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Beyond Building Magnificent Mandirs and Mosques, We Need to Strengthen Our Political Giving Muscle

Beyond Building Magnificent Mandirs and Mosques, We Need to Strengthen Our Political Giving Muscle

  • Even though I narrowly lost my election to Michigan State Senate, I will carry the strength of the staff, the voters, the volunteers and the supporters who were with me on this journey.

November is both election season and a time for gratitude. This year in particular, my gratitude knows no bounds as I think of all who helped me in my State Senate campaign. While the outcome didn’t live up to our hopes or reflect our efforts, I am thankful for all those who supported me: the voters, the volunteers, and the supporters.

This campaign really started decades ago, when I started volunteering and serving the community to help it thrive. The local Hindu mandir, the PTAs in my children’s public schools, the City Boards and Commissions I was appointed to, the linguistic, cultural, and non-profit groups, and the regional and national advocacy organizations. They all got a bit of me while I was raising kids and working in the automotive industry.

I eschewed partisan politics; it was always about pluralism and peace, about fulfilling my dharma. I lived that through my interfaith activism with leadership in the Troy-area Interfaith Group and WISDOM, and my Patheos column under the byline ‘Seeking Shanti.’ I was reluctant to run when someone asked me for the first time (in 2005, for our school board), and even more so this time.

As a state representative, I had a difficult time as a minority in the minority — a Democrat in a majority Republican chamber, one of a handful of legislators serving a district with a lean Republican partisan tilt; the only immigrant at times (and that too, a brown woman new to partisan politics), the lone Hindu in the legislature, the highest-ranking Hindu woman elected in the state, and so on. The trails I blazed were not always rewarding: breaking glass ceilings left me with a lot of cuts. My 2018 win was invisible while other historic firsts were celebrated. My bills were blocked, stolen, and rarely advanced – even when I had bipartisan support. (I predict that my 2022 loss will also be invisible as we celebrate a Democratic trifecta in Michigan.)

However, my cuts healed as I and my legislative team served the communities of Clawson and Troy: the constituent responses and support services we provided, the community outreach, the crazy-busy schedule I maintained to stay connected with everyone in this diverse House district. I was here to help others, committed to sewa, and realized the importance of representation. Through my advocacy, we introduced Asian holiday bills, held a town hall on how to acknowledge and address anti-Asian hate, got the immigrants’ rights groups to include documented immigrants in driver’s license renewal advocacy efforts, worked with the Governor to host Diwali and Lunar New Year events, and more.

We worked through other ripples: anti-Hindu propaganda distributed at local mosques, volunteers confident about our victory who moved on to help others, and the continued challenge of getting financial support from the Indian American community.

By advocating for both the mainstream community I represent and immigrants from across the state who brought their concerns to our office, we brought more people into the political process. I even gave autographs to the young people who were enamored on seeing a legislator that allowed them to dream: they can be it when they see it. So, in January 2022, on being pressed to run and promised support, seeing a very competitive but potential path to victory, I ran for Michigan’s State Senate District 9.

Three times the size of my current House District 41, and even more diverse, I have to admit it was daunting. I hired a campaign manager early, gathered a “kitchen cabinet,” and built a campaign infrastructure to weather challenges. We were off to a great start, knocking on doors and phone banking in the spring, and created even greater momentum through the summer. Democratic leadership and stakeholders measured all of the senate candidates in competitive seats to determine which races to invest in, and this campaign was always in the top three – what else does one expect from a woman in engineering, who led global projects, and is an immigrant to boot? But all of a sudden, our fortunes changed. We were informed that polling had us down by a significant margin; my Republican opponent sent three mailers vilifying me before any other Democrat in a competitive seat got attacked; the Senate Democrats’ campaign team pulled our TV ads because of skyrocketing costs.

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We doubled down: hired a finance director to ramp up our fundraising, a field director to support our existing field team, and a digital communications company to provide localized messaging and targeted digital advertising that stayed on brand. Emily’s List, a political organization dedicated to helping pro-choice Democratic women run and win, stood by our side as we revisited and revised our campaign plan in the face of Republican PACs’ barrage of lies and disinformation, the national and state Democratic Party’s focus on other races, and the people who stayed silent.

We worked through other ripples: anti-Hindu propaganda distributed at local mosques, volunteers confident about our victory who moved on to help others, and the continued challenge of getting financial support from the Indian American community. We have built successful careers and magnificent mandirs and mosques — now, we need to strengthen our political giving muscle, build stronger coalitions to counter those who seek to divide us, and understand how early contributions are critical to helping elect one of our own in a competitive race. Our campaign was known for positive work culture, stellar office energy, the most eye-catching yard signs, and amazing snacks for canvassers (a dedicated volunteer loves to shop at Costco).

We may have lost by 795 votes or 0.69%, but our winning team left it all on the field. For that, I am ever grateful, honored, and humbled, and whatever I do next, I will carry the strength of the staff, the voters, the volunteers and the supporters who were with me on this journey.


Padma Kuppa, the State Representative for Michigan’s 41st House District serving her second term, was the Democratic candidate for the Michigan State Senate in District 9. A mother, an engineer from NIT Warangal, and an automotive and IT professional for over 2 decades, and a civic and interfaith leader for years, she is the first Indian immigrant and Hindu in the Michigan state legislature. You can reach her at padmakuppa@house.mi.gov.

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