Dhingra says her “campaign has always been about strengthening communities, bringing people together”
By Geeta Goindi
Manka Dhingra’s victory in the Washington state senate race is one of many success stories by Democrats in the November 7 election, albeit a pivotal one: the party now controls all branches of government in three states along the west coast including Oregon and California.
Dhingra, 43, a prosecutor, won a hard-fought, costly race in the 45th legislative district defeating Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund, 33, a former Capitol Hill staffer. Having secured 55 percent of the vote, her victory has flipped control in the Washington state legislature to Democrats who now have a majority in the senate, house, and also hold the governor’s office.
Dhingra was born in Bhopal, India, and migrated to the US when she was 13 years old following the death of her father who worked at Union Carbide. She has a BA in history and political science from the University of California at Berkeley, and a JD from the University of Washington School of Law. She is married to Harjit Singh, a distinguished engineer at SpaceX in Redmond, and the couple have two teenage children.
Dhingra is the first Indian-American of Sikh heritage to win a seat in the Washington state senate and will represent a district which is in Seattle’s tech-heavy Eastside in King County.
It is noteworthy that Pramila Jayapal became the first Indian-American woman to serve in the US Congress after being elected in 2016 to represent Washington’s 7th Congressional District.
It is also the state where Deep Rai, a Sikh, was shot in the arm in a racially motivated attack which shook the community earlier this year. Dhingra has served on the Seattle Police Department Muslim, Arab, and Sikh Advisory Council to address hate crimes in the wake of 9/11.
In a conference call with journalists following her win, the Senator-elect emphasized, “To me this campaign has always been about strengthening communities, bringing people together”.
She readily admitted, “This was a very tough campaign. A lot of money was spent in this race”. Reportedly, with almost nine million dollars in campaign contributions poured into the contest, the battle between Dhingra and Englund, a Korean immigrant, was by far the most expensive legislative race in Washington state history.
“A lot of the money was spent by people outside of our community that were bent on dividing us against each other in hopes of moving their own political agendas forward”, Dhingra told journalists. “Somewhere along the way, those people started making the election about ‘us’ versus ‘them’. I don’t have to tell you, in that story I was the ‘them’. And this playbook is being executed all over our country right now. We see the politics of tribalism, misinformation and mistrust happening all around us. We see the hate and the fear and the division walking around. It can be scary and depressing and it can hurt”.
But, she saw hope as in the face of all those attacks, the community came together. “When we were attacked with fear, divisiveness and dishonesty, we responded with love”, she said. “We responded with integrity, honesty and a commitment to solving problems together. These are the values that we as members of the 45th district in Washington, as Washingtonians, and as Americans, believe in. This is what led us to victory”.
Dhingra believes “democracy is not about agreeing on everything” and cited examples of Republicans who supported her campaign. “In this fight against misinformation and distraction and division that feels so surreal at times, it’s the real relationships between real people that will save us”, she said.
“We had thousands of volunteers working on my campaign. We had a team campaign committee with over one hundred teenagers. We had retired people, retirees, college students, people from all walks of life. All of these people and thousands more in our state and millions more in our country are proving that if you care about democracy, about justice, about a free and equitable society, you don’t have to personally have a lot of money or connections or power to make a difference. All you need is your compassion, your creativity and the courage of your convictions”, she said.
Dhingra’s victory is even more inspiring given that it was her first time running for political office. The journey started in 2016 when Donald Trump was elected America’s 45th president.
“I was having a very large Election Day party at my house last November and I was very disappointed with the results”, Dhingra recalled. “It really made me think long and hard about what I had been doing with my life for the last 20 years and what I wanted to do for the future”. In December, she went to her first Democratic party meeting.
“Ten months ago, we launched this campaign with the slogan, ‘Strengthening communities’. The outcome on election day was the result of thousands of people deciding to turn those words into action”, she said. “And tomorrow is the beginning of turning those actions into a future – for our district, for our state, for our country and for our world. This frankly, is what democracy looks like”.
Earlier, in 1996, Dhingra co-founded Chaya (now called API Chaya), a non-profit organization to combat domestic violence against South Asian women. As a Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney for King County, she has worked in the office’s mental health and veteran courts.
Joining Dhingra in the press conference call were Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Tom Perez and Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, Chair of the Democratic Governors Association.
Perez called Senator-elect Dhingra “an incredible candidate” and gushed, “Her victory is a big take for the democratic party. We are proud of what she has done”.
About the democratic gubernatorial victories with Ralph Northam’s win in Virginia and Phil Murphy’s election in New Jersey, the DNC head told journalists, “This was about early investment; this was about understanding the states we were contesting. It was about matching our vision with the people’s vision, securing and protecting women’s rights, and healthcare coverage”.
Perez categorically stated, “The number one issue for voters in Virginia was healthcare. You can continue to say that the Affordable Care Act is a disaster, but the reality on the ground is that for many people it is a life saver”.
Perez also attributed the success of democratic candidates to “running against Trump-like candidates”. On Election Day, President Trump was in Asia, part of a 12-day trip to Hawaii, Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.
“The America that Donald Trump left a few days ago when he went to Asia bears little resemblance to the America that we know today”, Perez said in the conference call. “The America of today has sent a very clear signal that the politics of division must be over. The America of today is sending a very clear message to members of the US House debating a tax bill that would give massive breaks to people who don’t need them”.
Regarding the future course of the democratic party and the 36 races coming up next year, the DNC leader said it was important “to have a unifying message” and “undo the damage that was done by the Republican party”.