WASHINGTON, D.C.— Two Indian American candidates—Ghazala Hashmi and Suhas Subramanyam—made history in Virginia by winning their bids for the state Senate and House in the Nov. 5 election, and along with dozens of other Democratic candidates were catalytic in turning this southern state totally blue as the Democrats took full control of state legislature.
Hashmi, an erstwhile community college professor who had immigrated to the U.S. with her parents at age four, not only became the first Indian American, but also the first Muslim American to be elected to the Virginia state Senate, while Subramanyam, a former Obama administration official became the first Indian American to be elected to the Virginia State House of Representatives.
Making her maiden attempt in politics, Hashmi, 55, defeated incumbent Republican State Senator Glen Sturtevant for the Virginia's 10th Senate District, while Subramanyam, won in the state’s 87th District, which incorporates Loudon and Prince William counties with significant Indian American population, the majority of whom are Telugu speakers.
Immediately after he history victory, Hashmi said, "This victory is not mine alone. It belongs to all of you who believed that we needed to make progressive change here in Virginia, for all of you who felt that you haven't had a voice and believed in me to be yours in the General Assembly.”
"After flipping the Senate, I'll have Democrats by my side to fight to protect Virginians from the climate crisis and senseless gun violence, and work to expand our access to affordable health care and funding for public education. I can't wait to work together in the state Senate," she said.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while congratulating Hashmi, tweeted, "I also want to shout out @Hashmi4Va, the first Muslim woman elected to the VA State Senate. As she said yesterday, her victory 'belongs to all of you who believed that we needed to make progressive change here in Virginia, for all of you who felt that you haven't had a voice.’”
Hashmi, thanking Clinton, tweeted, "I am deeply honored by your words, Secretary Clinton. You broke so many glass ceilings for women in public service."
Subramanyam, the former White House technology policy advisor to President Obama, who ran on a platform to improve education, healthcare and traffic in the region and across Virginia, in his message to his constituents, declared, "My promise to the people of Loudoun and Prince William: I will always listen to you, work tirelessly for you, and do everything I can to empower you. The campaign is over, but my work for you has just begun.”
In an interview with India Abroad, he said, “All of this was possible because of the hard work of our campaign staff and the drive and enthusiasm of our incredible volunteers. They were with us for almost two years of campaigning and helped us run a principled, positive campaign that put people first. Most of all, tonight would not have been possible without the sacrifices of my incredible friends and family, especially my incredible wife Miranda.”
Subramanyam, an attorney by training, who runs S2 Impact, a technology consulting firm that advises companies and nonprofits on law, technology and government regulations, who also enjoyed a stint on Capitol Hill as a healthcare and veterans policy aide, recalled that “my mother landed in Dulles Airport 40 years ago from India to start a new life and live the American dream. Never could anyone have imagined that 40 years later, I would represent the area in Richmond (the state capital).”
Born and raised in the United States, Subramanyam’s Indian parents are both physicians, as is his sister. He’s an alumnus of Tulane University in New Orleans, where he did his undergraduate degree and Northwestern University in Illinois from where he graduated with a law degree.
On Capitol Hill, Subramanyam clerked for Senator Dick Durbin on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he worked on reintroducing the DREAM Act and helped Senator Durbin and his team work on proposing a range of criminal justice reforms. He also served as a legislative aide handling legislation related to health care (including the Affordable Care Act), veterans, agriculture, food safety, and education.
The New York Times, in a report Nov. 6 on Hashmi’s victory, titled, “She Doubted her Place in America, Now She’s Virginia’s First Muslim State Senator,” said that “in helping to flip the General Assembly to Democrats, Ghazala Hashmi became part of a wave of Muslim women winning public office.”
It recalled how Hashmi was “on her way to work one winter morning in 2017 when she heard news on the radio that left her in a panic: President Trump’s order banning refuges from certain Muslim countries was making headlines, and she was concerned about the possibility of a Muslim registry being created in the United States.”
The Times said, she “pulled up to the community college where she worked, parked her minivan and felt frozen with fear. As a Muslim who had lived in the United States nearly all her life, she wondered, did she still have a place in the country she called home?”
But it said that “she shed those doubts on Tuesday when she became the first Muslim to be elected to the Virginia State Senate, a milestone that comes amid a wave of Muslims running for elected office across the country and increased visibility for Muslim women in politics,” and that “her victory helped to flip the Senate on a night that Democrats took control of both chambers and consolidated power across state government for the first time in a generation.”
Hashmi told the Times, “Muslims in America are just like any other American. I have been a troop leader for Girl Scouts. I have been active in my daughters’ school and volunteer work. All the things that another suburban mom might be doing, I’ve been doing.”
According to the newspaper, “after panicking in her minivan in 2017, Ms. Hashmi realized that she had two options: ‘I could continue to be quiet and accept things, or I really had to become much more visible.’”
At a victory party on the night of the election as supporters cheered and chanted her name, she he smiled and addressed the crowd, and declared, “You’ve proven, that Ghazala is truly an American name.”
An alumna from Georgia Southern University and Emory University from where she earned a BA in English and a Ph.D. respectively, Hashmi moved to the Richmond area from Georgia in 1991 with her husband Azhar and spent the past 25 years as an educator in Virginia’s college and university system, and currently serves as the founding director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) at Reynolds Community College.
Longtime Democratic Party activist and fund-raiser Shekar Narasimhan, who founded and co-chairs the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Victory Fund, the only Asian American Super PAC (Political Action Committee), elated over the performance of the Democrats in Virginia, told India Abroad, “We are taking America back one place at a time. From the School Board to the Oval Office in 2020.” He said, “Five AAPIs in the state legislature. Before Trump, one AAPI. Before Trump, House of Delegates in Virginia was 66-34 in favor of Republicans. This morning it is 55-45 in favor of Democrats or a swing of 21 seats in 2 years!”
Narasimhan said, “It did not happen by accident — its organizing, our community being awake and the continuous hateful attacks on immigrants and people of color.” He said, with two Indian Americans, one Hindu and one Muslim elected …Virginia government is beginning to look like the people it represents! America should follow soon,” he said.
Varun Nikore, president of AAPI Progressive Action, an affiliate of the AAPI Victory Fund, told India Abroad, “The AAPI Victory Fund spent a six-figure budget in turning out the AAPI community in Virginia in 2019 and it helped to yield state-wide control to Democrats for the first time in 26 years.”
“We’ve now officially cemented Virginia as “blue state,” he said, and recalled, “I moved to Virginia in 1989, I can definitely say that the changes coming to Virginia soon will be the most profound for millions of Virginians.”
Nikore, also a longtime Democratic Party activist, predicted, “ We’ll be able to enact common senses gun reform, pass the Equal Rights Amendment, be on the forefront of voting rights, pass protection for LGBTQ individuals and so much more. Our state laws as well as the ethnic composition of our legislators will now better reflect the majority of the state - that’s the power of voting in all elections.”