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Issues Over Heritage In Illinois Election Campaign

"We vote by the type of person and what that person can do and not by anything else"

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Midterm Elections, illinois
Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in Urbana, Illinois. VOA

In an Illinois congressional district where just six percent of the constituency is Indian American, the incumbent Democrat Congressman is being challenged by another Indian American.

“I see it as American versus American,” Jitendra Diganvker, or “JD” — the Republican challenger for the Illinois 8th district, said.

“Yeah we happen to be Indian,” he added dismissively.

“It is a good thing that members of minorities are running as Democrats or as Republicans,” the incumbent Raja Krishnamoorthi said.

The Illinois 8th District is 51 percent Caucasian, 28 percent Hispanic,14 percent Asian, and four percent African-American, according to the most recent U.S. Census data. Of those Asians, about half are Indian, according to the campaigns’ estimates.

Views and policy

In this diverse district, voters care about issues more than identity.

“I don’t care about them being Indian American. I just hope that whichever one wins that they support and help the people,” said Michelle Sims, an employee at the DuPage Community College. “And if you’re Indian then, hey, that’s fine. Just help the people.”

A Jamaican-American university student, Amara Creighton, says she thinks it is great that two minority candidates are running and have support, regardless of their ethnicity.

“I think what’s more important is their views and their policies,” Creighton said. “I mean, it doesn’t really matter to me what their minority is as long as they’re standing up for us and doing good for us.”

This rare instance of two candidates of the same minority running against each other is reflective of a larger trend throughout the United States – record numbers of Indian Americans are running for office and winning their elections.

In 2016, four Indian Americans — one of them being Krishnamoorthi, were elected to the U.S. House and a fifth was elected to the Senate — outnumbering in just one election the total number of Indian Americans to serve as U.S. representatives.

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Incumbent Raja Krishnamoorthi goes by his first name, which his constituents can more easily pronounce. VOA

Krishnamoorthi, a businessman and former deputy state treasurer, was elected to his first term in the House of Representatives in 2016. He succeeded Democrat Tammy Duckworth, who was elected that year to the U.S. Senate.

Diganvker is a small businessman, Uber driver, and ardent member of the local Republican party. As the underdog, he is running as a “day-to-day” guy, and says he decided to run because he feels his opponent is out of touch with middle-class, hardworking families in his community.

But his opponent, who is completing his first term in Congress, says he is far from out of touch with his community. He visits each weekend to see his wife and children when Congress is in session.

Though both candidates are immigrants, their views on immigration policy differ. Krishnamoorthi, the Democrat, has been critical of Trump’s policies to decrease refugee allowances and speaks out against family separations at the border.

“We shouldn’t separate parents from children,” he told VOA. “That’s an abomination.”

Though Diganvker, too, opposes family separations at the border, he favors Trump’s promise to build a wall along the border with Mexico and supported the travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries.

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Republican challenger Jitendra “JD” Digavnker says he is running as a “day-to-day” guy. VOA

“I’m also an immigrant. I followed the legal process and I believe in merit-based immigration,” he said, adding that merit-based immigration “brings the right skill set of people into our country.”

Krishnamoorthi, however, said that his parents legal immigration to the United States has not hardened his immigration stance.

“The fact that my parents came here legally and someone [else] did not, doesn’t mean that we should be inhumane or disrespectful, doesn’t mean we should treat them with anything less than dignity,” he said.

Diverse constituency

Both Congressional candidates are Hindu, but have wooed members of various religions in the community.

“When you come to this country there is no race,” said Farrukh Khan, a Muslim halal-shop owner in Schaumburg. “We should not go for the race, we should go for the people who more care about you and your community. Hindu or Muslim doesn’t matter.”

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Halal shop-owner Farrukh Khan says that he is unconsidered by the religion of either candidate. VOA

So as not to lose a customer, he did not indicate which man he will support in the November election.

Myrna Frankel has volunteered for Krishnamoorthi since his first campaign, an unsuccessful bid for Illinois comptroller in 2010. They know each other through the Jewish Beth Tikvah Congregation in Schaumburg where the congressman, who lives a few blocks away, sent his children for nursery school.

“He considers himself a JewDu – half Jewish, half Hindu,” she recounted with a laugh.

Myrna’s husband, Robert, said that this diversity and community relationships are typical of their community.

“Our state senator is from Mexico. Our state representative is from Puerto Rico. Our junior senator is of Thai background,” he said.

“We vote by the type of person and what that person can do and not by anything else,” he said.

