Kesha Ram, 29, an young Indian American, is seeking to win a statewide election in Vermont to be this north eastern state’s next Lieutenant Governor. Having served four two-year terms as a state representative in the Legislature, Ram is now shifting her focus to the post of lieutenant governor.
“When I first ran for the legislature, it was the start of the great recession,” Ram said of her first campaign when she was just 21 and ending her college career. “We were lucky if we could shape our future. It felt important to be a voice for our experience.” During her four terms and eight years in the state House, Ram has dedicated herself to improving civic engagement opportunities for residents of Vermont, as well as helping vulnerable populations get access to much-needed services.
Inspired by then Senator Barack Obama whom she introduced in 2006, at a rally when he came to endorse Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ram now she feels she accomplished enough in the legislature since 2008, and that it’s time to move on. But it’s a crowded field with at least three Democrats and a Republican vying in the Aug. 9 primaries.
But this time to the Lieutenant Governor’s office, a part-time post with a just a couple of ceremonial duties. She however, plans to change that. Vermont is one of 11 states that uses an open primary system, in which registered voters do not have to be members of a party to vote in that party’s primary.
Vermont’s current Lieutenant Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, is running for governor in a state that has elected presidential candidate and avowed Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders to the U.S. Senate for many years now. Ram, vying for the seat being vacated by Phil Scott, R-Vt., who is running for governor in 2016, is up against fellow Democrats Garrett Graff, Brandon Riker and Sen. David Zuckerman. Former Sen. Randy Brock is the only declared Republican running, while Dr. Louis Meyers has declared his candidacy as an independent. The primary election for the lieutenant governor seat in Vermont is set for Aug. 2; the general election is Nov. 8.
“I feel I’ve accomplished quite a bit in my time in the state legislature,” said Ram, the daughter of a white mother and Indian father, and great-great granddaughter of renowned civil engineer Sir Ganga Ram.
Born to a father who immigrated to the U.S. from India and mother born-and-raised in Illinois, Ram grew up in the Los Angeles area, where her parents met while they attended UCLA. “My father had a passion for opening a small business,” Ram said. Her parents started an Irish pub, McGinty’s Irish Pub, and the hard work it took her father to get that going was instilled early on in Ram. She chose to direct that passion and energy into political work.
Even while she was attending the University of Vermont, which she chose because she felt a “strong sense of community” during a visit prior to committing to the school, she had developed her political voice. The young Indian American served as the university’s student body president and was still enrolled as a senior when she ran for, and won, a spot as state representative eight years ago.
“As lieutenant governor, I’m able to create an opportunity agenda for the entire state,” Ram said, adding that the office is open part-time but she is devoted to working the position full-time, even when not in session. “(The position) relies on relationships and brings people together for a common goal. I have proven I can do this during my time in the legislature.”
She counts among those accomplishments expanding incentives for first-time home buyers; protecting victims of sexual abuse, leading the move to pass human trafficking laws, revenge porn laws, and stalking laws; as well as getting Vermont to recognize the Native American Abenaki tribe so that it qualifies to apply for benefits.
“I am seen as a consensus lawmaker,” Ram says. And the youth she wanted to represent then now face newer problems, which she claims she could address better from her new perch as Lt. Governor.
“The reason I got into politics was because our generation was struggling in the height of the recession, where we hardly had a place on our parents’ couch,” she said. “Now our young people are facing problems as first time-homebuyers, meeting student debts etc. There are very few people who can speak for them.” Work for the past eight years on making higher education affordable, dealing with debt, evidently was not enough, she concedes.
“The position is what you make of it,” Ram counters. “I see myself as a ‘Connector-in Chief’” –bringing people together.” Vermont, unlike many other states, requires the governor and Lieutenant Governor to run on separate tickets and not the same slate. It may end up having different party leaders occupying those offices. She believes her consensus building skills will be important.