By Suman Guha Mozumder | Apr 27, 2018
A former engineer for Chrysler Corp. and the city of Troy has announced her candidacy for a seat in the Michigan House of Representatives. Democrat Padma Kuppa is hoping to represent District 41, a white-majority area represented by Republican Martin Howrylak.
Although Kuppa had been actively involved in community work and what she calls building bridges among different ethnicities and culture, she said she never thought she would run for political office – until last year.
“Before that, many of friends from the Asian-American community had tried to persuade me, given my two-decade-long community work that I should run for an elected office, but I did not agree, first because my children were in high school at that time and secondly I thought politics was not the appropriate field for an engineer like me to do any meaningful work. I rejected their suggestions,” Kuppa said.
The mother of two college students made up her mind to take a plunge into politics because she believed that despite her years of work in the community, she could have more impact on legislative decisions and community life if she held office.
“I was convinced that I must do more than just diversity, inclusion issues about which I have always been vocal,” she said. From 1972 through 1988, Michigan voted exclusively Republican, before becoming part of the “blue wall” that voted Democratic in six consecutive presidential elections from 1992 through 2012. Donald Trump narrowly flipped the state in 2016, defeating Hillary Clinton by just 0.2 percent which was the closest state by popular vote percentage in 2016.
Howrylak was elected in November 2012 to represent the district, which includes Troy and Clawson, two cities with diverse populations.
Kuppa said she is confident her extensive community involvement has given her a sense of what the electorate wants. She said her work with the city of Troy, including time as a member of the City Planning Commission, will also stand her in good stead.
As of April 25, Kuppa was the only Democrat in the open primary scheduled for Aug. 7. She has been endorsed by her party as well as some state lawmakers individually, besides the Indian American Impact Fund. Kuppa said that several organizations in her district are expected to announce their endorsements of her soon.
“In District 41, where there are a lot of immigrants from Asian and other countries, including India, we have moderate Republicans, moderate Democrats but going by the last few election cycles, it looks the district is going purple,” Kuppa said.
“The Democrats need to win nine seats in the state to take back the House, which they lost control of in the 2010 election and I am pretty hopeful that the electorate will choose me based on my years of commitment to the community, advocacy for inclusion and most importantly public-school education,” Kuppa said in an interview with India Abroad.
She claimed that there is a blue wave in 2018, not only in Washington, D.C., but also at the local levels in various states – including Michigan.
A community leader in southeastern Michigan for the past 20 years, Kuppa was appointed to the Troy Planning Commission in 2015 by the mayor and confirmed by the city council. She was later elected to the Zoning Board of Appeals by other members of the commission, becoming the only Asian-American member on the board. The district has a large Indian-American population and the most spoken minority language is Telugu which is the mother tongue of Kuppa, who was born in India.
Kuppa is running her campaign on the platform of education for all children, encouraging sustainable economic development, promoting a tax plan that doesn't burden children and finding common ground.
“Take for example, the public-school system,” she said. “The legislature in Michigan is making decisions that are destroying the public-school system, funding charter schools which are failing. Public-school education is one of the most important foundations of American dream,” she said. She said her personal experience of her children’s schooling in public institutions is a testimony to that.
On her campaign website she writes: “We have great public schools in Troy and Clawson. And I’d like to keep it that way. But I’m concerned about the impact of many of the policies currently being introduced, especially funding charter schools at the expense of public education. Accessible, affordable, high-quality education is essential to closing the opportunity gap and we must ensure that students from all income levels, races, and abilities are progressing in their academic and social development.”
Kuppa, who went to school in New York before moving to India and then returning to the U.S. for a postgraduate degree in engineering, has been a resident of Troy for more than 20 years. She and her husband raised their two children there. She is a recipient of the Troy School District’s Diversity and Inclusion Award, a Congressional Award for her local leadership, and was also inducted into the Michigan India Hall of Fame in 2015.