have more responsible leadership in Washington - the promise of the American Dream, of which I am a product, will begin to fade. If it does fade, so will America. And I won’t let that happen without one hell of a fight.

As far as experience goes, it is an asset not coming from a long background of spending the people’s money. I am proud to have been making a living, and paying taxes instead of living off the back of the taxpayers.

Finally, as for age, if you ask me, I’m feel like a running a little behind schedule. Life is short and there is much to do.

Abhi: Many political candidates running for office like to put their wife/husband and their 2.5 children in front of the camera as often as they can in order to come across as “wholesome.” Do you think that being a bachelor (with a bit of a reputation as a ladies’ man) puts you at a disadvantage?

RPB: People are tired of phony politicians with their scripted phrases and staged family campaign shots. Many of these folks who make such a strenuous effort to make it look like they have a perfect family life are engaged in a giant farce - before themselves and before the voters.

People want their elected leaders to be sincere, and I have had no more deep and sincere that to provide every American, whether first generation or seventh generation, a fighting chance. That is America’s sacred mission in my view and I’m committed to it.

And if people think it is improper for me, a young single man, to have asked Anna Kournikova out for date - well, what can I say? It is precisely correct behavior in my view. As I said on the show, there are no points awarded for not trying. None.

Abhi: What is the single most important local issue (within your district) that concerns you? What is the single most important national issue?

RPB: My district faces the scourges of sprawl in the suburbs and crime in its urban areas. Local officials entrusted with our quality of life have not done their part to safeguard it. I hope to provide leadership in Congress on that front. An important national issue that is of great importance to my district is medical liability reform. We desperately need to keep excessive lawsuits from destroying the practices of many good doctors.

Abhi: In your opinion/experience do South Asian Americans contribute enough money to political campaigns? If not, then why not? Do you think they are just uninspired by candidates or are they uninterested in politics in general?

RPB: I think the process of Indians and other South Asians in America gaining interest in politics is certainly taking shape. We are a group of mostly new Americans who have largely done very well at achieving the American dream. If fact, it is a source of tremendous pride for me to be part of one of the most successful immigrant communities in the entire history of this country.

Think of what we have achieved in a basically a generation. It’s a staggering achievement. Though patriotism isn’t in vogue in many circles these days, it’s a tribute to our community and it’s a tribute to America.

It is only a matter of time before we be become a great political force.

We’re getting more and more engaged. And the yawning gap between our economic success and our political infancy will begin to close. I’m doing all I can to that end.

But I’d be lying if I told you I’m not at times disappointed with our community’s lack of enthusiasm for politics. But it’s changing and it will continue to.

Abhi: To the best of your knowledge are there any particular issues that South Asian American voters in your district care about more than the average voter? Are there any issues that you have a position on that you feel might inspire South Asian American voters from outside of your district to contribute to your campaign?

RPB: One important action the government needs to take, which I have championed, is to allow greater numbers of bright, skilled immigrants to come to our shores. South Asian Americans have brought so much excellence to this country, we should not be hindering more of them from doing so.

Abhi: What one point of concrete advice can you give our readers who might want to run for a Congressional seat of their own someday?

RPB: Go for it! And then stick with it. Put on your battle armor and hammer away. Persistence pays.

Abhi: The latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll suggested that voters, by a nearly 3-1 margin, are thinking of voting for a Democratic candidate this November. You are running against a Democratic incumbent in a political system that is rigged in favor of the incumbent. What is it about the Republican Party (e.g. issues or ideals) that most compels you to identify as and run as a Republican rather than as an Independent or a Democrat.

RPB: The Republican Party is doing a flat-out awful job of sticking to it’s principals, but in it’s ideals I believe: I have faith in the American individual over government bureaucracies. I believe in small government, and clean government, I believe in teaching people how to fish in indeed of giving them hand-outs day by day. In this sense, I’m a Republican.

This having been said, too many of those attributes I’ve named have not been adhered to, and, in the realm of foreign policy, we’ve recently pursued a course far more radical than conservative. And the results have not been favorable.

Abhi: Can you give us just a couple of examples of the media sources you read to keep well informed about the issues relevant to your campaign (i.e. do you have a favorite magazine or newspaper or website)? I am sure most of what you need to know you learn from talking directly to the voters, but where do you turn to get smart on the rest, especially national issues?

RPB: I read the local papers. For national news of the day, I generally check out the Drudge Report.

Abhi: I noticed that a video on your website accentuates the high energy aspect of your campaign. Is this an important distinction you are making between yourself and your opponent?

RPB: This is certainly a high-energy campaign, but I wouldn’t say I’m making the distinction, so much as Allyson Schwartz is making it for me.

She’s old and phony, and largely absent from the district and I’m the exact opposite. And people are catching on.

Abhi: Has Donald Trump contributed to your campaign yet or is he as cheap as some of us suspect?

RPB: Donald Trump has been tremendously supportive, he’s done a campaign video and I suspect he’ll be even more helpful in the future.

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