The Indian American, who is a member of the DNC’s National Finance Committee, speaks to The American Bazaar.
By Raif Karerat
(This is the second post in a series on major Indian American donors and fundraisers who are playing a key role in the current presidential election cycle.)
Indian American Shefali Razdan Duggal has established herself as a key player in Democratic party circles through her roles with the Democratic National Committee’s National Finance Committee, the DNC Women’s Leadership Forum — of which she serves as Co-Chair — and as a prominent fundraiser for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. She is one of a handful of Indian American “Hillblazers,” or individuals who have raised more than $100,000 for the Clinton campaign in this election cycle, according to the campaign. Furthermore, she also serves on the Rules Committee for the highly anticipated 2016 Democratic National Convention, which is scheduled to be held in Philadelphia on July 25.
Born in the Haridwar district of Uttarakhand, India, Duggal immigrated to the United States at a very young age and grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Earlier in her career, she operated as a political analyst at Staton Hughes, a political strategy firm, and also worked for the Massachusetts Democratic party, the New Hampshire Democratic party, and Senators Ted Kennedy and Dianne Feinstein.
Duggal recently spoke with the American Bazaar and answered a slate of questions concerning the impending presidential election, the role of South Asian Americans in U.S. politics, and the plethora of roles she has assumed while actively shaping Washington’s political landscape.
Why has Hillary Clinton garnered your support in the 2008 and 2016 presidential campaigns as opposed to any other candidate?
In 2007, I had been a stay-at-home mother for 6 years, raising my two young children. I had my degrees in politics, and always had a deep fascination within the topic. I worked a bit in politics before my children were born, although not too extensively. In 2007, when my younger child was 3 years old, I was feeling motivated to get re-engaged within public service. At that moment in time, both Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama seemed incredibly appealing to me. My husband had been invited to a political event, and he asked me to go in his stead, as he was unable to leave work that evening. I hadn’t been involved in much outside of diapers and spit clothes for several years, and I was a bit nervous to attend this event. I went, and I was speaking with a few folks about how I would love to get active in politics, in some way, again. It was there that I met a few folks who were working on Sen. Clinton’s campaign, and they began to speak with me about the concept of fundraising for a young mother (me) who wanted to volunteer time. Sen. Clinton’s team really nurtured me back into the political world, and they were very gracious with me. I worked on that campaign for 16 months, learning how I would most comfortably engage in fundraising, as per my personality and my own style. I am very grateful for the kindness of that campaign and experience. For the 2016 campaign, I, along with so many others, had been hopeful that Secretary Clinton would run for president. I eagerly awaited and when I received the call shortly after her announcement, I was elated to join the National Finance Committee. I genuinely believe that Secretary Clinton is the most qualified candidate, and she would be an incredibly thoughtful and balanced president. Unequivocally, the Secretary would be the most competent for this role, as well as the fact that she would be the first female president in the history of the United States very much invigorated my involvement. I would like for my daughter and son to now witness that moment when they saw that all things, for women and men, are possible within the United States of America.
What sort of lens do you view Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump through?
Well, I believe that anyone who is over the age of 35 and is a natural born United States citizen has the right to run for the highest office in the land — although that doesn’t mean that they would be the most competent to lead the greatest country on Earth. I view Donald Trump as a talented business person who has higher ambitions, and those ambitions may not meet the intersection of what is best, currently or within the future, for the United States.
How have your experiences as an immigrant influenced the manner in which you approach politics?
My experience as an immigrant has most definitely shaped my approach to politics. The fact that this country is a true meritocracy profoundly evens the playing field. I love that this country, this idea of the United States, is about talent, hard work and integrity, and not about unearned placement and entitled behavior (for the most part). My experience, as a child of a single mother in the 1980s, is what most affected how I approach politics and absolutely everything else I do. My mother worked two minimum wage jobs to support both she and I growing up, and I have a deep loyalty to the United States for the fact that nowhere else could my mother have been given a fair shot to pull herself up from the ashes. Thus, I work diligently in politics to pay back, in some small way, the country which has provided so much to my mother and I, and to pay forward in positive actions/behavior/thoughts to others coming after me.
What inspired your dedication to public service? Was there a seminal moment?
From a very young age, I was taught by both of my parents that this country was a place where anything could happen for anyone who worked hard, played by the rules and treated others with authentic kindness and empathy. I had a deep interest in the political process from an early age, and it continued to develop as I grew. I was fascinated with the 1980 presidential election of Jimmy Carter v. Ronald Reagan (I was 9 years old), and how two seemingly regular guys who came from nothing were able to rise to the level of presidential politics. Only in this country — nowhere else in the world is this miracle possible. I fell in love with how the United States gave everyone a fair chance.
Why do you think the South Asian community in the United States has yet to fully embrace the political process here?
I think that our community, as well as so many other immigrant communities, had different priorities when they first landed on these shores. The priorities of previous generations were encompassed with improving the future of their children, by work, education and creating positive interactions with their new communities. I do not believe that previous generations, and to some degree our current generation, is not fully embracing the political process. I truly believe that there had been many other priorities for creating a new destiny for individual families which was focused upon. As these foundations are set, younger generations have the luxury of getting more involved in other areas of interest to their hearts, such as politics. If my mother hadn’t worked so hard in her life to set our foundation, then I would not have had the ability for my own involvement within politics.
What sort of measures have you taken to bridge the divide between the U.S., a democracy you have described as the greatest in the world, and India, the world’s most populous democracy?
I don’t know that one single person can do anything to fundamentally bridge the divide. Although each person can certainly attempt, in their own small way, to be helpful. For myself, I attempt to be a positive example of how an Indian can be a helpful team player within the larger environment of politics. I attempt, to the best of my ability, to create an affirmative experience for those around me, in hopes that they will ultimately believe that all Indians they encounter during and after me are kind, have integrity and work hard. Of course, I cannot control what others do, although I can only do my own part in attempting to create a positive foundation.
Would you please elaborate on your work as an active member of the Human Rights Watch?
I had been on the Annual Dinner Committee for several years. Human Rights Watch is an amazing and influential organization. I have recently joined the Board of Advocates for Human Rights First (a non-profit, non partisan Human Rights organization).
Do you intend to run for public office?
Whilst it is a very noble adventure to dedicate one’s life to public service in elected office, I, myself, will not be running for an elected position.
What are your plans for the future?
To be as helpful to the Democratic Party as possible, in whatever way they find me to be useful. I am here to be supportive to the Party, and that is my overarching priority.