Two South Asian Americans won in last week’s Democratic primary for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Tarik Khan, a front-line nurse and former president of the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association, ousted incumbent Pam DeLissio, who had been in the House for more than a decade from the 194th Assembly District, while emergency room doctor Dr. Arvind Venkat won the nomination. State House from the newly drawn 30th District. She will face Republican Cindy Kirk in the November 8 election.
Khan is a new player in state politics and says he fled because he was “tired of our corrupt system” and wanted to “give Harrisburg a chance”. It supports a state-level Green New Deal and Medicare for All-style legislation.
“As a nurse, I would never tell a patient that their needs were not my problem, and as a legislator, I would never tell a voter that their problem was not in my job description,” she says on her website. “Nurses, key workers, frontline workers, we are problem solvers. When things get tough, we roll up our sleeves and work together to find solutions,” he continues. “I’m running for the job because after this pandemic and our government’s failure to take care of communities, it’s time for new leadership. Nurses, essential workers, frontline workers, it’s time for us to lead.”
The son of a Pakistani father and a Catholic mother, Khan was born and raised in Philadelphia. He is a “proud product” of the public school system and is a graduate of Central High School. Khan’s father came to Philadelphia from Pakistan to “go to college and build a better life.” According to Khan’s website, his mother was raised by a single mother in North West Philly, became a nurse, and was the first in her family to go to college. “My parents taught me the value of education and hard work, and as a Muslim boy who grew up with a Catholic mother in a Jewish neighborhood, instilled in me at a young age the importance of truthfulness and speaking the truth to the face of injustice.”
Deciding to become a nurse because of her mother, Khan has been working for 16 years. “I know our system is broken because I see it every day working with patients at my local health center.”
“He managed to raise a large sum of money to run for a low-budget race for a seat on the Pennsylvania General Assembly,” NBC wrote in a profile about Khan. “In just six months he has amassed a fortune in campaign funds, including nearly $50,000 in donations from two national political organizations,” NBC said in the report.
Khan told his news team that in addition to growing and spending on competitor, the money helps get its message across to voters in person, via mail and digital platforms. “You need to raise money for any campaign to be viable,” he said. “It’s not something that comes naturally to humans. It doesn’t feel natural to me. My father is a Pakistani immigrant, he never asked me to ask for money.”
Venkat is running for State House because, he says on his website, “we need an agent who serves our community in crises big and small and will use those experiences to advocate for everyone in the region.” “I want to bring this foundation of service and common purpose to the State Legislature on behalf of the people of the new 30th District – Hampton, McCandless, Franklin Park, Ohio Township, Emsworth, Ben Avon, Ben Avon Heights, and Kilbuck.” He told Pittsburgh NPR station 90.5 that he hopes to “bring my perspective as an emergency room physician and, as someone at the forefront of these issues, advocate for my communities to get more resources for these public services and build a better future.” ”
Venkat, an emergency room physician at Allegheny Health Network, immigrated to the United States with his family as a child. On his website, he says his parents’ “hard work ethic and dedication to service” inspired him to become a doctor. A Detroit native, he graduated from Harvard and Yale University School of Medicine. He has lived in the town of McCandless for the past 15 years with his wife and three children.
(Top photo, from left, with the families of Tariq Khan and Dr. Arvind Venkat, respectively.)