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Two South Asian Americans Win Democratic Primaries for Pennsylvania State Legislature Races

Two South Asian Americans Win Democratic Primaries for Pennsylvania State Legislature Races

  • Tarik Khan, a Pakistani American nurse, ousted a longtime incumbent State Representative Pam DeLissio from the194th District, while Dr. Arvind Venkat, an Indian American physician, won the nomination for the state House from the newly drawn 30th District.

Two South Asian Americans have emerged winners in last week’s Democratic primaries for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Tarik Khan, a frontline nurse and former president of the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association, unseated incumbent Pam DeLissio, who had been in the House for over a decade from the194th House District, while Dr. Arvind Venkat, an emergency physician, won the nomination for the state House from the newly drawn 30th District. He will face Republican Cindy Kirk in the Nov. 8 election.

Dr. Arvind Venkat with his family.

Khan is a newcomer to state politics and says he’s running because he’s “fed up with our broken system,” and wants to “give Harrisburg a shot in the arm.” He supports a state-level Green New Deal and Medicare-for-All style legislation. 

Tarik Khan with his parents and brother.

“As a nurse, I would never tell a patient their needs are not my problem, and as a legislator, I will never tell a constituent their issue is not in my job description,” he says on his website. “Nurses, essential workers, frontline workers, we are problem solvers. When things get tough, we roll up our sleeves and work together to find solutions,” he continues. “I am running for office because after this pandemic and the failure of our government to take care of communities, it is time for new leadership. Nurses, essential workers, frontline workers, it’s our time to lead.”

The son of a Pakistani father and a Catholic mother, Khan was born and raised in Philadelphia. He is “a proud product” of the public school system and a graduate of Central High School. Khan’s father came to Philadelphia from Pakistan “to go to college and build a better life.” His mother was raised in North West Philly by a single mother, became a nurse and was the first in her family to go to college,” according to Khan’s website. “My parents taught me the value of education and working hard, and as a Muslim kid, growing up with a Catholic mother in a Jewish neighborhood it was instilled in me at a young age the importance of speaking out for righteousness and truth in the face of injustice.”

Khan, who decided to become a nurse because of his mother, has been working for the past 16 years. “I know our system is broken because I see it every day working with patients at the health center in my district.”

He managed to raise “a massive amount of money to run for what is normally a low-budget race for a seat in the Pennsylvania General Assembly,” NBC noted in a profile on Khan. “He amassed a fortune in campaign funds in just six months, including nearly $50,000 in donations from two national political organizations,” the NBC report said. 

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Khan told the news outfit that along with outraising and outspending his opponent, the money helped him get his message out to reach voters in person, through the mail and via digital platforms. “Any campaign, in order to be viable, you have to raise money,” he said. “It’s not something that comes naturally to people. It doesn’t come naturally for me. My father is an immigrant from Pakistan, he never wanted me to ask for money.”

Venkat is running for the State House because “we need a representative who has served our community through crises big and small and will use these experiences to advocate for everyone in the district,” he says on his website. “I want to bring that foundation of service and common purpose to the State House on behalf of the people of Hampton, McCandless, Franklin Park, Ohio Township, Emsworth, Ben Avon, Ben Avon Heights, and Kilbuck – the new District 30.” He told Pittsburgh NPR station 90.5 that he hopes “to bring my perspective as an ER doc and as someone who has been on the frontlines of these issues to advocate for my communities in order to get more resources for these public services and build a better future.”

An emergency physician with Allegheny Health Network, Venkat immigrated with his family to the U.S. as a child. He says on his website that his parents’ “ethic of hard work and commitment to service” inspired him to become a physician. A Detroit native, he graduated from Harvard and Yale University School of Medicine. He has lived in the town of McCandless for the last 15 years, with his wife and three children.

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