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Harmeet Dhillon to contest California assembly seat

Last updated on: May 20, 2008 00:33 IST

Though the Iraq war and the economic downturn have affected the popularity of the Republican Party, Harmeet Dhillon, candidate for the 13th Assembly District in California, is not unduly worried.

"I am running for a local election, not for the United States Congress. International or national issues are not relevant," Dhillon, who is unopposed in the Republican Primary scheduled for June 3, said.

In November, she will face popular San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who is also unopposed in the Democratic primary. They will be the only candidates in the election to the seat currently held by Mark Leno, who has reached his term limit.

The district covers the eastern half of San Francisco city and is heavily Democratic. Of the 260,000 voters, 57 percent are registered Democrats; Republicans are 9 percent and another 28 percent have no party affiliation.

"It is a very liberal district. I am not appealing for the Republican vote alone. I am not intimidated by the numbers," Dhillon, an attorney and community activist, said.

She said she has always supported the Republican Party, like her parents who live in North Carolina.

"Most Indians believe in the ideology of the Republicans such as less government and fiscal restraint. The party also supports complete religious freedom," she argued.

One third of the population in the 13th district is Asian, though the number of Indians is few. Again, the prospect of minimal community support is not an issue, Dhillon said, pointing out that Bobby Jindal had won election as governor of Louisiana with little or no support from the Indian American community.

She expects to spend between $100,000 and $500,000 on the election, and believes that here, the community though few in number will be of huge help. USINPAC (the US-India Political Action Committee) will organize a fundraiser in Washington, DC soon, and another is planned in North Carolina. "The community should help the candidates, as very few from the community stand for public office," she said.

She promises to restore California's business climate for future generations, less government regulation, more individual freedom, balanced budgets not based on deficit spending or endless bond measures, lower taxes and more efficient use of tax dollars, and ethical political reform and transparency.

Dhillon opposes the 'Nanny State,' where the government takes care of individual needs; she is against rent control that will prevent property owners from investing; she also disagrees with the regulation that restaurants should publish calorie counts on menus.

Though her law firm provides health insurance to its six employees, she is opposed to the law asking small businesses to give insurance coverage to its employees.

Her opponent Ammiano, a gay leader, has served as a San Francisco supervisor since 1994, representing Bernal Heights and the Mission District. He worked as a teacher and has done stand-up comedy since 1980. Ammiano spearheaded the creation of the city's domestic partnership ordinance and the universal health care ordinance.

Dhillon is a formidable candidate in the light of her background. She is a member of the San Francisco Republican Central Committee, and a delegate of the California Republican Party, appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Her political involvement began during the 1988 presidential election, when she was chair of Dartmouth Students for Jack Kemp.

Punjab-born Dhillon, who moved to North Carolina via England and New York, is a founder and partner of the law firm Dhillon & Smith LLP, which represents businesses, entrepreneurs and executives across many industries.

At the University of Virginia Law School, Dhillon served on the editorial board of the Virginia Law Review; she clerked for Judge Paul V Niemeyer of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Baltimore, Maryland, and has successfully represented political refugees from various troubled regions of the world, including Kashmir, Tibet and Eritrea. After 9/11, she represented many Sikhs who were victims of hate crimes.

Dhillon was recently named to the prestigious Best Lawyers Under 40 list by the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association. She served for three years on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union's Northern California Chapter. Currently, she is chair of the civil rights committee of the South Asian Bar Association, a trustee of the Sikh Foundation, and director of the California Women's Leadership Association.

George Joseph