Susheela Jayapal, Oregon’s first Indian American legislator elected at the county level, is now running to join her younger sister in Congress, angling to succeed Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who announced he wouldn’t seek reelection earlier this week.
Her sister Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) represents neighboring Washington state, and chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus in the house. As the Washington Post reported, the first endorsement in her announcement was her sister.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal also posted about her sister’s campaign on X (formerly Twitter), saying she isn’t accepting donations from corporate PACs and calling for grassroots donations.
If elected, they’d be the first sisters to serve at the same time from two different states, since Reps. Linda and Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) were the first sisters to serve simultaneously.
Susheela and Pramila are daughters of the Indian historian, writer and teacher Maya Jayapal, who lives in Bengaluru. In an interview with India Today about her younger daughter’s Congressional win, she said she never expected her to go into politics—”We are not a politically inclined family.” That seems set to change, with both her daughters aiming for national positions in American politics.
Family dynasties are nothing new in American politics—see the Roosevelt, Bush or Kennedy families. But most have been prominent white families settled in a particular state for generations, not first-generation immigrants.
Growing up, the family moved frequently between cities in India as well as Jakarta and Singapore for their father, MP Jayapal’s marketing job. Both daughters came to the United States at the age of 16 for college, and stayed, becoming professionals, and later politicians.
Susheela won her first political seat in May 2018 with 62% of the vote, becoming a Multnomah County Commissioner. She resigned on Wednesday to run for Congress.
According to an interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting, Susheela said that her sister being in Congress has given her a special insight into the reality of the job, especially the partisan stalemate, frequent travel, and denigration faced by women of color in national politics.
But Susheela’s adamant that she’s running on her own achievements, not off the back of her sister. She’s especially proud of her efforts to respond to COVID-19 in Multnomah County, as well as expanding services for refugees, homeless people and immigrants, and supporting eviction defense.
Susheela also says that she feels county-level politics are limited, describing how she focused on treating the symptoms of the homelessness crisis in Multnomah County when “The roots of our homelessness crisis lie in federal disinvestment over decades.” To solve the issue, Susheela believes the federal government needs to do more to ensure housing is and remains accessible, something she can only push for as a federal legislator.
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