- Kesha Ram, a progressive Democrat, and Meg Hansen, a Trump Republican, are vying to win in a state which is not known for diversity or gender parity.
One of the most progressive states in the country, Vermont is not strong on diversity. Interestingly, two women with roots in South Asia are in the race for a seat in the Vermont state Senate.
Kesha Ram, running from Chittenden County, has been the youngest legislator in the country when at 22 she was elected to the Vermont Legislature as a State Representative.
She happens to be the great, great granddaughter of Sir Ganga Ram, an engineer and philanthropist who was the architect of modern Lahore, now in Pakistan and in whose memory the Ganga Ram Hospital in New Delhi was named after.
As Kesha Ram says in her introduction as a candidate, “Between my Indian immigrant father, my Jewish mother, and the Irish pub they owned in Los Angeles, I grew up in a household that valued hard work, inclusivity and contributing to the family business.”
She attended the University of Vermont where she was elected Student Body President and graduated with Honors in Natural Resource Planning and Political Science.
She got initiated into politics in 2006 when she introduced Sen. Bernie Sanders and then Sen. Barack Obama at the Ira Allen Chapel in Burlington, Vermont. Sen. Obama urged her to run for office and two years later they shared a ballot.
He became the 44th President of the United States and she became the youngest Legislator in the country. She also became the first woman of color to represent Burlington in the Vermont House of Representatives.
Kesha has championed affordable homeownership, green job creation, paid family leave, expansion of early and higher education opportunities, criminal justice reform and civil rights. She spearheaded tax relief to first time home buyers and worked to protect victims of domestic violence.
Through all these initiatives, she says she strives to build an economy that moves the state forward.
According to VTDigger, an investigative news publication of the state, “Kesha Ram is set to become the Senate’s first woman of color’ following the primary election in August in which incumbent Sen Chris Pearson, barely held on.”
On the other side of the ideological divide is Meg Hansen, who is running on the Republican ticket from Bennington County. She advocates unfettered economic freedom as the path to prosperity. “Vermont has lagged behind (in 49th or 50th place) for decades. We have a structurally weak economy shackled by over-regulation, punishing taxes and anti-growth economic policies,” she says in her election manifesto.
Hansen was born in India and her parents came to the U.S. when she was seven months old. “They belonged to the highest caste of Brahmins but had to leave their country due to lack of economic freedom and opportunity in a socialist system,” she has stated in her interviews with Radio Vermont and VTDigger.
She lost her mother at 8 years of age. To live up to societal pressures in the Indian diaspora, she went to study medicine in India which she completed in 2007. With no interest in pursuing the profession, she went to fashion school in Italy, worked in Oslo and London and eventually got a Masters in Liberal Arts at Dartmouth College to pursue her dream of being a writer.
Currently she runs a communications firm in Vermont. Her ‘international’ exposure seems to add to her appeal in rural Vermont where she uses the motto, “Small towns, big hearts.”
Her fiery speeches, full of verve and energy have tickled the interest of many in her constituency, making up for her lack of political experience.
Strongly critical of the Left movement on the home turf of Bernie Sanders, her path has not been easy. She has been called a “race traitor” by those on the far left. And those on the far right (such as a Republican politician whom she refuses to name) tell her to “go back to her country.”
Unlike the Republican governor of Vermont Phil Scott who is opposed to Trump, Meg is a Trump supporter. The reason, she says, is because she is for economic freedom.
She got edged out of the race for Lt. Governor of Vermont by Scott Milne in August and was then encouraged by the party to run for Senator. She is a healthcare advocate, opposed to Obamacare.
Vermont has another dubious distinction of being the only U.S. state not to have sent a woman to the Congress. With stalwarts like Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leary holding on to their seats for decades, there has not been room for anyone else. For now, two women of color are livening up the scene in the State Senate race.
Alpana Varma worked as a Research Assistant at the Delhi University and then as a journalist for over 10 years for several leading national dailies. After leaving India for Europe, she has been working as a teacher, translator and freelance writer and editor. She lived in Mexico briefly where she worked in intercultural communications. Currently she is based in Miami.