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Sri Preston Kulkarni – Indian American in 2018 US Congressional race from Texas

Srinivas Preston Kulkarni

Srinivas Preston Kulkarni

by Manu Shah
For the past year, Srinivas Preston Kulkarni, a diplomat in the US Foreign Service, was experiencing a nagging sense of unease. The rising anti-immigrant sentiment and the veiled justification of the white supremacy rally by the President troubled him, but the tipping point was the Republican Party’s support of Alabama’s Roy Moore and his disparaging remarks about Americans who are not Christians, families under slavery and disrespect for US Constitutional law.
Sri, 39, knew he couldn’t continue serving an administration that was in stark violation of his personal code of ethics and “so anti-American.” In mid-December 2017, he did what few would dare to do: he cleared out his desk in the Department of State where he worked and filed for the Democratic Party nomination to run for the 2018 US Congressional elections from Texas. Sri asserts that Roy Moore’s campaign is completely antithetical to American values, “beyond politics, beyond basic morality and values.” The only way, Sri emphasizes, he could make a difference was to run for Congress and speak out against the current administration.
Sri did confer with his family before taking such a huge leap. While his siblings had some practical reservations, his mother, Margaret, was completely supportive and joins him on his campaign trail. According to her, “Since he (Sri) was a kid, he has always stood up against bullies. I’m so proud of my son for continuing to follow his convictions throughout his life and standing up for what is right, whether the bully is in his high school or in the White House.”
Sri filed his nomination for the District 22 seat, which covers Sugar Land, Pearland and parts of Katy, a seat held by Congressman Pete Olson since 2008.
“I have been very concerned with the divide in this country caused by the current political discourse. Sri Kulkarni’s message of bipartisan problem solving and respect for all including immigrants resonates with me, and that’s why I support his campaign for Congress,” stated Ramesh Bhutada, local Indian American businessman.
In 1980, Sri’s father, Venkatesh Kulkarni, who is from India, and his mother Margaret moved to Houston where Venkatesh, a novelist, taught at Rice University and Margaret worked for Exxon. The couple have four children – Sri is the oldest, Krishna, a software developer, Margo, a data scientist and Silas runs his own NGO. They are all educated in Ivy League schools such as Princeton, Yale and Columbia and Sri joined their ranks with a Master’s in Public Administration from Harvard last year.
Sri grew up seeing two different worlds. He lived in Sharpstown, – a crime riddled African American neighborhood in Houston but was bused across town to a primarily white public school in an affluent neighborhood. Sri describes it as “feeling out of place in both places.”

 Sri with his mother Margaret, brother Silas, sister Margo (Lakshmi), and brother Krishna

Sri with his mother Margaret, brother Silas, sister Margo (Lakshmi), and brother Krishna

He excelled in academics, was a bit of a book worm, a Math and Science whiz and an Honors student. His teacher Dr. David Sherron at Lamar High School writes on Sri’s Facebook page: “One of my all-time best students was named Sri Kulkarni… he was phenomenal as a person as well as a student. If this is the same person who is running for Congress, then I wish him success and can say emphatically that America needs him!
When not buried in his books, Sri, at 15, was a dedicated Lieutenant Governor for the KEY Club, organizing and leading food drives, neighborhood cleanups and other service activities.
As the oldest, Sri often pitched in to take care of his younger siblings. At 18, his father was diagnosed with cancer and Sri chose to drop out of UT for a year to take care of his father. It was a subdued time for Sri as he watched his strong father wither in front of his eyes. For solace, he turned to the scriptural prayers his father had taught him, but in 1998 Sri’s father succumbed to the disease.
Sri was devastated, and it was only when the family traveled to India to immerse the ashes in the Ganges that he gained some sort of release from the grief. He began to understand one of Hinduism’s tenets – that life and death are part of a cycle and beyond one’s control. A piece of advice from his father is still gospel to him – to take care of “mind, body and family.” He meditates “to clear his mind” and is devoted to his family.
After his father’s death, Sri divided his time between helping raise his siblings and graduating from the Plan II Honors program.
His study of Linguistics and Russian in college was put to good use when he was commissioned as a Foreign Service Officer by Secretary of State Colin Powell. He served for 14 years and honed his diplomatic skills during postings in Iraq, Israel, Russia, Taiwan, and Jamaica. He constantly sought to reconcile differences between Arabs and Kurds and Israelis and Palestinians through dialogue, an accomplishment he’s proud of, and a skill, he says, he will bring to the “present politically hostile environment.”
Along the way, Sri picked up several languages, Mandarin, Hebrew, Hindi, and Spanish, which is handy when meeting people. At 6.2 feet, he exudes a quiet determination, speaks with a refreshing directness and mingles easily.
With campaign manager Karim Farishta who worked in the White House and a team of 15 committed volunteers, Sri hit the campaign trail. He tapped family and friends in a fundraising bid and raised $34,000 in the first 13 days. (more than the previous nominee raised in 1 year). The campaign has now raised over $80,000, more than any Democratic nominee in the last 8 years. The South Asian community, Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and AFLCIO – the largest labor union clearly appear to be leaning towards him. He’s also packing in the hours, reaching out to everyone in Gurudwaras, temples, masjids, and churches, and meeting representatives of Indian organizations like the Gujarati Samaj, Maharashtra Mandal, the Telugu Cultural Association, and the India Culture Center as well as all other communities in the district.
Some of the issues he’s vocal about is the improvement of the public school system, affordable healthcare for all, adequate care for veterans, greater cybersecurity to protect the country, rejecting demonization of specific faiths and fair wages for all.
Sri admits it’s a crowded field of candidates but is confident that if he wins in the primaries on March 6th, he can clinch the seat for Congress in November. His campaign, he adds is “not anti-Republican or anti-Trump,” it’s pro-American.”


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