- In the State Senate race, Republican engineer Binod Kumar, who ran unopposed, sailed through to the Nov. 8 general election.
Indian American attorney Rishi Bagga has won the Democratic nomination for a seat in the Florida House of Representatives from House District 35, narrowly defeating Navy veteran Tom Keen. According to unofficial results from Florida Election Watch, Bagga has a total of 4,033 or 38.7 percent of the votes, compared to Keen’s 3,964 or 38.1 percent. Bagga will face Republican House member Fred Hawkins, who won 52.2 percent of the vote in his party’s primary.
If elected in November, Bagga would be the first South Asian American and first East Asian, in the state legislature in Florida. Calling it “a big deal” for the community, Bagga told American Kahani that the growing South Asian American population in the state is not well represented. “And that’s one of the most important reasons why I chose to run,” he said, adding: “Our district is 8 percent Asian.”
The new District 35 was drawn as part of the Florida Legislature’s 2022 redistricting process and includes Eastern Orange and Osceola Counties. The Orlando Sentinel called it “one of the area’s most competitive races,” adding that “President Joe Biden carried precincts in this district by about 5 percent in 2020 and former gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum did by nearly 7 percentage points in 2018,” citing data from MCI Maps.
The close race he ran in the Aug. 23 Democratic primary definitely reiterates the fact that each vote counts, he said. “It is important to get out and vote in November, especially for our desi community.”
Bagga began his career at the Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney, “where he worked in a specialized division focused on prosecuting domestic violence crimes, and worked closely with victims to assist them both in pursuing justice and obtaining necessary services,” according to his website.
After leaving the State Attorney’s Office, he worked at a number of firms in Miami and Orlando. He handled cases as wide-ranging as criminal defense, employment discrimination, construction law, hospitality law, and numerous other civil and commercial matters. He has extensive experience representing clients in many industries, including hotels, motels, travel agencies, physicians’ practices, event management companies, commercial retail, homeowners and condominium associations, and other businesses and associations. He is also a Florida Supreme Court-certified County and Circuit Court Mediator.
In addition to his legal career, Bagga continues to work with his parents and grow the family business. He now serves as vice president of Skyline Hotels LLC, a family-owned hotel ownership and management company in Orlando.
He also served as Adjunct Professor at Valencia College in Orlando where he taught Hospitality Law for several years. He also served as the National President of the South Asian Bar Association of North America (SABA North America), a minority bar association dedicated to advancing South Asian attorneys within the profession and advocating on legal issues affecting the South Asian American community.
He attended the University of Central Florida where he earned a degree in Political Science. He then went on to the Washington College of Law at American University where he graduated with both a law degree (J.D.) and a Master of Laws (LL.M.) in Law & Government with a concentration in Civil and Constitutional Rights. He lives in East Orlando with his wife Shelly and their 23-month-old son, Gyan.
Meanwhile, in State Senate races, Republican Binod Kumar has sailed through the Nov. 8 general election from District 5 and will go against Democrat Tracie Davis and Patrick Cooper, a write-in candidate with no party affiliation. The district consists of Baker, Bradford, Clay, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Lafayette, Levy, Suwannee, Union counties and part of Marion county.
Kumar, an engineer by trade, once worked for JEA, a community-owned electric, water and sewer utility located in Jacksonville, Florida. “He is no stranger to politics,” FloridaPolitics says in a profile. “He has run twice before for the Duval County Soil and Water Commission, coming in fourth in 2018 and third in 2020 races,” the profile said. According to FloridaPolitics, in the 2020 race, “Kumar reported no fundraising at all.”
His biographical statement on the Duval County Supervisor of Elections page describes him as “a man of science, a goal-driven no-nonsense person.” He has a graduate degree in Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of North Florida. A long-time resident of Duval County, Kumar says he has “a small family.” His son was born and raised in Jacksonville and graduated from Stanton High School, Florida State University and the University of Chicago Law School.