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How I Met Aruna Miller, Née Katragaddda, and Quickly Realized Her Leadership Potential to Make a Difference

How I Met Aruna Miller, Née Katragaddda, and Quickly Realized Her Leadership Potential to Make a Difference

  • With her science and engineering background, she will be an effective advocate to tackle some of the most important issues of our lifetime.

“Where is the rice serving spoon,” I hurriedly asked my husband as I was setting up a buffet for a political fundraiser at my home in the spring of 2018. I was trying to ensure we had the right order of the dishes – you can’t have dal before the curries in the buffet line! As I was hosting my first political fundraiser, my mind was simultaneously running through what I would say to the guests to have them dig deeper into their pockets and reach out to their networks to give to our candidate.

Just then, I heard an announcement from a campaign staffer, “someone is here to see you.” I was too distracted to pay attention to what he had said when a woman walked into our kitchen with a big smile on her face and said “Hi Anu, so nice to meet you I am Aruna Miller.” 

Author Anu Kosaraju with Aruna Miller and Akash, a Spelling Bee prodigy. Top photo, Miller campaigns with gubernatorial candidate Wes Moore.

That was my first encounter with Aruna Miller (née Katragaddda). I was caught off guard by her big, beautiful smile. I had heard about her but never met her. A friend who had been raising money for her said, “You must meet her” and brought her over. I greeted her with a hug and said you must stay for the event and enjoy lunch. She graciously smiled back, “No Anu, I can’t, maybe another time.” She saw I was in a hectic mode, so we chatted only a bit, and then she said, “I am running in the Democratic primary for Congress in MD-6 and would love to have your support.”

I knew instantly I had to support her. In the 30+ years of living in the U.S., it was only since 2017 that I had become acutely aware of representation and I was on this mission of supporting Indian-American candidates and the idea of a Telugu woman in Congress (I am Telugu) was incredibly perfect. I was raised in Madras, so I joked to my husband that since we already had Congresswoman Jaypal with a Madras connection, Aruna also being in Congress would be a nod to my Telugu-Tamil heritage. 

After my event, I went online and learned more about her candidacy and was very impressed by her impactful public service record and that she was an engineer to boot. I had known that only a small fraction of leaders in Congress had science backgrounds and was worried that if we didn’t have lawmakers who appreciated the challenges of climate change and the impacts of the medical revolution unfolding, we would not have effective advocates to legislate and tackle some of the most important issues of our lifetime. I saw that Aruna fit the Congresswoman bill to a tee and was thrilled when she later easily earned endorsement from 314 Action, a Political Action Committee that believes “scientists are essentially problem solvers.”

But, this was a David and Goliath race. Her opponent David Trone a multi-millionaire was the Largest Self-Funder in House History having spent $13 million already for a seat in the MD-8th district that he lost and had the support of CEOs and lawyers too on top of his own self-funding again for MD-6. This is the kind of battle you know in your bones you have to step up to support. I had also heard from other candidates that it is particularly challenging for women of color to raise money. But I remembered Aruna’s confidence and warmth and thought “she could win this” and a few days later, my husband and I maxed out on our contribution to support her.  

I followed her campaign closely and encouraged donors to give to her and tried to lift the dampened spirits of those who had initially raised for her as they were beginning to second guess their support as election day drew closer. I told them that they “must appreciate how difficult it is for a woman of color to even be in such a tight race with a candidate who is outspending her massively. You did the right thing to support one of our own regardless of the path to victory.” 

I remained her cheerleader and believed that her tenacity and genuine love for public service would shine through and win voters over. Soon, election night arrived and along with many of her supporters, we settled in anxiously to watch the returns of her primary at a watch party at my home. (I really didn’t care that night what order the dishes were.) As an initial gain soon turned against her, and I found myself both sad, but weirdly proud at the same time. I told those gathered Look how closely she is losing.” Because to me really Aruna won that night. 

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As an immigrant, a woman of color, she had put up a good fight against a candidate who had spent $25 million self-funding his two campaigns and losing only by 10 points was a win in many ways in my books. It was also a testament to who she was. Since then, I have seen her help other Indian-American candidates, both individually and as Executive Director at IMPACT, mobilize for Democrats and stay in the field wearing many hats but always dedicated to her values. So I wasn’t surprised when Wes Moore picked her as his Lieutenant Governor candidate.  

Beyond her credentials and effective campaigning skills, I believe he recognized that their values intrinsically aligned. They are both committed to uplifting the most vulnerable and giving every American a level playing field. A literacy advocate for over a decade, I admired Wes Moore’s leadership in lifting people out of poverty at the Robin Hood Foundation. I hope the new Democratic leadership will close Maryland’s literacy gap and set children on a path to economic success and a fair chance at the American Dream, which is becoming just a dream for many Americans. With their record and a partner administration in the White House, building an economy from the “Bottom-Up and Middle Out,” Governor Wes Moore and Lieutenant Governor Aruna Miller are the Dream Team for Maryland.  

Thaggedhe Le Aruna! (Popular Tollywood line meaning, never stopping or unrelenting.)

Anu Kosaraju is the co-founder of the private Facebook group ‘Indian Americans for Biden-Harris’ and a community organizer partnering with grassroots groups to increase civic engagement among South Asians and communities of color. 

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