Susheela Jayapal, the sister of Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the first Indian-American woman to serve in the US House of Representatives, has announced her run for Oregon’s 3rd Congressional District.
She stepped down as Multnomah County Commissioner, a post she held since 2019, to enter the race after longtime Congressman Earl Blumenauer announced his retirement.
It is “more important than ever that we have an unwavering progressive voice in Congress,” Jayapal, 61, said announcing her candidacy on Nov 1. She cited community health and safety, abortion rights, climate change, and “standing up to election deniers” as her signature issues.
“I truly believe this is a pivotal time for the district, for the state, for the country in so many different ways,” Jayapal told Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB). “We came through the pandemic, and where we have landed is in a place where there is more divisiveness than before. At the same time, we’ve got these challenges here locally where we need federal action and federal help.”
Oregon’s 3rd District stretches from inner Portland to Hood River and is considered one of the safest Democratic seats in the US House, according to OPB.
Jayapal believes her pragmatic approach to governance is right for the job, despite having only four years of experience in politics.
If elected, she’d be in rare company serving alongside her younger sister, Pramila Jayapal, who is a member of the US House from Washington state and chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Jayapal was elected to represent District 2 on the county board in 2019, making her the first Indian American to win an elected county office in Oregon.
She won a reelection campaign last year. Before joining the board, Jayapal worked as a corporate lawyer, most recently working as the general counsel for Adidas America.
As a commissioner, Jayapal has pushed for immigration refugee services, racial justice programs, homelessness prevention policies and eviction defense support.
In the past year, she’s focused on updating the county’s contracting practices with nonprofits to ensure that staff are fairly compensated. Most recently, Jayapal has called on the city of Portland to ban the use of leaded diesel at the city-run Portland International Raceway.
Jayapal said she’s especially proud of her work at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, when she pushed the state to provide equitable access to testing and vaccines in Multnomah County.
She considers finalizing a contract with an online database company that helps property owners list vacant apartments, making them easier for homeless service providers to find as another top accomplishment.
Jayapal believes limits to her achievements at the county can be overcome by working at the federal level.
“The roots of our homelessness crisis lie in federal disinvestment over decades,” Jayapal told OPB. “And we need the federal government to come back into that space in serious ways.”
Jayapal believes heightened federal investments in public housing could help begin to dig the Portland metro area out of its expansive homelessness crisis.
If elected to Congress, Jayapal said she’d also want to focus on gun control, access to abortion, LGBTQ+ civil rights and combating climate change.
Jayapal has a unique perspective on the inner workings of Congress due to her sister’s six years on Capitol Hill. She said Pramila’s experience has offered her a window into the realities of the job — like the frustrations over partisan gridlock, the frequent flights between Seattle and Washington, DC and the vulnerability of being a woman of color on the national stage.
“It is appalling, frankly, what I hear,” Jayapal said. “But I also see upfront how worthwhile it feels to be standing up and fighting for the things that you believe in. So I go into this realistically and also really clear that it’s what I want to do.”
While her sister’s experience and resources in DC may help guide her through a major campaign, Jayapal is resolute that it’s her name on the ballot, not her sister’s.
“At the end of the day, the campaign is about me and the campaign is about whether I’m the strongest candidate, whether my values align with the voters,” she said.
One of the first persons to endorse Susheela Jayapal was her sister. “My incredible sister Susheela just launched her campaign for Congress!,” Rep. Jayapal wrote on X.
In addition to her sister’s backing, she rolled out endorsements from a state senator, two state representatives, and dozens of local politicians and community leaders
Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) and former Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), were the first sisters to serve in Congress simultaneously.