'It's really about rolling up your sleeves and implementing exactly what we said that we were going to do.'
'Our mission was to leave no one behind and that's exactly what we look at the next four years.'
Aruna Miller was sworn in as Maryland's Lieutenant Governor on Wednesday, January 18, 2023,. She is the first Indian American to be elected to the second most powerful position in any US state.
The mother of three grown up daughters, Aruna Katragadda immigrated to the US with her parents in 1972 when she was 7 and became a citizen in 2000.
She was selected as a running mate by Wes Moore, who took the oath the same day as the first Black Governor of Maryland and only the third in the nation's 246-year history.
Lieutenant Governor Aruna Miller spoke to Rediff.com's US correspondent and fellow Marylander Abhijit Masih about what attracted her to politics, her goals and plans for her state and the support that she received from the Indian-American community.
The concluding segment of a two-part interview:
- Part 1 of the Aruna Miller Interview: 'My role is to make people's lives easier'
You had a career as an engineer for 25 years. Was getting into politics a conscious decision after your daughters had grown up?
When I got into politics, I had a daughter that was in college, one in high school and one in middle school.
It's definitely a sacrifice that the family had to endure.
When any individual in a family decides to seek public service in the level of elected office, everybody pitches in, everyone is part of that movement.
I'm lucky to have a loving husband and a mom, who's always been here.
She's lived with us since 1999 and I think that has made all the difference.
Not just for me, but for the kids as well to have their grandmother and their father to play a big role in their life just as much as their mom did.
When I couldn't be there, they were there to fill in that gap.
Is it easier for women now to have a career in politics than it was before with the challenges of balancing a family like and a 24/7 365 life as a politician, or is it just as intact as before?
I think it's getting better with better opportunities for women and people of color.
The landscape of our nation is changing and probably in another 15 - 20 years, this is going to be a majority minority country.
That's why you're beginning to see elected officials that you wouldn't ordinarily see maybe 10 years ago.
So progress is slow, but I think it is getting better for women.
And the network of women that are running for office, the bigger and larger it becomes the greater the foundation is for the next woman to be able to run.
She will have a whole network of individuals that she can turn to as mentors or helping with fundraising or helping on the campaign, all of us.
Who are the politicians who inspired you to achieve these goals either in Maryland or on the national canvas?
I think it's a lot of different individuals. President Obama, he really broke that ceiling for so many of us.
It was a tremendous moment in this nation and globally, to see him as the President of the United States.
That was just awe inspiring for so many of us, whether it were people of color, or gender or age.
He is definitely up there as someone that has been inspiring.
But mostly, my inspiration came from people I've met in the trenches.
These are volunteers, activists, advocates who come out and fight day in and day out for a cause that they believe in.
They don't give up; no matter the odds they are facing ahead of them. They've inspired me.
I would say the civil rights activists who were behind the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Who through peaceful civil disobedience were able to make such tremendous strides in our country by passing the civil rights act that had a ripple effect and led directly to the Immigration Act of 1965.
If it wasn't for that, which lifted racial quotas, a whole set of new immigrants could come to this country and call themselves American.
My family and I would have never come to this country if it wasn't for that. So I'm grateful to them.
You spoke of the Obama presidency, but we also saw the one following that. How do you think the current divisions in American society can be healed?
What would your prescription be for a kinder and gentler America?
I think it was President Clinton that said, there's nothing wrong in America that cannot be fixed with what's right in America.
And what's right is that there are so many people of the 340 million that live here that care about our country, our democracy and want to see what's best for all of us.
I think how we can decrease this polarization is to talk about the good that we can do together.
Instead of believing that because I disagree with you on something that makes you my automatic enemy.
No, it doesn't.
But no one party, or no one elected official has all the answers or a monopoly on what can make our country better.
It takes diverse voices from all over the nation to make it better.
You have to listen, you got to be empathetic, and you need to understand life experiences that lead them to their current belief system.
Governor Wes Moore and I did just that during our campaign. We got it.
We ignored suggestions not to go to Republican districts but we would say that there are a lot of Marylanders there.
They're just as important to us as those that are going to support us.
With that belief of optimism, talking about what we can do for them, even if they disagree with us, I think can really bring that temperature down.
Do you interact with other Indian American politicians like Pramila Jayapal and from across the aisle like Nikki Haley?
I have run into them. But I wouldn't say I've regularly interacted with any of them, no matter what side of the aisle they are.
As Indian Americans that are in elected office, I believe there's over 170 right now, throughout the nation at local, state and federal levels, I think you build upon one another, regardless of what side of the aisle you're on.
The Indian American community, when they see people that look like them, they get energized and motivated to get engaged.
Representation is one part of it, but you also have to make sure that their lived experiences can relate to the constituents that they're representing.
To have a much more meaningful dialogue with the South Asian community and to build that foundation for the next generation.
What does it take to stay the course in politics and to continue to be relevant? How can one handle the peaks and depths of political life?
I think you have to let go. Some of these peaks are just temporary.
Ultimately, the job of myself as Lieutenant Governor as well as Wes Moore as Governor, is about the daily aspect of implementing policies and addressing constituent needs. That is what's most important.
It's not about lights, camera, action, and you're in front of the media. It's really about rolling up your sleeves and implementing exactly what we said that we were going to do.
Our mission was to leave no one behind and that's exactly what we look at the next four years.
That is going to guide us in everything that we deliver for the people of Maryland.
That's where the hard work begins, but that's where the best work is in helping your constituents and making the state a better place.
Will you stay in Maryland politics or will the LG role be a springboard for a national role?
I am not looking at anything like that. Look, the voters of Maryland have elected Governor Wes Moore and myself and that's exactly where our focus is and it will be for the next four years, I can assure you that.
We are grateful for this tremendous privilege and opportunity to represent them and that's where all our focus is going to be 100%.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com