‘We are seeing more racism, bullying compared to when I was a student’

Krish Vignarajah smashes stereotypes as she aims to become governor of Maryland

 

Ritu Jha

 

It was a civil war that drove her family from their country; it is the culture wars that apparently drives her to lead in her adopted land.

 

Krishanti O’Mara Vignarajah, a candidate for the governor of Maryland gubernatorial candidate, was an infant when her parents had to leave Sri Lanka due to civil war and adopted America as their home says she wants, the America that welcomed her family to this country to continue to exist.

 

“I think that the diversity of our nation, in terms of the nation of immigrants is what gives America it’s strength,” Vignarajah, 37, a Democrat, told indica. She is the only woman candidate of South Asian descent who has run for the position.

 

Her toughest opponent will be incumbent Republican Governor Larry Hogan, who appears safe as he seeks re-election, but she has also eight other Democrats to beat in the primaries on June 26. She is trailing Kevin Kamenetz, the Baltimore County executive, and Ben Jealous, the former CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who are neck and neck right now. She is just behind Rich Madaleno, a state senator.

 

She addressed some drama before she could register as a candidate, fighting off assertions that she was not a Maryland for five years as required, and then filing just before the February 27 deadline with Sharon Blake, a teacher and leader of the Baltimore Teachers Union as her running mate.

 

Vignarajah announced her campaign last September but really caught people’s attention when she recently released a campaign showing her feeding her nine-month-old daughter, saying, “Her generation is part of why I am running. I want to make sure that the opportunity I had in terms of getting a good education, having a chance of realizing my potential that her generation has that same chance.”

 

Among her priorities are fixing the public school system and further promoting science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) education at schools

 

That should make immediate sense. Her parents are schoolteachers, and Vignarajah graduated from Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County, going to Yale to earn a BS in molecular, cellular and developmental biology, graduating magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, and going on to get a master’s degree in political science there.

 

Vignarajah became a Marshall Scholar, heading off to Oxford University to earn an M.Phil. in international relations, before returning to Yale Law School, where she also served on the Yale Law Journal.

 

Clearly, she is big on education.

 

Another priority is promoting and streamlining processes for small businesses.

 

According to Vignarajah, these employ more than half the private sector workers in Maryland and yet her state remains one of the toughest places to start and grow a business in the nation.

 

“When I was with the State Department, one of my responsibilities was helping American businesses abroad. [In Maryland] we want to … make sure our businesses are growing and that I want to focus on,” Vignarajah said.

 

She was a senior adviser to secretaries of state Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. Earlier, she served in the White House as policy director to then first lady Michelle Obama.

 

She said that this is an exciting time because for quite a while people viewed being a woman and a minority as a disadvantage. She thanked her parents for her attitude, saying, “I think I was lucky I was raised by two parents was incredibly supportive of me being a strong operated independent thinker.”

 

Vignarajah finds things a little different, too.

 

“I had been in politics more on the policy side in my previous position,” she said and added that it was a learning experience.

 

“Being a woman of color, I think I have to always explain what I have done, more so than a man,” she said. “I also think that me being a mother, people wonder if I am capable of juggling being both a mom and a professional. Still, honestly, I think people have realized in 2018 that the diversity of our country and the representation is critically important, and having worked for Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton, I have the honor working with some of the powerful passionate women political leaders in the world.”

 

Vignarajah is also a founder of Generation Impact, a company that helps nonprofit organizations and advocacy organizations become sustainable.

 

Turning to the issue of Donald Trump’s policies, she held forth on the president’s plan to arm teachers, saying, “It makes no sense. And law enforcement has said that will make their job much more difficult.”

 

About being a person of color at a time the country was less diverse, she said, “The challenges these children [today] face is different. We are seeing more racism, bullying compared to when I was a student.”

 

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