Honolulu-born Ven Neralla's road to Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Ven Neralla, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal’s deputy chief of staff, who is joining Congressman-elect Andy Levin as the Michigan Democrat’s chief of staff, has said his former boss was “extremely supportive and helpful,” in his assuming “a new role.”

The Honolulu, Hawaii-born and raised Neralla, who spent eight years on the Hill from 2000 to 2008 as legislative director to Rep. Barbara Lee (D.-Calif.) and earlier on the staff of Rep. Peter DeFazio (D.-Ore.), acknowledged that his going to work for Levin was a natural progression after working for a quintessential progressive like Jayapal who had urged him to seize the opportunity.

In an interview with India Abroad, Neralla said, “Yes, it’s definitely a natural progression of working for progressive legends like Congressman Pete DeFazio and Congresswoman Barbara Lee from whom I’ve learned so much.

“At the same time, I’ve developed a real interest and expertise in getting new members set up and acclimated to the Hill ecosystem,” he said, noting that his eight years in the Obama administration right from its beginning in 2008 to 2016 had provided him with invaluable experience and expertise of interacting with members of Congress.

Neralla said, “Remember, serving in the Obama White House right from the beginning and then at USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) and USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development), my role has been to interpret the rhythms and cadences of the Hill to those new to interacting with it.”

Thus, he said, “Watching the new crop of members running for office this year, Congressman Andy Levin caught my attention very early and it’s a real honor and privilege to be able to work for him.

“While he comes from a legendary family dedicated to public service, he is a progressive movement legend in his own right and I can see why,” Neralla said. “In the short time I’ve worked for him so far, I’m amazed at how he is able to wholly embody in his day to day life the progressive values that so many espouse but few put into practice.”

He said that “this is thoroughly inspiring and motivating,” and expressed his gratitude to Jayapal for encouraging him to make the move.

“Without a doubt Congresswoman Jayapal was extremely supportive and helpful of my interest in assuming a new role. I’m grateful to have been able to work for her and I’m looking forward to finding ways to partner in with her in Congressman Levin’s office,” Neralla said.

He said he was looking forward to this new challenge, particularly working for a progressive like Levin in a House in the 116th Congress, which is the most diverse ever.

Neralla said besides being “extremely excited and fortunate to work for Congressman Levin, the Blue Wave that brought the congressman to the U.S. House of Representatives emerges from an optimism that we can make our lives better, our communities healthier, and our democratic institutions stronger and reject the craven fear-mongering and cynicism of the last couple of years.”

In terms of what his immediate priorities on his agenda would be and if there are any particular issues where he would assist his new boss to push, he said,

“Congressman Levin’s immediate and enduring priorities are to advocate for the residents of Michigan’s Ninth Congressional District. My role and that of all my colleagues on staff both here and in Michigan is to support this effort.”  

 Meanwhile, Neralla said he was elated that he was part of the history making foursome of South Asian American chiefs of staff going into the new 116th U.S. Congress.

“I remember being one of the only few South Asian faces when I started on the Hill in 2000,” he noted.

“Now there are probably hundreds of South Asians on the Hill helped in part by a maturing of the community that has created pipelines for students and recent grads like the Washington Leadership Program that Harin Contractor, Nisha Jain, and Satyam Khanna have resurrected in the last decade. This is so heartening.”

Asked how he came to be born in Honolulu, Neralla said his parents who hail from Andhra Pradesh had immigrated there while in their 20’s “for my father to attend graduate school.”

He continued: “Subsequently we moved to Canada for my father’s Ph.D. where I grew up outside of Toronto,” he said and then went to McGill University in Montreal, Quebec for his undergraduate studies and then coming over to the U.S.

In the first term of the Obama administration, parlaying his Congressional experience, Neralla served as director of Congressional Affairs for the Research, Education, and Economic Bureau and at the National Institute for Food and Agriculture at USDA.

Then he moved to USAID, as senior advisor for House Appropriations and Global Health at the agency, working closely with lawmakers and their aides on Capitol Hill.

In 2017, he returned to the Hill to work for Jayapal, first at legislative director and in the beginning of this year as deputy chief of staff.

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