By Janice Nesamani
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Manka Dhingra believes in conversations that affect change in race relations, education, transportation, and making Washington state as liberal as it is perceived.
Dhingra is a working mom, a senior deputy prosecuting attorney, and the Democrat candidate that the party hopes will help them claim the Washington state Senate. The 42-year-old is running for the 45th district, which spreads from Kirkland to Duvall, right up to Sammamish in the south. The demographic of the constituency comprises a healthy number of immigrants employed in the IT sector. In conversation with her, Dhingra reveals her plan to end the eight-year stalemate in state Senate, where decisions are being made based on partisan politics and not on what the people want.
Born in India, Dhingra moved to the United States when she was 13. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Political Science from the University of California at Berkeley and a JD from the University of Washington School of Law. Dhingra says she always knew she wanted a life in public service. What eventually motivated her to run for office was the rising level of fear she sensed in the community around her. “One of the primary issues I have come across after the recent election is many members of the minority community are unsure about the future. There has been a rise in hate crime and people, who have lived happily in this area for decades and not been afraid, are having their kids told that you have to go back to your country,” she said.
Dhingra, who has been involved in fighting hate crime, especially after 9/11, has worked with the Seattle Police Department’s Muslim Arab Sikh Advisory Council. She has conducted cultural competency training on a state and national level, and has also been involved in seminars conducted at the Redmond Mosque and India Association of Western Washington. These experiences will go a long way in places such as Olympia, where Dhingra says she wants to change the culture.
This is something Dhingra has experience with. She says through her work in domestic violence in the Asian community, she changed the culture by educating around the topic and starting the conversation. “Seventeen years ago, people didn’t want to talk about mental health or therapeutic courts. Today, I chair the therapeutic alternative unit. We talk about mental illness in the community now, we have support groups. I have 20 years of being able to do that. It’s a conversation you must have by taking control of the language and then it is harder for people to say no. I have that background,” she said.
“It is so important for a democracy to really represent people. It is so important for people to see physical representation at every level of government,” said Dhingra, explaining what pushed her to run for office. While immigration rules can only be changed at the federal level, what she aims to do is push back at the state-level. She cites Attorney General Bob Ferguson who stood up to make sure that people’s rights were taken care of.
There are two main issues that Dhingra would like to focus on in her bid apart from championing for immigrant rights — education, and transportation and growth.
Dhingra speaks from experience when she talks about education in the state. She has a 13-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son who study at Redmond Middle and High Schools. She has been an active member of the PTSA, she has coached chess clubs, math clubs, and Destination Imagination, and received the PTSA Golden Acorn Award for her work at Redmond Elementary School.
“Look at all the tech jobs on the Eastside, why aren’t our children filling them?” Dhingra asked. “It’s because our schools are not funded at the primary level. As Asians, that’s what our focus has been. Education is the key to success.”
Dhingra points to Bellevue, Redmond, and Sammamish and says they are great school districts with great enrichment programs with one fundamental problem: they are run by parents. Dhingra says she would love to have the state provide education dollars so that schools can have a reliable source of income and not rely on local levies.
“Our schools are creative and innovative and they can put this into action when they don’t have to worry about funding. The state is responsible for public education, and public education is the foundation of our democracy. Education is the greatest equalizer, every child has the opportunity to become what they want to be,” said Dhingra.
Transportation and growth
One of the other hot button issues on the Eastside is transportation. Dhingra believes that it comes down to the way we govern as a state. She questioned whether we have an overarching comprehensive plan. “It’s confusing. We had voters pass an initiative, then we had legislators tweak it. There is no overarching plan for the state and that is what we need to do. We have a Supreme Court telling us we’re not funding education, the federal courts tell us we’re not funding mental health, and voters tell us we want a transportation plan now. We don’t have legislators responding to that. It is us saying let’s have a comprehensive plan moving forward.”
On state income tax
In response to voices saying that the Democrats plan to introduce income tax in the state, Dhingra feels the state is not ready to have a conversation about it. “Even the Republican legislators have tax plans. We have to fund education, transportation, mental health. How do you generate revenue? It’s time to stop complaining and come up with a solution. For the last eight years, we have not been able to govern because we have a political party involved in partisan politics and not governing. We have had important pieces of legislation, such as the bill on equal pay, stuck,” she said.
Whether or not Dhingra will have a voice at the Senate will be decided at the Senate. Meanwhile, she is on leave from her job as a Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney and giving the race all she’s got!
Janice can be reached at email@example.com.