- With grassroots support for the work I have been doing for 20 years, we not only held this district in 2020, but we moved from a 2% margin of victory in 2018, to a 10-point win last week.
My civic activism started soon after a significant date: Sept. 11, 2001. Immediately after those fateful attacks, a Sikh man was killed, Indian Americans and other immigrants were being racially profiled, and I felt “otherized” more than I ever had before in the country I call home. So, I joined the City of Troy’s newly formed Ethnic Issues Advisory Board, to better engage the diversity in my hometown and across our very racially diverse region.
As a mother and an automotive and IT professional, I already had a second shift at the PTA in my children’s schools and our local mandir, the Bharatiya Temple of Metropolitan Detroit, in Troy. My commitment to seva, to serving our community to help it thrive, was extended: a couple more nights where I scoffed down dinner in a rush, as I tried to ensure that my kids had a stellar education and a sense of belonging, instead of always being the Other.
I made friends along the way — Amin, whose son Osama graduated with my son in 2016; Sadek, another FCA engineer who jumped at the opportunity to serve on the Planning Commission when I stepped down; Sam, a young Jewish woman I met through my interfaith activism and commitment to pluralism. Sam understood my reluctance to enter the binary world of partisan politics.
When I finally listened to all those who asked me to run for something, I stepped up to run for State Rep. It was on the heels of Betsy Devos becoming the Secretary of Education at the national level. I believed that I could make a difference in our state’s inadequate funding of public schools, something I had gone to Lansing to fight for during my years on the PTA and advocate for with my state legislators. After all, while my house district has traditionally been Republican, I figured I could talk about our shared values… where we believe that all children should have access to quality public education, and that we should protect our drinking water and our Great Lakes, to prevent what happened in Flint from happening anywhere else, or to prevent an oil spill from Enbridge Line 5 that could wreak havoc on the Straits of Mackinac. Sam became my campaign manager; I went door to door, raised money and withstood the propaganda, funded by billionaires across the country — and we flipped Michigan’s 41st House District!
In my first term, I worked diligently, learning how partisan the workings of the legislature are: my first bill has not moved after being passed unanimously by the first committee where it received a hearing. I hear that this is because I am a freshman in a flipped seat. All I know is that I have been unable to bring justice for Allie, a young adult with Down’s Syndrome who was the victim of an online sexual predator, and the Republican-led legislature refuses to close a loophole in the law.
I worked diligently on my second campaign, raising money to hire two new campaign staff, ensuring that my legislative team could focus on the work to support constituents, especially during COVID, and develop a strong policy agenda. I introduced bills to ensure that people with a medical history or preexisting condition would not be denied access to healthcare, that workers could earn paid sick time, polluters would be held accountable and to improve access to voting from home. On top of campaigning during Covid-19 times, I dealt with propaganda on the domestic and international front — including some threatening calls to my home, due to my co-sponsorship of a “Red Flag” law. The backdrop to these baseless attacks was the plot to kidnap “that woman from Michigan,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. But based on the grassroots support from those in my district, and friends like Amin and Sadek, who understood what I had been doing for 20 years, we not only held this district in 2020, but we moved from a 2% margin of victory in 2018, to a 10 point win last week.
As everyone sat at the edge of their chairs glued to their televisions waiting for the presidential election outcome, I struggled to come to terms with the reality of our State House losses, the seats we didn’t flip to gain majority, and the losses in House races across the country. Another longtime community leader and public servant in the district bordering mine, Barb Anness would have been a stellar ally in the House, but the “Trump surge” affected her race and several others in Michigan. People also didn’t vote all the way down the ballot — a common problem. In my own district, there was a 20% difference between how many people voted in the State House election and how many people voted on the last item on our ballot. Fortunately, the effort to fund our public library for another 10 years passed with 64% of the vote.
I’ve always been interested in asking questions, finding solutions and creating positive change. I believe we need leaders who can help us respond to Covid-19 and the climate crisis, rebuild our economy, and educate all our children. And all of this starts in our state legislatures – especially because a strategic national response to Coronavirus has been lacking. As I take a breath, and celebrate Diwali, I know we will come back stronger: the many points of light bring us out of darkness and renew our commitment to working families across our state and across our country. All politics is local, and Campaign 2022 is underway.
Padma Kuppa is Democratic State Representative for Michigan’s 41st House District and has been just re-elected for a second term. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more at ElectPadmaKuppa.com or Kuppa.housedems.com.