Also Read: Democrats Gain Fundraising Advantage In The US Midterm Elections

When it comes to policy, voters in the Illinois 8th seem to heavily favor the incumbent. Early polling by Five Thirty Eight shows a “99% chance” that Krishnamoorthi will win. Rasmussen’s most recent poll shows a “Strong Dem” leaning in the midterm. As of June 30, Krishnamoorthi had raised more than $4 million compared to Diganvker’s $29,000.

But the challenger isn’t intimidated.

“People can give him $10 million and that’s not going to scare me,” he said, adding that despite recent polling, his campaign is “1,000 percent sure” that he will win in November. (VOa)

Next Story

Here’s why Americans Prefer Single-Family Homes

Are Americans Ready to Let Go of Single-Family Homes?

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Homes
This is a great way for (homeowners) to rent out their basement, or rent out half their homes. VOA

By Dora Mekouar

For decades, many Americans have viewed owning their own home as a tangible symbol of the American Dream. But the question of whether that dream includes dividing one single-family home into two — along with other higher housing density options — is about to be tested in a handful of states nationwide.

Virginia is one of the latest states to tackle the affordable housing crisis by considering zoning rules to allow denser — and, potentially, more affordable — housing, in any area now zoned for single-family homes.

“If a property owner feels it fits their need to upgrade to a duplex from a single family’s owned property, then they will go about it through a local approval process,” says Virginia House Delegate Ibraheem Samirah, who represents a district in suburban Washington, D.C. “After the local approval process is completed, then they can create their two families’ owned property as they see fit.”

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Virginia lawmakers are considering a proposal that would allow an accessory dwelling, for example, a separate structure, basement apartment or garage apartment, on lots zoned for single homes. VOA

Samirah introduced a bill to allow duplex homes, like townhouses and cottages, in any place that’s currently zoned for single-family homes. The specifics of what those multi-family properties would look like will be left to local governments. The bill does not ban single-family homes.

It’s the kind of move toward creating more affordable housing that’s already been introduced on the West Coast of the United States. Oregon was the first state in the country to ban restrictive single-family zoning in July 2019.

Planning experts and local officials say suburban sprawl has negative impacts on the environment, puts a heavier burden on local services, isolates people, and excludes lower income households and households with people of color from certain communities through economic means.

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In Virginia, builder Carrington Homes offers an accessory dwelling unit, a second living unit (left), as an option for their new homes. VOA

A 2019 Harvard housing report found a “relative lack of smaller, more affordable new homes.” The same report finds that about half of all renter households nationwide spend almost one-third of their income on housing.

But the move away from single-family zoning won’t be an easy one.

“At some level, that development pattern is really uniquely American,” says Robert Parker, executive director of the Institute for Policy Research and Engagement at the University of Oregon.

“People who have lived, and grew up, in low-density suburban developments have a strong preference for that. They can’t really envision a future that’s substantially different than that.”

The size of the average house has more than doubled since the 1950s. In 2019, the average size of a new single-family home was 240 square meters (2,584 square feet), according to the National Association of Homebuilders.

Americans clearly like their space. But millennials — people in their mid-20s to late 30s who make up the nation’s largest living generation — have their own ideas about what the ideal home looks like, according to a Portland, Oregon-area survey cited by Parker.

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Christine Minnehan sweeps up in front of her “granny flat” located in the backyard of her Sacramento, Calif home . VOA

“Eighty percent of them would prefer to live in a detached, single-family residence, and so it really begins to become a matter of scale and amenity,” Parker says. “A lot of those those younger households are really looking for smaller units in walkable neighborhoods and, increasingly, the development community is beginning to recognize that and thinking about ways that they can build those environments.”

Samirah, the Virginia delegate, expects some pushback from people who are worried their neighborhoods could become less desirable, but he says correctly organizing density can benefit property owners, including those who are struggling financially.

“People think it’s going to be a major shift in the landscape of suburbia. I think that’s a false narrative,” Samirah says. “This is a great way for (homeowners) to rent out their basement, or rent out half their house, or whatever it may be…If you’re thinking of retiring, instead of selling your house and moving out to another area, it also helps them keep their families in place.”

“You can have a mixture of densities that’s not detrimental to a set of lifestyles that people hold very dear, that will allow housing choice for households that are struggling to find housing that’s affordable to them in environments that are conducive to the lifestyles that they would like to lead,” Parker says.

Also Read- 2000-2019: The Hottest Decade Measured

He adds that the suburban way of life isn’t going anywhere in the near future.

“There’s little that we can do to retrofit suburbia moving forward so that land use pattern is pretty well ingrained and it’s going to be there for generations.” (VOA)