Rickey Gill, the young US Republican Congressional hopeful from California, speaks to Ritu Jha
Ricky Gill, who has become the voice of his home county San Joaquin, California, is now eyeing the Congress. Gill, 24, has raised $420,000 by winning the trust of 730 individual donors March 1 through June 30, in the Republican campaign's first reporting period to the Federal Election Commission.
If elected, Gill will occupy the 11th Congressional District seat currently held by Jerry McNerney of the East Bay community of Pleasanton. Gill's parents, who are immigrant doctors, also own a vineyard, where Ricky learnt about farming and the issues of his community.
How different is your campaign as compared to previous Republican candidates? How can you change the mood of voters?
I was born and raised in San Joaquin Valley. My upbringing here gives me a perspective of the unique challenges confronting this region. Having roots here is something the last few Republican challengers lacked.
I'm passionate about restoring our economy, because in its current state, young people are often forced to seek employment outside the county. I have developed a plan to link the innovations of Silicon Valley to Central Valley, thus bringing jobs and stability to our local economy.
An additional distinction is my focus and expertise in the field of education. I was appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to serve on the California State Board of Education, where I defended the California High School Exit Exam. As the son of immigrants, I realise that public education is the great equaliser of any free society and one of the best investments we can make to keep America competitive. Others have either neglected the importance of public education or taken a position on the issue that could have been construed as anti-education.
You believe education, which is the key to a good economy, has been hit hard by California's budget troubles. What do you think could be done?
As a former member of the California State Board of Education, I represented nearly seven million public school students in this state. I witnessed the problems involved with students being shuffled through the system without achieving at acceptable levels.
I believe parents are a great constituency for education reform and deserve a choice in the schools their children attend. I would like to see greater accountability and autonomy at the local and school-site level.
Finally, as Congress contemplates the re-authorisation of No Child Left Behind, it should embrace greater analytical rigor in educational accountability. Putting students first and making their academic growth the benchmark for success is paramount.
Jerry McNerney, a Democrat, is a strong supporter of clean energy and using sustainable resources, especially wind power. He thinks it will create more green jobs. What is your say on that?
Our country needs an energy policy that takes the long view. I believe volatile energy prices represent a shock to our economy and a potential national security threat. I am a personal proponent of clean energy and the jobs they create. An example of this commitment is the fact that I drive an American electric vehicle, the Chevy Volt.
Do you advocate the immediate deportation of illegal immigrants and the completion of a fence on the southern California border?
I am a supporter of legal immigration. The current system is broken and unworkable. We should be actively inviting and retaining high-skilled workers through expanded use of the H-1B visa program.
To the extent that agriculture and similar industries need labour demands to be fulfilled, I would consider supporting a guest worker program.
You are focused on tort reform as a tool to curb medical malpractice insurance costs. Can you elaborate on this?
The absence of tort reform from the most recent federal health legislation constituted a grave omission. I believe that rising malpractice premiums are responsible for defensive medicine, the ordering of unnecessary tests by doctors as a means to avoid litigation.
This is certainly one driver of the increased costs associated with healthcare. By enacting sensible tort reform measures, we can protect the patient-physician relationship and contain costs in the healthcare industry.
How do you plan to get the support of the Indian-American community?
I am very fortunate to have the support of the Indian-American community. I believe this is a direct result of our message of economic and educational reform, but it also reflects the more than 30 years my family has spent cultivating relationships in Central Valley.
If elected, will you be the first Indian American serving your county? Being only 24, do you think you will have a say among other members of Congress?
I believe other Indian Americans have won elections in this county, but not at the level of Congress. The last and to date the only Indian American to serve in Congress from California was Dalip Singh Saund. His first election to the House of Representatives occurred over 55 years ago.
I've worked in a variety of political settings, including the California State Board of Education, the California Education Secretary and the US Senate Health and Education Committee, where I've had to interact and collaborate with much older colleagues.
Age was never an issue with them, and I suspect it would not be in the halls of the Congress. My age becomes irrelevant when one considers the consequential issues that face us today.