I am going to make a prediction and say that within 10 years Texas is going to pull a North Carolina and go blue. Take Houston where I live as an example. The fourth largest city in the United States went very Democratic. Surprised? Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio also went purplish to blue. The vast in-between parts of Texas are red of course but do they matter that much? All is not good in Texas however, nor in other parts of the country. Don’t get complacent. Just because a guy named Barack Obama can get elected President of the United States does not mean a guy with a name like that could win a city council seat, even in a district that went blue. As much as we like to blast Piyush Jindal for his love of the Brady Bunch, he knows that in parts of the country the ends are going to justify the means for a bit longer. There is an all too illustrative example of this right here in Houston. On my ballot there were two Indian American candidates (see here and here) running for two separate judge positions. I have had the pleasure of meeting both Ashish Mahendru and Ravi “R.K.” Sandill and came away impressed by both. Ashish and his wife were even kind enough to invite me to their Diwali party in October. So what happened on election night?
127th District Judge In: 100%
R.K. Sandill, D
Sharolyn Wood, R (I)
334th District Judge In: 100%
Ashish Mahendru, D
Sharon McCally, R (I)
I think everyone reading this knows what’s up. And it isn’t just brown candidates either. The Houston Chronicle called bulls*it right away:
The night Mekisha Murray became one of only four Harris County Democrats to lose a judicial race, her husband had a quick and stinging analysis: “You have your mother to blame for this.”
And perhaps, she did. But more so, the discriminating voters of Harris County, who apparently were turned off by Mekisha’s uncommon, or ethnic-sounding name.
Curiously, the only other three Democrats who failed in their challenges of vulnerable GOP judicial incumbents also had unusual names: Ashish Mahendru, Andres Pereira and Goodwille Pierre.
Well-funded top-ballot headliners like Barack Obama may have been able to overcome the obstacles presented by their funny-sounding names. But voters seem less tolerant further down the ballot. [Link]
A tipster also informed me that:
About 10 days before the election someone posted comments and a question on yedda.com suggesting that Ashish is Muslim. These are the tactics of exclusion that anyone with a different name can expect.
p>Ashish’s response was beautiful – he recognized the broader ramifications and although it would have been easy enough to just say “I am not Muslim” he instead tackled it by saying that the question was irrelevant and that if anyone had questions about his personal beliefs they should contact him directly.
Ravi Sandill knew what was up when he entered his race and therefore had to do a “calculated sellout.” He comes out says so to the Wall Street Journal:
Earlier this month Houston lawyer Ravi Sandill, 32, became one of a slew of Democrats elected as a trial judge in Harris County, where Houston is located, shattering years of Republican domination. The Law Blog caught up with Sandill, who topped an opponent with decades of judicial experience, to learn about his journey to the bench.
Q: Tell me a little about your background.
Both my parents immigrated from India. My dad has been in the U.S. military for 26 years. Because my dad was in the military, I’ve lived everywhere, but the majority of time in Texas. I graduated from the University of Texas, Austin, and then the University of Houston Law Center. I had a bout with cancer.Are you the first Indian-American to run for a county-wide office in Harris County?
I don’ t know if I’m the first to run, but I’m the first to be elected. I’m also the first South-Asian district judge elected in the entire state.
Q: You ran on the ballot as R.K. Sandill. Did you fear prejudice if you had run as Ravi Sandill?
Yes. All of the Democrats won [their judicial races in Harris County] except for people with, as the Houston Chronicle has written, “unusual” sounding names. We made a calculation at the beginning that we would be better served with my initials.
Q: How did it feel when you learned that you won?
I won by 11,00 votes. As the night went on on Nov. 4, it kept getting closer and closer. I didn’t find out I had won until midnight. I had a party with 65 or 70 people that had dwindled to 20. My parents stuck around. My mother started crying at 11:53. They were tears of joy. We popped open champagne. We had a suite at the Hotel ICON with a great view of downtown. It didn’t really hit me until the next day when people start calling you judge and sending you unsolicited emails congratulating you and seeing how you feel. [Link]
The point is that in order to get elected in this country many South Asian Americans are going to have to “sell out” when it comes to their names. Even Ashwin Madia chose his middle name Ashwin (“Ash”) over his first name Jigar. We have increasing data in hand to prove this very personal choice actually makes a difference (even in blue areas) even if makes us feel dirty and sad having to admit it.