Janani Ramachandran, who is running for the California state Assembly, insists that she is a “people person”and “not a politician.”
If elected from the 18th Assembly District, Ramachandran, 28, will be the first Indian-American LGBTQ person to hold the state legislative seat.
“I am specifically running for this because I am a community servant,” Ramachandran told indica News.
She is vying for the seat vacated by fellow Democrat Rob Bonta, who was appointed by Governor Gavin Newsom to serve as the California’s attorney general, necessitating the special election on June 29.
There are seven more candidates contesting for the seat: James Aguilar (Democrat), Victor Aguilar (Democrat), Mia Bonta (Democrat), Eugene Canson (Democrat), Malia Vella, Stephen Slauson (Republican), Joel Britton (no party preference).
The 18th Assembly seat covers parts of Alameda, Oakland and San Leandra, and the top two candidates will advance to the special election on August 31, for a two-year term in 2022.
Ramachandran is a social justice lawyer, activist, and artist who has devoted her life to empowering communities. What led her to politics?
She said she has been working with tenants facing eviction and she works with survivors of domestic violence.
“I realized I was frustrated with the state government leaders not listening to people, especially during the pandemic,” Ramachandran said. “A lot of people are let down by our owns laws needed to protect them.”
Ramachandran has served on the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs and the Oakland Public Ethics Commission.
She said that domestic violence has gone up during the pandemic, and that small businesses are hurting.
“The small businesses applied for CARES ACT (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, a 2.2 trillion economic stimulus) and it was very inequitable,” she said.
“Some of the funding dried up before the real small businesses were able to get a piece of that, and that was really tragic.”
Salons, restaurants, and many ethnic stores are heavily impacted by Covid, she pointed out, so the government should make sure it does not just give loans or tax cuts.
“We need actual grant money for all heavily hit small businesses with 25 and less employees for a period of five years,” Ramachandran said. “So that they can get back on their feet. We have $100 billion state surplus, and we need to prioritize that.”
She said she believed that voters were ready for “someone who brings in a fresh perspective to the whole race.”
She has raised $155,000 and sounded confident to reach $250,000 by the end of the month.
She said she is not accepting corporate funding “because the influence of corporate money leads to not going far enough for environment protection.”
Half of people in California who live in poverty work a full-time job, she pointed out. Her campaign always focused on raising wages to $22 an hour. She said wages have not increased as compared to the cost of living.
She said that the state is doing a really poor job on housing.
“The state of California has spent $30 million on homelessness but they are not putting it in right place,”she said. “Not using the evidence-based models to address homelessness.”
“We don’t have any strategic planning,”she added. “It is just politically favorable and where it looks good our lawmakers throw money at homelessness. Realistically, we need a 10-year plan that includes building more housing, that includes using public land and providing mental health services and social services and medical services. Not just piecemeal money here and there.”
Mental health is another issue Ramachandran is focused on, and said that California needs better funding programs to support mental health services.
Pointing to gun violence, she said: “California has some of the toughest laws in the country but the enforcement of the law is a problem.
“We should look at the root cause of why people turn to gangs and gun violence. It’s a lack of after-school programs and lack of job opportunities lacks of food to eat, some of the root causes of the violence,”she said.
Ramachandran’s grandparents came to the United States in 1970. Her parents live in India.
Asked if she had teething problems in mainstream politics, Ramachandran said: “Being a woman of color and young, people took me less seriously before I got all these endorsements.”
She added: “I think we need more representation. I was 7 years old when I saw Hillary Clinton on TV when she became a senator, I thought, I can be there one day and I saw Kamala Harris and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal… I can do that too.”
Ramachandran believes that it’s time for Indian-American community to be in a leadership position.
“We are not considered a community that goes into politics, public service, but I think we need to start changing that,” she said.