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Sri Kulkarni, Congressional candidate for District 22, clears his name

Photo Courtesy of Sri Preston Kulkarni

Photo Courtesy of Sri Preston Kulkarni

Statement: Kulkarni for Congress,
February 21, 2018
As many of you are aware already, a group which has endorsed another candidate in the Democratic primary for Congress recently sent out a letter to a wide distribution which attempted to use a very painful personal incident in my life from more than 20 years ago in order to discredit our campaign and claim that I am unfit for office. The letter included multiple false statements about me, including that I am using an “assumed name.” (My full name is Srinivas Rao Preston Kulkarni, and when the candidate in question was told this, his response was, “Produce your birth certificate.” I am publishing my passport and social security card below to clear up this “birther” controversy).
To be clear, I am not writing to condemn the author or the campaign which condoned sending it out. I am instead writing to publicly thank the author and the campaign, because they have helped to highlight a serious problem which needs to be addressed in our society. Many qualified people either choose not to seek office because they don’t want to deal with people dragging their name through the mud like this, or they run from the issue, when what we should be doing is trying to honestly confront the problems in our system and fix them. In that light, I’m more than happy to tell my story.
When I was 18 years old, in 1997, my father was dying from acute myelocytic leukemia. I had to drop out of college for a year to take care of him. I did his physical therapy, I changed his IV bags, I took him back and forth to MD Anderson, and I even had to carry him to the bathroom and clean him as I watched him wither away to nothing. It was one of the most difficult periods in my life. During this time, my life became even more difficult after I was arrested for drug possession. The charge was for possession of less than 1 gram of cocaine, for which the penalty at that time was 2-10 years in prison. For months, I awaited an indictment, which never came, but even the terms of bail were a tremendous burden. I had to be at home between the hours of 10pm and 6am, and if I wasn’t, I could be thrown back in jail. That proved to be untenable, as I often had to take my father to the hospital in the middle of the night. So, rather than try to fight this charge in court, I accepted an offer of “deferred adjudication.” I was required to pay a fine and do 500 hours of community service, and after 2 years, my case was dismissed, meaning I have not been convicted of a crime. (The distinction is very important, as a conviction results in the loss of many rights).
In my case, I was lucky. I went on to graduate from UT and Harvard and had a very successful career in the State Department (where I was granted top secret clearance). Not all people are this lucky. As President Obama pointed out, if he had been arrested for drug possession, he could have easily been one more kid in prison. There are millions of people in America today who are not as fortunate as I was, or President Obama, or Bush, or Clinton. Millions of people have their lives completely ruined by things like nonviolent drug offenses or even lack of ability to pay a fine. Our prisons and jails are full of nonviolent offenders who could be productive members of society. Even without a prison sentence, you are often denied employment for years after the incident.
Ending the failed War on Drugs and achieving meaningful criminal justice reform are two issues which many progressive groups, including the one which sent this letter, claim to support. To date, our campaign is the only one which has posted publicly on our website about criminal justice reform. We oppose the War on Drugs and support the initiative to “Ban the Box” (which prevents job applicants from being forced to disclose a prior arrest at the beginning of the hiring process).
Our campaign is not afraid to discuss these issues. For those who agree that people should not be stigmatized for their entire life and that a teen arrest does not make one unfit to hold public office, we invite you to join our campaign and stand up for real progressive values. And for everyone, we invite you to participate in this important discussion. We had already been planning a forum on criminal justice reform. This week’s incident only further highlights the need to have serious discussion about these issues.
– Sri Preston Kulkarni, Congressional Candidate CD22

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