For the People by the People: An interview with Rep. Padma Kuppa

April 30, 2020

This Q&A with Michigan State Rep. Padma Kuppa was conducted by the State Innovation Exchange, and has been edited for length and clarity.

What made you decide to enter state politics?

I decided to run for office because I was extremely concerned about the state of public education after the confirmation of Education Secretary Devos. I had been advocating for public school funding and been an active volunteer in schools since 2000 when my kids started at Troy public schools. I believe public school education is the backbone of what makes for a strong economy and a strong America.

You’re the first Indian immigrant and Hindu member of the Michigan Legislature. What do those “firsts” mean to you?

Being the first Indian immigrant and Hindu in the Michigan Legislature enhances my ability to represent my district fully, as I am conscious of my difference but also how I am 100% part of the community and American. That someone like me, born in another country, can embrace the ideals of our democracy, be a part of the community that I helped over the last two decades by volunteering and serving, and now serve as a state representative, just shows the power of government for the people by the people.

Padma Kuppa smiles and talks to colleagues on the Michigan House floor
State Rep. Padma Kuppa talks with colleagues on the Michigan House floor. (Photo: Michigan House)

That someone like me, born in another country, can embrace the ideals of our democracy…and now serve as a state representative, just shows the power of government for the people by the people. —Rep. Padma Kuppa

The COVID-19 epidemic has brought many social inequities to light, including the disparity in who has access to paid sick leave. Can you talk about the bill you introduced?

When I was a contract worker, I took time off when my kids were sick — not when I was sick, because I didn’t get paid sick time. For one in three Michigan workers, staying at home is not an option, and that is really a problem when we want to stop the spread of this pandemic. People shouldn’t have to choose between paying bills, buying food, making the rent and going to work when they are sick.Working mothers, in particular, are affected, especially when they are poorly paid for work in restaurants or retail operations, or care facilities.

Exterior of the Michigan State capitol building's dome
Top dome of Michigan State Capitol

How have you coped with the surge in anti-Asian racism during the COVID-19 epidemic?

I have been raising the issue with other elected leaders, including the governor and my legislative colleagues. I am also holding town halls to raise awareness and discuss the issue. I am working with Senator Chang, the Assistant Attorney General Doddamani, and the Department of Civil Rights to conduct a hate crime prevention training for Asian American community leaders via a virtual town hall.

What would you say to Michiganders who are looking to get more involved in state politics?

I always tell people to find an issue or two that you are passionate about and advocate with whichever group or elected leader you can. Make an effort to share that passion and nurture your ability to give voice to that issue so that you can make a difference. It’s important to start locally, build relationships, and organize so that people understand what you’re advocating for — and then hopefully join you to make meaningful change.

What book or film would you recommend to allies this Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPIHM)?

One of my favorite movies is by a constituent, Sarab Neelam, Ocean of Pearls. I also enjoyed one of the books that we read for the Great Michigan Read, Stealing Buddha’s Dinner. Both make you think about what it means to be American.

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