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Incumbent Kentucky State Rep. Nima Kulkarni Wins Democratic Primary Despite Legal Challenges

Incumbent Kentucky State Rep. Nima Kulkarni Wins Democratic Primary Despite Legal Challenges

  • While the state Supreme Court cleared her for the May 21 ballot, a case filed by for state representative Dennis Horlander will begin oral arguments next month.

Incumbent Kentucky state Rep. Nirupama ‘Nima’ Kulkarni has won yesterday’s Democratic primary despite legal challenges facing her ballot. The Indian American received more than 75 percent of the vote, while her challenger William Zeitz had just 22 percent, according to the Associated Press.

Kulkarni was cleared to run for re-election just a day before the May 21 primary by the state’s Supreme Court. Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice Laurance VanMeter “issued a two-page opinion that said the primary election between Kulkarni and Democratic challenger William Zeitz can proceed as planned,” the Lexington Herald-Leader reported. 

However, election officials can’t certify the race results until the Supreme Court authorizes it. In the meantime, Kulkarni and Horlander “must submit written briefs about their dispute to the high court by May 31, “ VanMeter said, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. Oral arguments for the case are scheduled for June 6, he said.

The legal challenge stems from a court filing by Dennis Horlander, a former state representative whom Kulkarni unseated in a 2018 primary. He says her candidacy is “invalid because one of the required witnesses on her filing paperwork was a registered Republican when she signed the form,” the Lexington Herald-Leader reported. The Kentucky Court of Appeals sided with Horlander last week. Kulkarni appealed that decision. “The Court of Appeals got it wrong and ignored major components of the law, disenfranchising voters a day before early voting begins,” she said. “We are absolutely fighting this unjust decision.”

Kulkarni, an attorney, won her first election in 2018, becoming the first Indian-American ever elected to the Kentucky Legislature. She defeated Horlander, who was in office for the past 20 years and has often run unopposed in this largely Democratic district, in the Democratic primary. She defeated Republican Joshua Neubert in the general elections. In 2020, she again defeated Hollander in the June primaries and ran unopposed in the general elections. 

She immigrated to the U.S. with her parents at age six from Jamshedpur.  Unlike many immigrants who come to the U.S. in search of better financial opportunities, her parents, Suhas and Surekha Kulkarni, left their cushy lives in India to seek special education opportunities for her brother Nikhil, who had learning disabilities. Her father was an executive in India. The family arrived in Louisville in 1986 and opened a corner grocery store in Germantown.

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Her family knew that working hard was important to their new life as Americans and both Kulkarni and Nikhil worked delivering groceries. “Working there wasn’t scary for me,” she told American Kahani in an earlier interview. “It was mainly fun. I saw that the community embraced us, although the residents were predominantly older White folk who had lived there for generations. They couldn’t pronounce my parents’ names. But looked out for us. So we never had to keep a gun in the store. At that time, we were amongst a handful of brown immigrants to Kentucky. It wasn’t normal, as normal as it is now to see all these Indian families here, post the ‘90s.”

This sense of community shaped and influenced her later foray into public service, along with her parents’ motto of giving back. She was educated in the Jefferson County Public School System and graduated from Atherton High School. She received both her B.A. in English and her M.B.A. from the University of Louisville. “Ultimately, because of my experience, education and background, public service became the right path for me,” she said, Interested in policy and not really looking to practice law, Kulkarni went to D.C. for law school. She received her J.D. from the David A Clarke School of Law, University of D.C.

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