Political newcomer Mazhil Rajendran is up for the challenge.
Rajendran, a first generation Indian-American, recently announced he was running as a Democrat for State House District 31, that covers portions of Pulaski and Saline counties and includes west Little Rock.
The seat has long been a Republican stronghold and currently held by Andy Davis, who announced in 2019 he would not seek a fifth term this year. On the Republican side, Rajendran’s opponent is still up in the air as RJ Hawk and Keith Brooks are running against each other in the March 3 Primary. Hawk currently serves on the Bryant City Council and is a familiar voice to Arkansans as a radio personality with 103.7 The Buzz, while Brooks in an insurance agent in Benton.
When asked why he wanted to run, Rajendran says, “I want to be a strong voice for the people of my district in the house and work on the issues that affect them.”
Rajendran is a software engineer and holds a doctorate in engineering management. He first moved to Arkansas in 2001, and it was family connections that brought him here.
“My brother in law had moved here,” he says, “and I was blessed to receive a job opportunity in Arkansas. This is why my heart breaks to see people in the greatest nation in the world struggling to make ends meet. I want everybody to have access to the blessings I have received.”
Rajendran is the second Indian-American to run for office in as many years as Gayatri Agnew ran for northwest Arkansas’s House District 93 in 2018. Agnew is Senior Director for Corporate Philanthropy at Walmart and also ran as a Democrat.
She lost her race to incumbent Jim Dotson, who received 57.1 percent of the vote.
Another Indian-American, Chintan Desai, ran against Rick Crawford for a seat in the United States House of Representatives and also lost.
That mirrored a national trend that has seen more Indian-Americans seeking office in recent years but that didn’t influence Rajendran’s decision.
“This is not particularly what inspired me,” he says. “I’m tired of the people in my district feeling like there’s nobody who truly represents their best interests. I want people to know they have the option in November to send someone to the capital that won’t be beholden to a small group of powerful people who really have no interest in the local communities.”
Rajendran is aware of his heritage though and what it means.
“As a first generation American citizen my election would be a testament that anything is possible in this country when the people come together to make a positive change,” he says. “As a first generation American it is part of my responsibility to make sure we are living up to the values that make us great.”
He said, if elected, his focus in office would be, “reducing poverty, and ensuring a positive economic future for all our children.” He adds, “that being said as a legislator I will actively listen to the needs of the people and work on legislation accordingly.”
Rajendran, who lives in west Little Rock with his wife and two children, said he would be making campaign efforts in both Pulaski and Saline counties.
“We will be having events all throughout the district where voters can voice their concerns and what they care about,” he says. “These events will be less about me projecting myself on to them and more about what the people want out of their representative. We’ll take special care not to leave out the people in rural Saline County.”