WASHINGTON, D.C. — Yet another Indian American Republican, Rikin ‘Rik’ Mehta, 42, of Chester Township in Morris County, has declared his intent to run for the U.S. Senate in New Jersey in 2020, challenging Democratic incumbent and presidential candidate Cory Booker.
The Houston-born, New Jersey raised Mehta, a pharmacist and lawyer, in announcing on Oct. 17 that he was jumping into the fray, said, “While Cory Booker campaigns around the country for his doomed presidential bid, the New Jersey economy continues to tank and our beautiful towns are becoming destitute.”
“For too long our state has been failed by socialist politicos like Cory, who continue to build their careers off the backs of our proud immigrant communities – while real New Jerseyans continue to struggle. No more. I spent my life fighting for communities and that’s what I’ll do in Washington,” he said.
In April, New Jersey native Hirsh Vardhan Singh, 34, an avowed Trumpite, announced that he was running again — this time to challenge Booker.
In 2017, Singh made a gubernatorial bid, claiming to have raised $900,000 that would have qualified him for the GOP primary debates, but the New Jersey Election Enforcement Commission (ELEC) refused to permit him to participate, saying it had no records of his fund-raising. In 2018, he wanted to challenge Sen. Bob Menendez but opted instead to run for Congress in the 2nd District, but lost in the primary where he was pilloried with one opponent questioning loans Singh took out to finance his campaign.
In an interview with India Abroad, he said, that this time around, the power brokers of the state GOP were all in his corner and predicted he will beat Booker who has broken all of his promises he made to get elected, and argued that the fact that he’s now trailing badly in the presidential polls makes the incumbent vulnerable in 2020.
Meanwhile, Mehta, who acknowledged that he was a political neophyte, having held no public office and that he was proud of the fact that he was “not a career politician,” when asked about the fact that he would have to stave off a primary challenge from fellow Indian American (Singh), said, “Regarding Hirsh, I am very proud when any Indian American and minorities are stepping up to get more involved in the political process because it is critical to our democracy.”
“But look, he’s (Singh) had his hand at this three times, and he keeps failing and to say the Republican Party in New Jersey is behind him is just not true. And, I know that because I hear from the Republican Party members, who are very excited about my run because I bring real policy solutions, not just taking pot shots at Cory Booker.”
Mehta said, “All of us are very disappointed at what Cory Booker has done, but my focal point is not on what he hasn’t done, but it’s on what I am going to do.”
“And, based on my background and my relevant experience on policymaking as a pharmacist and an attorney for many years, holding pharmaceutical companies accountable, while still bringing life-saving drugs to the market and that’s what we are going to be focusing on and changing healthcare,” he added.
Mehta’s professional career has straddled both the public and the private sectors and till recently, he was vice president at Aquestive Therapeutics. He is also a co-founder and sits on the board of two small businesses--Licentiam, Inc. and Lactiga Therapeutics. The first is a regulatory technology firm reducing paperwork burdens imposed on doctors by state governments, and the latter is a biologics firm developing novel treatments targeting rare immunodeficiencies.
Earlier, he worked at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), developing policies to expedite and increase access to quality, affordable medicines while fighting counterfeit and black-market drugs with the World Health Organization, and says this is where he developed his deep expertise on the unnecessarily complex set of regulations that not only make drugs expensive and healthcare unaffordable, but also disproportionality impact low income communities.
In the interview, Mehta said, “we are going to have a bipartisan effort. I believe New Jersey finally needs some real leadership with real policy. New Jersey has always been a leader as one of the first colonies and for many big issues like immigration,” and declared, “I am going to be making New Jersey as a leader in the country again.”
Asked how he envisaged matching Booker with his vast resources, compounded by the fact that New Jersey was largely a Democratic state, and how he answers cynics who may describe his run as a quixotic attempt, Mehta said, “First of all, I don’t know that his coffers will really be that padded when he comes back. He abandoned us and I think people feel that and they see that.”
Mehta also argued that New Jersey never necessarily votes on one side or the other. New Jerseyians vote with their hearts. They vote with what they think is right and that’s why people are proud of being in New Jersey. They are not brainwashed by the media and they are not brainwashed by what talking points they hear. They make conscientious decisions on things that matter to them the most and for me and for most of us in New Jersey that’s family values and the things that we want for a better community.”
He acknowledged that he would have his work cut out in raising the millions of dollars even to run a viable primary campaign in a major media market like New Jersey, but said he’s had an outpouring of support not just from the Indian American community but also from the Hispanic American community, the African American community and from many minorities “who feel that I really represent them.”
Mehta, all-in for Trump on his immigration policy, which many in the Indian American community, especially progressives, believe is racist and xenophobic, said, “I am a first generation American, my parents are immigrants, and I strongly believe in increasing border security.”
Mehta in defending Trump and his policies, argued, “To those who think that Trump is pushing an agenda of xenophobia, just look objectively at the things that have happened—we have some of the lowest joblessness among the African American and Hispanic communities.”
“And, criminal justice reform that has passed, is going to have a lasting impact for generations to come, and so, we have to start talking about real policies that’s going to help people to be free from cycles of poverty.”
On U.S.-India relations, Mehta said, “We live in such exciting times between the two countries and the relations between these two democracies have never been better.”
“When Prime Minister Modi came to Houston, it was one of the most exhilarating things that has happened to this country and when President Trump and Prime Minister Modi stood side by side, you felt the energy and see how impressive the American and Indian relations have become.”
Mehta said, once elected to the Senate, “One of the things that’s going to be the cornerstone of what I am going to be working on, is to work with the Trump administration in expanding trade relations between the U.S. and India that are fair for both parties.”
Mehta started his career in New Jersey as a drug store pharmacist and later at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, before becoming an expert in drug law and regulatory policy. He is also an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center where he commutes to Washington, DC to teach health law and global drug law and regulation.
His wife Reema, is also a former FDA official and currently serves as Pfizer’s Head of Global Risk Management and Safety Surveillance Research, and is also a representative on an FDA Advisory Committee.
Mehta received his B.S. in pharmacy from Rutgers University, his Pharm.D. from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, his J.D. from Rutgers University School of Law and a Master of Laws in Global Health Law and International Institutions through a joint program with Georgetown University Law Center and the Graduate Institute in Geneva, Switzerland.
His father, Shashi Mehta, an educator and cancer researcher, immigrated from Mumbai to Scranton, Pa., in 1969. His mother, Rekha Mehta, a cytopathology supervisor, also immigrated from Mumbai to Philadelphia in 1971.