Exclusive: Indian American California lawmaker Ash Kalra on housing, the Twitter saga and the UC workers’ strike

Ritu Jha-

Indian American Assemblymember Ash Kalra, who comfortably retained his California state legislature seat in the recent mid-term elections, spoke to indica on his 14-year public service journey, the challenges he faced, and his advocating for the ongoing University of California workers’ strike, Twitter’s legal battles, the homeless situation in California and urging the community to give back.

Kalra defeated Ted Stroll for California State Assembly District 27 on November 8, 2022, by winning 68.3% of the votes. He is the first Indian-American to serve in the California State Legislature since 2018. “It’s been a surreal experience,” he told indica on his winning another term.

“I never imagined that I will be working in public office for 14 years, especially given the number of bills I have facilitated in such an influential state.” Kalra said.

He said he ran “the most challenging election campaigns” as both his first city council election and his first Assembly election were highly competitive being open seat.

“When I ran for the open seat, the opposition spent over $6 million to defeat me,” Kalra said about running for the state Assembly seat. “They knew they cannot buy my votes. I overcame enormous outside influence. The voters saw the negative impact and they knew me and saw me as a public servant.”

Before he became a politician, Kalra, an attorney, served in the Santa Clara County public defender’s office for 11 years and later served as the city of San Jose councilmember representing District 2 for eight years. He was first elected to the city council in 2008, and he was term-limited out of office in 2016. He said his first win was “not just for myself, but for the community.” “We had knocked on thousands of doors,” he said.

Kalra said he is conscious of the responsibility he holds. “I feel accountable to the half million people I represent.”

He said he understands that several financial donations come with strings attached, “but if you are not an ethical public official and have zero impact on the decision you make, ultimately you end up losing supporters and friends. You have to understand that you are in office because of the people who voted you in.”

Kalra feels that any decision the state legislature makes impacts 40 million people of California. “In fact, because of the influence of California in global economics, oftentimes when we pass a law, it has an impact on the rest of the world,” Kalra stated. “California is the fourth largest economy in the world.” With a state GDP of $3.37 trillion (2021), California is universally recognized as the world’s largest sub-national economy. For comparison, India’s GDP in 2021 was $3.17 trillion.

Kalra has also been on the influential housing committee. He said homelessness and housing is critical as more and more people are unable to afford skyrocketing rents in the state. “In San Jose, we have done a lot of work, but there is so much more to do.”

In the 2019–2020 legislative session, Kalra authored AB-2542 (California Racial Justice Act of 2020), AB 1586 (Replacing Animals in Science Education Act), AB 572 (California Deforestation-Free Procurement), and AB 454 (Migratory birds: Migratory Bird Treaty Act).

In 2020-21, he served on the Housing and Community Development Committee; the Judiciary Committee; the Labor and Employment Committee, and chaired the Transportation Committee and the Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee.

“We hope that people will put themselves in their shoes (of homeless people). Rental properties are not just a business transaction; they are homes. We need to come together so that children can sleep in their own bed.”

On the recent dramatic events at Twitter, Kalra said that he is certain that Twitter broke the law. “They are supposed to give 60-days-notice to workers as well as the local government agency for mass firing. There is always a chance of a class action lawsuit against Twitter.”

He said that California’s tech companies profited widely, so they have a social responsibility to ensure that not just shareholders’ interests are protected but also that of the people that worked for them.

“We are keeping a close eye on Twitter,” he said. “We have created an entire industry in Silicon Valley and San Francisco, and these companies are our pride.
But they need to think and we want to make it clear to them, there are a lot of families relying on those jobs. Continuing with layoffs just to increase stock prices reflect poorly on these companies. As a lawmaker, my responsibility is to the people and that includes creating an environment where companies stay successful.”

On support from the Indian American community, he said “it’s really an honor to represent the South Asian community” and urged corporate leaders of Indian origin to be compassionate.

Kalra, the Chairperson of the State Assembly Labor and Employment Committee, told indica that regardless of being a chair, he will be supporting University of California (UC) Academic Workers’ strike that has affected over 48,000 academic workers from November 14. “Workers go on strike as the last resort,” Kalra said. “It’s the last resort when the management doesn’t take their needs seriously.”

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