Congress’s freshman class includes six AAHOA-supported candidates.
By Brandon Vervelde
The political action committee for AAHOA (AAHOA PAC) has a lot to be proud of in the new Congress. The freshman class of new members in the House and Senate includes six first-time members of Congress that were supported by the PAC.
“As we tell AAHOA members when we ask them to support the PAC, AAHOA very carefully selects the candidates and officials to support,” said Chip Rogers, AAHOA president and CEO. “That’s why we were able to achieve a 93 percent victory rate on November 8. As a strictly bipartisan association, we’re also proud that the freshman class of candidates we supported includes exactly three Democrats and three Republicans.”
A bonus to AAHOA is that two Indian Americans are among the six new freshmen. Their successful election triples the South Asian presence in Congress from one to three, which shows the community’s growing influence in politics.
“The Indian American community has a lot to be proud of,” Rogers said. “Not only should the community be proud of their growing presence in Congress, but they also should be proud of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s new position as President Donald Trump’s Ambassador to the United Nations.”
The freshman class also has a diversity of backgrounds and previous careers. The class includes a state attorney general, a small businessman who owns a gun range, an FBI agent, a former AAHOA vendor partner, a sheriff and a state lawmaker.
Their individual perspectives will impact the decisions they make, the votes they cast and the bills they sponsor. But Rogers says they each have at least one thing in common that earned them AAHOA’s support.
“They understand the issues affecting our industry and small businesses,” Rogers said.
Meet six of the newest faces on Capitol Hill:
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-CA
Sen. Kamala Harris is the first Indian American member of the Senate. The daughter of two immigrants (her mother from India and her father from Jamaica), her career has been one of breaking through barriers.
After serving in the San Francisco District Attorney’s office, she took on her boss – the incumbent district attorney – to become the first woman, African American and Indian American DA of the city. She repeated her barrier-busting success a few years later when she was elected the California Attorney General.
Harris used an old saying of her mother’s to keep her grounded after her history-making victories. “You may be the first to do many things, make sure you aren’t the last,” her mother told her.
Winning the open seat vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, Harris ran her campaign on pushing for immigration reform and reforming the criminal justice system, both issues in which she’s an expert.
Spreading even more intrigue into her very new career in national politics, Harris was pegged as a possible 2020 Democratic presidential contender by The Washington Post shortly after her election. The Huffington Post’s headline read, “Meet Kamala Harris, Who Could Become the First Woman President.”
For her part, Harris has been mum on any future plans.
Rep. Ted Budd, R-NC
Rep. Ted Budd is a newcomer to elected office. The gun-range owner is also an executive for his family’s facility services business and owns a shooting-sports retail store in suburban Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Budd doesn’t mince words on why he ran for Congress. It can be boiled down to frustration with the political “establishment” and political correctness.
“We cannot send another politician to Washington with so much riding on this election. We need men and women in Congress who are willing to make the tough decisions it will take to solve problems,” he said.
The tough decisions, Budd says, are reforming government programs whose costs have ballooned out of proportion. And Budd wants to cut through the red tape that stops job creators from being able to expand their business, including President Barack Obama’s health care law that Budd wants to replace with “patient-centered reforms.”
Budd replaces Republican Rep. George Holding who, because of redrawn district maps, ran in the neighboring second district.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-PA
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick’s storied career as an FBI agent started with him graduating first in his class at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. Later, it brought him to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, the campaign to topple dictator Saddam Hussein and fight terrorism.
Fitzpatrick was also a leader in the FBI’s Political Corruption Unit and its Election Crimes Enforcement Program, rooting out fraud and criminal activity by government officials and campaigns at all levels.
Restoring faith and integrity in the government was his chief objective and motivating factor in his run for Congress. The country has a “desperate need for leadership,” Fitzpatrick said.
“The key to rising to the challenges before us is to focus on priorities that will keep our families safe and that will put the American Dream back on track,” he added.
His resume doesn’t end with the FBI, though. He was a special assistant U.S. attorney and can boast of being one of just a handful a Certified Public Accountants in Congress.
Fitzpatrick replaced his older brother, outgoing Republican Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, in this suburban Philadelphia district.
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-IL
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi’s ties to AAHOA run deep. Before being elected to Congress last year, he was a vendor partner of AAHOA’s and he spoke at the AAHOA national convention in Long Beach, California, in 2015. He joins Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) as the only two Indian Americans in the House of Representatives.
Krishnamoorthi’s career in politics began in 2004, when he worked on former President Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate campaign in Illinois. From there, he was a special assistant state attorney general for public integrity – responsible for prosecuting cases of corruption in government – and later deputy treasurer for the state of Illinois.
Krishnamoorthi also understands business. He ran two different small businesses and also served as vice chair of the Illinois Innovation Council, which helped support innovations that could lead to new businesses.
In Congress he’s focusing on helping small businesses get ahead.
“We know that small businesses create the most new jobs in America,” he said. “Changing our tax policies to support small business growth should be a no-brainer.”
With tax reform on the agenda this year, Krishnamoorthi’s priorities could become reality.
Rep. John Rutherford, R-FL
Rep. John Rutherford was first elected as the sheriff for his Jacksonville, Florida, hometown in 2003 (re-elected in 2007 and 2011) and has brought a 41-year career worth of law enforcement experience to Congress. It’s no small task leading the sheriff’s department of such a large community. Rutherford managed more than 3,200 employees and a $389 million annual budget.
Fighting terrorism is one of the most serious challenges facing America, says Rutherford, and it is a focus for him.
“I’ll work to increase our intelligence capacity and ensure proper cooperation between local, state and federal law enforcement agencies,” he said during the campaign, using his on-the-ground experience to be an issue-expert for his new colleagues in Congress.
AAHOA members in Rutherford’s northeastern Florida district know him well from his campaigns for sheriff and also the fact that crime in the area hit a 40-year low on his watch, allowing the tourism industry to thrive and hotels right along with it.
Rep. Darren Soto, D-FL
Rep. Darren Soto is an eight-year veteran of the Florida Legislature, where he was elected to three terms in the state house and moved up to the state senate in 2012. With AAHOA’s partnership with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, AAHOA members got to know Soto during their visits to the state capitol.
With Congress controlled by the Republican Party, Soto, a Democrat, is working with Republicans on areas of agreement, including economic development.
“I have a lot of personal relationships with the incoming delegation,” he said of his congressional colleagues from Florida.
During the campaign, Soto’s district was rocked by the Orlando nightclub shootings that killed 49 people. Soto is pushing for changes to help prevent a tragedy of this scale taking place again.
“No single law can prevent every mass shooting. But there are smart things we can do to make them less likely – and for me, doing nothing is not an option,” he said. ■
Brandon VerVelde is the Director of State and Local Government Affairs for AAHOA and can be reached at [email protected].