Dandekar, a Democrat born and educated in India, has been living in Iowa for over thirty years. She has served three terms as a member in the Iowa House of Representatives. In 2008, she threw her hat in the ring to run for an Iowa state Senate seat that had voted Republican for almost 20 years. She reached out to many rural Iowans with a platform based on education, quality health care, renewable energy and economic growth and she won 54.3 percent of the vote and became the senator.
Swati Dandekar took risk and chose to reach for a higher office that required her to knock on doors in areas where she had not represented the people and where knowledge of Asian Indian Americans may not have been high. As a result of her successful gamble, APAs now have a state Senate-level standard-bearer in a state not know for its high percentage of APAs.
Sen. Dandekar’s rise in politics has other lessons for APAs interested in community involvement, no matter where they live and no matter what their life circumstances, because she did not start life thinking that she would become a politician. She started with science-oriented undergraduate and masters degrees in India and came to Iowa to be with her husband in 1972. Like many stay-at-home mothers, she raised her two sons while doing volunteer work in the community.
As her kids got older, however, she got more involved in the community. She became president of the Parent Teachers Organization and did such a good job that, when a seat opened on the local school board, her friends convinced her to run. She learned how to ask for votes, raise money and speak out on the key issues facing her community. On Election Day, she won with 80 percent of the votes, and her political career was underway.
Not everyone can be as smart, organized and compassionate as Swati Dandekar. But all of us can learn to get involved in our local communities, speak out on issues of concern to us and get beyond our comfort zones so that we can have more impact on the world around us.
Swati Dandekar is planning to contest for House of Representatives, USA in 2014
The passion of Swati Dandekar