Amardeep Kaleka, a Sikh-American whose father was killed in a massacre at a Milwaukee-area gurdwara (temple) last year, said he may seek to run for U.S. Congress and challenge 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.
Kaleka’s father, Satwant Singh Kaleka, the president of a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., died in a shooting spree committed by a white supremacist in August 2012. Six people were killed and four others wounded. The assassin, Wade Michael Page, committed suicide after his rampage.
Reuters reported that Kaleka, a 35-year-old documentary filmmaker, is forming an exploratory committee and will decide on his candidacy as a Democrat by November. "I am considering it right now because of the paralysis of our government," he told Reuters. "I see a need for good leadership."
Kaleka also took Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, to task for the current shutdown of the federal government -- largely blamed on GOP attempts to scuttle Obamacare -- which has now entered its third week and furloughed more than 800,000 government workers. "[Ryan is] definitely part of the problem -- being the budget chair and having no sway inside your own party to stop something like this from happening -- and 800,000 people losing jobs including in his own district, where a number of government services were stopped," Kaleka told Agence France Presse. "Ultimately, [Ryan is] a career politician to me -- 13 years in Congress coming out of an internship in D.C. He left Wisconsin to go to D.C. and never really came back.”
Ryan has represented Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District in the southeastern corner of the state since 1999 and has gained at least 60 percent of the vote every time he ran from 2000 to 2010. In 2012, running for vice president and Congress at the same time, he won again, but with only 55 percent as his ticket lost Wisconsin. The next congressional election is in 2014. (Ryan has also been mentioned as a possible 2016 Republican presidential candidate).
On a more personal note, Kaleka said he has met with Ryan twice, advocating for stricter background checks on people applying to buy guns. But in April 2013, the United States Senate rejected a measure promoted by President Barack Obama to tighten such background checks. "Responsible people should have guns; people who are irresponsible -- or who cannot pass a background check -- should not have guns. Easy as that," Kaleka said. "I think 90 percent of the nation agrees, but it's funny that Congress wouldn't even pass a bill toward that direction."
Kaleka organized a vigil marking the one-year anniversary of the Oak Creek massacre. Kaleka also told AFP that he wants the U.S. to become a more peaceful nation. "There are so many people who don't comprehend that peace-building starts with changing our punitive justice system, taking guns out of the wrong people's hands, and all those affect the economy ... as noticed in Europe, where the most peaceful nations are the most economically well-off nations," he said.
Kaleka has never before run for political office, but said that gun control advocates and residents of Ryan’s district have asked him to considering the race. "He's obviously going to have some name recognition or at least event recognition," Scott Furlong, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, told Reuters. "Coming into it with a clean slate and not being part of politics in this day and age is not necessarily a bad thing. Typically, I would say he would not be a viable candidate ... but frankly, I wouldn't want to be any incumbent given what's going on in Washington right now.”
Should Kaleka challenge Ryan and win, he would not be the first Sikh elected to Congress. That honor went to Dalip Singh Saund, who served the 29th District of California from 1957 to 1963.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.