Darshan Rauniyar

Features Issue 129 Aug, 2012
Text by K.d Shrestha / Photo: K.D Shrestha

A Nepali makes his mark in American politics

Last month, the Snohomish County Democrats and the 44th Legislative District Democrats of Washington State, USA, formally endorsed one of the seven candidates running for Congress to represent the state’s 1st District this year. That candidate is Darshan Rauniyar, the only non-career politician and immigrant running for that office.

Born and raised in Nepal, Rauniyar went to the United States as a student in 1988 and become a successful IT entrepreneur after 1998. By 2008 he was an active local Democrat and an enthusiastic supporter of President Obama’s Presidential campaign. Last year, he launched a campaign of his own: to represent Washington State’s 1st District.

The precious endorsements were perfectly timed too: just days before they came, Rauniyar had made perhaps one of the more important and politically charged moves in his campaign. He announced his opposition to a proposed Coal Train and terminal in Bellingham, Washington.

 “I’m proud to stand with the Washington Environmental Council, Sierra Club Washington, People for Puget Sound and the Washington Conservation Voters in the fight to defeat this proposal that would threaten our air quality, marine wildlife, and contaminate soil in communities along the proposed rail line,” he said in the announcement, making allies of important institutions in a state that takes pride in its natural environment.

“Republicans in Washington have blocked efforts to reduce our carbon emissions and have waged a dangerous campaign of disinformation about the real threat posed by global warming. In Washington DC, I will take on the big energy companies and their right wing allies to create responsible policy that’s based on sound science,” said Rauniyar.

The move, and the endorsement, closely timed to the formal opening of his campaign headquarters in Bothellon 14 May shows the candidate, as well as the election season, entering a more critical phase. Between now and July, the six Democrats and one Republican competing for this seat have to make their big push before the primaries in August this year.

While this is the candidate’s first campaign for public office, he is by no means new to local politics. His official biography notes that he is an elected Democratic Precinct Committee Officer, was elected a member of the Snohomish County Democratic Central Committee & 1st Legislative District Democrats Executive Committee, and is a member of the Snohomish County Human Rights Commission and the Snohomish County Parks Advisory Board.

“Everything I learned building my business into a success and my status as an outsider of politics will help me with this campaign,” he had said in an interview. The other important help he has received is from the rapidly growing, and maturing Nepali diaspora in America. The Nepali population in all of Washington State is estimated to be less than 2000 and his district only has perhaps 10% of that at best. Still, they have been key to his nationwide fundraising exercises. And that, in turn, has helped him demonstrate a national grassroots momentum of sorts on which he has built what now can be called a fairly strong local base.

From the Nepali diaspora’s perspective, it hardly comes as a surprise that they have been eager to support him. For one thing, it is impossible to escape the politically charged media there. And so, to have one of their own make a credible run for Congress, even without that political environment, is not only unique but also what many have seen as an opportunity for the Nepali community to make a mark of that nature at a national policy level.

So it hardly comes as a surprise that his campaign reported having raised $110,000 last October, after Rauniyar spent several months campaigning in Nepali hubs across America. And it comes as a no surprise that in the lead up to the elections he already has events in that same community lined up.

What is also unique is that at least a few Nepalis, who may be in good terms with their local Republican representatives for the sake of their business interests, have been happy to help Democrat Rauniyar’s campaign organizationally as well as financially. He has also found support from Nepalis in states that are otherwise generally considered to be Conservative or Republican friendly. He will need that continued support.

The Rauniyar campaign estimates they need to raise at least $400,000 by August. It currently has $125,000 in cash. “I really need my supporters to understand that this is a crucial phase in the campaign season, and I can’t do it without their help,” he explained from his home in Washington.

“If I win, I would be the first Immigrant elected to Congress, not to mention the first Nepali as well as the first Hindu,” he said. “But there is a lot of campaigning to do before we get there.”

Many Nepalis, however, have also taken note of the fact that their support is not a blanket support for a fellow Nepali but a candidate who seems to understand issues that matter and articulate solutions that they clearly find agreeable.

“Why are corporate companies making billions in profits and not having to pay taxes? Why are oil companies getting tax breaks?” he has asked, challenging existing precedents and speaking like a true Democrat. “Taxes need to be made fairer. If we streamline our revenue sources, the pressure to make cuts would be less.”

And his views on Immigration can be seen in the fact that he is campaigning as an Immigrant. On details of the subject, he has hold the position that “America has always been a nation of immigrants, and it is our responsibility to promote comprehensive immigration reform that unites families and communities.” He believes in the rights of Undocumented Immigrants, and supports the DREAM Act which “gives young people living in the United States the opportunity to be a part of their vibrant communities.”

“I am a pro-choice, pro-women’s rights candidate,” he added. And if that’s not enough the Rauniyar campaign also has a personal story that may very well help him find support amongst women voters, even though several of the other candidates are women.

“My father passed away when I was an infant, leaving my mother to care for my sister and me…My mother had to deal with the hardship of being a single parent, caring for two infants and going to school, she knew that without an education she would not be able to earn enough to take care of us,” his official bio reads.

“My grandmother cared for us while my mother was earning her high school and college diploma. These two women were pillars of strength and the guiding light in my life.”

The candidate also seems effective at producing sound bytes that are all too critical in the current media environment. During a televised debate hosted by the Washington State Labor Councilin March in Seattle, the candidate said: “With your taxpayer dollars, we are building another country -- China.”

The debate performance also earned him some important recognition from leading media houses in the state.

“I don’t care about a big government, or a small government,” he said during the interview last year. “I want to help make an effective government.”

Will he be given that chance? Candidate Darshan Rauniyar certainly seems to be on the right track to prove that he deserves it.Along the way, he is finding supporters who agree.