This year, a record number of Asian Americans are running for public office at the local, state, and national level. Reappropriate has partnered with Run for Something — a non-profit launched in 2017 to support grassroots campaigns to elect progressive candidates — to profile these progressive Asian American candidates for higher office. Check back at Reappropriate throughout 2018 to learn more about these candidates and find out how you can get more involved in their campaigns.
What is your full name?
Gayatri Jane Agnew
What office are you seeking?
Arkansas State House of Representatives District 93 in Bentonville, Arkansas. There is no primary in this election and this is my first time running for office.
When is the election date?
The election will occur on November 6th, 2018.
What is your party registration (if any)?
I am registered as a Democrat.
Tell me a little bit about your background in general, as well as your relationship to your identity as an Asian American?
My mother is a retired kindergarten teacher and she taught me a simple lesson – when you see injustice you don’t just wish things would change – you make them change. I’m running to make change. I know how to build community across unexpected divides, because I’ve had to do it from a very young age.
I’m a second-generation American – my father was born and raised in southern India – and I am his American dream. He is the only member of our large South Indian Catholic family to leave India. Raised as a biracial child and straddling two cultures, two worlds, I developed a deep love of America at a young age – as it was the place which allowed me to be of both places. America is a nation of immigrants and my identify as both an American and a South Indian was permitted to coexist here.
My mother is from Chicago – born to my grandparents who were from different backgrounds and different religions. Despite these differences in cultural backgrounds and heritage – or perhaps because of them – I was raised in a family of inclusion and of tolerance. Values that have been deeply instilled in me.
I attended a private elementary school on a full scholarship and was one of the only students of color in my class – I know what it means to feel other or be different. And I know how to appreciate my differences and the differences in others. I know that a good education truly is the great equalizer – because that is the game changing part of my story. My mom successful completed her teaching degree and went on to get a great job teaching- I was in middle school when she got that job and I remember how much it impacted my life. I worked hard and went on to put myself through college and eventually to get my MBA, get a female governor elected in WA state, meet a wonderful man, get married and start a family and move to Arkansas.
None of my achievements to date have been expected – coming from a low-income minority background in America can set one up for a hard road. However, I believe what most perceive as challenges have actually proved to me my single greatest assets – my background has left we me a deep understanding of how to work hard for what you want, never taking for granted your right to be in a room or have your voice heard – I’ve built the up a reserve of resilience, grit and tenacity – and this is what it will take to become the first Asian American elected to the Little Rock State House.
How did you become inspired to seek elected office?
The community I live in is changing rapidly – a third of the people who call Bentonville home didn’t three years ago – and our elected officials do not reflect these changes. This increase in diversity coupled with my firm belief that democracy is the most important cornerstone of our society are what inspired me to run. I searched for a candidate who reflected the new day coming in Benton County but came up short and decided it was my responsibility to stand up and fight for progress.
My husband and I chose Bentonville as the home we wanted to raise our children, a son and daughter ages 2 and 4, because of its focus on community and dedication to progress in arts and innovation. I want my children to know that I am doing all I can to fight for a future that works for all Arkansans.
What three issues do you think are most important to your constituents, and what step(s) do you plan to take to address them if elected?
The People for Gayatri Agnew campaign is focusing on the future of Benton County – how we talk about it, what it looks like, and what we need to get there. Due to significant growth in the last four years infrastructure and economic diversification are chief on every resident’s mind. We need a strong economy that grows a tax base to support developing infrastructure and to ensure that there is opportunity for people at all levels of the economic ladder.
As a mother and a business leader Gayatri is focused on ensuring people have access to relevant education so that people can get the skills they need to compete for jobs today and in the future. The foundation of this campaign is political civility and will be the basis of all we do. We must start talking about the issues our community faces together so we can move forward unified to address our needs.
Our campaign believes it is a new day in Benton County and we hope you’ll join us. If elected Gayatri will work with fellow legislatures on both sides of the aisle to work towards increased economic security for all Arkansans, pathways to relevant education, and political civility. Legislation to take steps towards each of these things should be achievable in the 2019 legislative session.
What impact has the current political climate had on you as an Asian American progressive seeking elected office?
I’ve had two distinct phases of reaction to the current political climate. The first was disbelief and surprise – I love this country. I trust this county – this is the place that has allowed me to flourish and to grow as a second-generation America; as a woman of color and as someone who started out in section 8 housing. I simply could not accept or believe that aspects of my America were disappearing before my eyes. From our social safety net to access to education, our civil rights and the core components of our democracy all seemed to be coming under threat.
The piece I have found most offensive and unfortunate is the narrative that America is only for some of us. This nation means so much to me and to my family – it is personal, and it is real. I will not accept the idea that this nation belongs more to some than it does to others.
The second phase of my reaction to the current political climate has been to act. To step in, step up and to run for office – I believe our democracy is far too important to sit this election cycle out. I believe we all must do that which is within our power to do – for me this means running for the state house in a small town in Arkansas – to prove that the ideals of this nation – the promise of this nation are stronger than the rhetoric being used to divide us.
What advice would you have for other young Asian Americans currently considering a career in politics and/or public service?
Lead where you land. You don’t need anyone’s permission to be a leader and leaders do not all look or act one way – find what makes you uniquely you and use it. Find the leaders who inspire you and will help you to chart your own path forward.
For me, three specific people have inspired me in really different ways: Governor Gary Locke, Governor Christine Gregoire and Senator Kamala Harris – they all showed me something I needed to see that helped me to find and to see the leadership potential within myself. Be brave. Work hard. Ask for help. And never, never give up. Your voice and your perspective is needed – your country needs you. Step up and lead.
Where can readers go to learn more about you and your campaign?
We are so excited for your readers to learn more about our campaign and get involved as they can! Below is all our contact information:
Mailing Address: PO Box 241 Bentonville, AR 72712
Phone Number: 479-310-5458
How can readers get involved to help your campaign? Are there any upcoming events you’d like for us to know about?
There are spots for everyone to get involved. We will be traveling all over the district and across the nation to spread our message about a new day in Benton County. Helping register people to vote, hosting a meet and greet, or donating to the campaign are all great ways for people to get involved!
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Run for Something recruits and supports talented, passionate young people who advocate for progressive values now and for the next 30 years, with the ultimate goal of building a progressive bench. Since its launch on inauguration day 2017, they’ve recruited 16,000 young people to run for office.