This year, a record number of Asian Americans are running for public office at the local, state, and national level. Reappropriate has partnered with Run for Something — a non-profit launched in 2017 to support grassroots campaigns to elect progressive candidates — to profile these progressive Asian American candidates for higher office. Check back at Reappropriate throughout 2018 to learn more about these candidates and find out how you can get more involved in their campaigns.
What is your full name?
Alexander Jonathan Karjeker
What office are you seeking?
Texas State House of Representatives, District 129
What is the election date?
November 6, 2018
What is your party registration (if any)?
Tell me a little bit about your background in general, as well as your relationship to your identity as an Asian American?
I’m a self-proclaimed policy nerd. I have always been interested in policy and politics and how we can come together, as a community, to solve real problems. Professionally, I’m an economist and mathematician. I studied at the University of Texas at Austin (undergrad) and Georgetown University (graduate). Whether it was transportation or healthcare, public education or taxes, I enjoyed learning about how policy can create the right environment to help everyone achieve their wildest dreams.
My first job was with Morgan Stanley as an investment analyst in their municipal bond group. I worked with clients like the Texas Department of Transportation, the Houston Airport System, and Houston METRO to ensure those agencies had access to the funds they needed to keep Houston connected to the world.
After Morgan Stanley, I worked for the technology and transportation company, Uber. I was part of the public policy research team studying transportation and the gig economy. We learned that by taking advantage of the supercomputers in our pockets, we could expand access to transportation, create flexible work, and reduce congestion and pollution all across the world – as long as our public policies made sense. So when I
came home to Texas, I knew exactly what we needed. In 2017, I helped pass
comprehensive statewide transportation regulations for the 21st century. Focusing on the issues, and not party politics, meant that we received support from two-thirds of the Texas Legislature, Democrats and Republicans.
Like most people, my identity as an Asian American is through my family. My parents met on a blind date in Dallas, Texas. My father was born and grew up in Cape Town, South Africa. His parents were Indian and Cape Malay . My mother was born in the Philippines and grew up in Europe. Her parents were Jewish-American and Filipina. Being raised overseas, they connected over a deep interest and appreciation for foreign affairs. They moved to Houston shortly after my brother and I were born.
Growing up my parents emphasized the importance of education and civic engagement. As professionals, they understood that knowledge was particularly important because it helps everyone. Research and study lead to breakthroughs and innovations and its those innovations that heal the sick and feed the hungry. My brother and I spent many nights learning the science and math that will undergird the future of our children.
And as students of history, my parents knew that you could never take democracy for granted. My father’s family was not allowed to vote in South Africa. My mother’s family had fought against authoritarianism during WWII. Only by fulfilling our responsibilities and participating in our government can we ensure that the American freedoms we all enjoy are protected.
Last, but certainly not least, my world view has been strongly shaped by my wife. Her family is also from India and she grew up in Dallas. Our roots are similar, yet different. Through those differences, I have come to understand the experiences of multi-generational diaspora communities that much better.
How do you become inspired to seek elected office?
After the 2016 election, I began to think more about why so many people, across parties and across the country, were so unhappy with the political process. Whether I spoke to urban Democrats or suburban Republicans, I couldn’t escape the anger and resignation people felt over the idea that our elected leaders were unable to solve real problems without being difficult and divisive.
Shortly before getting married, I put together a set of ideas that I felt could make a real difference in the way our politics works so we could start dealing with real challenges. These reforms put a focus back on local issues and empower voters to make decisions by making elections more competitive. Ultimately, by making elections more competitive, Texans will be able to hold their elected officials accountable and get the government they truly deserved.
Unfortunately, nobody wanted to champion those ideas. Many in the political system didn’t see the value in what I now call A Better Texas Politics , or felt these changes weren’t doable. After much discussion with my wife, I earned my first endorsement from her to leave my corporate job and run for this office.
So why am I running? Because while we will never agree 100% on everything, our system should be able to find common ground and solve problems on the 70% we do agree on. And that’s the politics that we deserve.
What three issues do you think are most important to your constituents, and what step(s) do you plan to take to address them if elected?
As I talk to voters in my district, I continually hear concerns about supporting our public schools. In Texas, the Lieutenant Governor has made it clear his interest in creating a private voucher system for primary and secondary education. Combined with a zeal for small government, such a change would defund our public schools. Our public school systems in Texas are already chronically underfunded. While the students entering our schools have more challenges than ever before, and the stakes of their education never higher, our primary investment, teacher pay, has actually decreased over the last decade. Lastly, the metrics used to evaluate our schools are overly reliant on test scores and less on the real world skills students will need to succeed.
If elected, I will work to ensure that Texas public schools have the funding they need to pay teachers competitively. I will also work to create a smarter accountability system so we can know what works and make sure taxpayer resources are not being wasted. Every student deserves the same educational support that I received so they can contribute back to our local communities.
Second, many people in my district were affected by Hurricane Harvey. Homes west of I-45 and near the Clear Creek area were heavily damaged and our friends and neighbors are still putting their lives back together. We know that heavy storms and once-in-five-hundred year floods are no longer that infrequent. Our community needs new infrastructure to deal with these storms when they come, and not just if.
If elected, I will work to build new infrastructure to protect our homes and community from flooding caused by excessive rain and storm surges. If the Netherlands can keep themselves dry, so can we. The State of Texas can, and should, make the necessary investments to preserve our communities and protect our environment.
Lastly, voters in the Bay Area are tired of a broken political process. Politicians come out every election season in search of votes, but are unable to deliver on core promises. There’s always a finger pointing at someone else whenever we ask why a problem wasn’t solved. With accountability so low, it’s not surprise that so few people choose to engage – and that only compounds the problem.
If elected, I will work to upgrade our political system so that voters across Texas feel that the Legislature is listening to them. And if it isn’t, give them a way to hold their elected officials accountable. Going year after year without providing solutions to the real questions is unacceptable and Texans deserve better.
What impact has the current political climate had on you as an Asian American progressive seeking elected office?
The current political climate has only confirmed my parents’ teachings: only by fulfilling our responsibilities and participating in our government can we ensure that the American freedoms we all enjoy are protected. When Asian Americans decide not to vote or engage in the process, decisions that affect the quality of our schools, the safety of our homes and the vibrancy of our economy are made without us.
Now more than ever, it is time for Asian Americans in communities like mine to join these discussions and force elected officials to find solutions to local problems that work for everyone.
What advice would you have for other young Asian Americans currently considering a career in politics and/or public service?
Don’t underestimate the power of investing in your local communities. The current media environment focuses on Washington and its dysfunction and it can be tempting to direct your efforts to those issues. But school boards, city councils, county governments and state representatives all matter. So many of the most crucial decisions never make it to Washington. Spend some time in the Capitol; learn how that system works (and how it doesn’t). But when you’re ready to do the real work, come home and organize your community. You’ll find that people who would never agree with you about what happens “in DC” are happy to find common ground on making things work at home.
Where can readers go to learn more about you and your campaign?
Readers can go to www.alexforclearlake.com to learn more about me and my campaign. I’d encourage them to read my thoughts on A Better Texas Politics and The Peoples’ Agenda . Readers can also follow the campaign on Facebook at www.facebook.com/alexforclearlake or on Twitter at @alex4clearlake.
How can readers get involved to help your campaign? Are there any upcoming events you’d like for us to know about?
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Run for Something recruits and supports talented, passionate young people who advocate for progressive values now and for the next 30 years, with the ultimate goal of building a progressive bench. Since its launch on inauguration day 2017, they’ve recruited 16,000 young people to run for office.