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Darshan Rauniyar: Washington Democrat wants to make history

KASHISH DAS SHRESTHA : On May 8, Darshan Rauniyar (Democrat) became the first and only candidate in Washington State’s 1st District Congressional race to oppose 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.

“This is a defining issue of my campaign for Congress. 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 rightwing allies to create responsible policy that’s based on sound science,” said Rauniyar.

It is also a defining moment in his candidacy. By inviting other candidates to join his position, and essentially claiming ownership over the issue, Rauniyar has not only demonstrated political savvies but also how far along he has come as a candidate in the last 10 months.

This year, America will elect the critical 435 House of Representative. Darshan Rauniyar, a Nepali immigrant who first arrived in America as a student, went on to establish himself as a successful businessman.

In a crowded race with a total of seven candidates – six Democrats and one Republican – the newcomer has proven to be an able contender.

Last August, when The Week was the first Nepali publication to profile him, Darshan Rauniyar was just entering the second quarter of his candidacy.

Despite being a first-time candidate, he fluently spoke about traditional Democratic and Progressive issues – pro-choice, pro-women’s rights, belief in climate change, and for fairer tax laws favoring a vast majority of Americans.

At that time, Rauniyar was traveling across the US to establish his name recognition amongst the Nepali Diaspora. It served him well; the Federal Election Commission records showed that he raised US$110,000 by October 2011.

A significant amount of that sum came from the section of Nepali community eligible to make contributions.

May 6 in Mt Vernon: Rauniyar (C) participates in a rally of farm workers marching to demand Immigrant Rights and to pass the comprehensive Immigration Reform that allows path to citizenships.

Making an impression

Darshan Rauniyar’s campaign has gained significant momentum, and name recognition since. Yes, he has knocked at over 1,200 doors in his District. But there are other reasons, too.

During a debate sponsored by the Washington State Labor Council in March, all the six Democratic Candidates participated while Republican John Koster did not. It was there, Darshan Rauniyar made an impression.

The SeattlePI.com later wrote: “He was often passionate, and had cogent opinions on subjects ranging from healthcare costs to other countries grabbing our technology. One of his statements was, “With your taxpayer dollars, we’re building another country – China.”

They concluded: “The most impressive candidates: Laura Ruderman and Darshan Raunier.”

Realizing that the candidate’s name was misspelled, a follow-up post noted: “Mr. Rauniyar’s name stands corrected. He needs name recognition as a promising rookie trying to win a place in a strong veteran lineup.”

The Daily Herald, also a Seattle paper, said this about Rauniyar: “He is the political newcomer who proved the most passionate throughout the evening. At times it was moving such as when the native of Nepal talked of his living the American Dream and watching it disappear for others. He is a work in progress. He knows what he dislikes about Congress and now needs a clearer message on what he wants to do about it and how his skills as an entrepreneur can help him get it done.”

This is by no means an indication that the other candidates are faring poorly, but rather that Rauniyar is already an impressive one and quickly learning on the go. Even prior to the debate, he has already had several other TV appearances in the State.

The demography

The 1st District’s population is about 700,000 of which 77% are White, 8% Asian, and 8% Hispanic. There are only 200 Nepalis in the District at best, but a fair number of South Asians. Darshan Rauniyar is the only non-White candidate in the race.

“One of the challenges I’m having is in reaching out to the South Asian community,” he explained. “Getting them excited and mobilizing them has not been easy.”
However, Rauniyar believes that even if he can get support from half of the minority groups, he has a strong chance of being the Democratic candidate.

A shot at history

Next week, the Darshan Rauniyar for Congress Campaign will open its campaign headquarters in Bothell, Washington. With the election date set in August, candidates only have three months for campaigning.

“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.”

While his supporters grow in numbers, and diversity – age as well as ethnicity – his support base in the Nepali Diaspora has also offered support from as far as Florida and New York.

The Rauniyar campaign can tap local supporters for both canvassing as well as fundraising, but he will certainly need a renewed fundraising assistance from the Nepali community that has been supportive of him in the past.

His campaign’s end-of-March records showed $170,000 being raised during that quarter, with $125,000 cash in hand. The campaign, Rauniyar said, needs to raise $400,000 as soon as possible in order to capitalize on the momentum it currently has.

“What I want to make clear is that I am not accepting any money from corporate interests or Political Action Committees,” explained the candidate who became politically pro-active after volunteering for President Obama’s first grassroots-heavy Presidential campaign. “So I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for me to get continued support from my individual supporters right now.”

For the next three months, the Nepali immigrant candidate will continue to tell his constituency that he is the only one in the race who is not a career politician. He is confident that his position will appeal to progressives while his life story will relate to moderates.

And the campaign has in fact even found contributions from registered Republicans too. Already, his candidacy has surely been a landmark and positive moment for Washington State’s minority communities, particularly South Asians and certainly Nepalis.

Come August, voters will decide if Washington State’s 1st District will be represented by a first-time candidate inspired by everything America offered him and his family, and driven by the passion to try and make sure others are offered nothing else and less.

Published Date: Thursday, May 17th, 2012 | 12:49 AM

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