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Slumdog Engineer

I was only 21 when I stepped off a packed red bus, passport-in-hand and ran towards the American consulate in Mumbai.

Heavy monsoon rains soaked the only suit I ever owned, but I could see the American flag at the gates and I sprinted toward it. There was something magical about nearing our flag, and it felt like a giant step towards a new life in America.

It was 85 degrees outside but as I sat soaking wet and freezing in the lobby of the Ice cold air-conditioned comfort and calmness of the American consulate, I knew my life could change forever!

An American student visa was a hit or a miss proposition for even someone who had graduated from one of the best engineering schools in the country but when I exited the consulate, I knew I was going to America! I opened my passport many times to verify that the visa stamp was intact.

Growing up

I grew up in a middle class suburb apartment in Mumbai with no air conditioning, my dad worked extremely hard in the cryogenics industry, and my mom herded three boys.

We’d climb on the back of my dad’s scooter and he would drive all four of us into the inner streets of Bombay. Being the youngest, I would get to stand on the floor of the scooter, my dad’s arms around me as he steered the scooter through traffic, the wind rushing by, and I felt like a king!

Life wasn’t easy - My dad drove the scooter for hours to purchase quality rice, as the rationed rice that the government provided was filled with little stones. My mom would assign us three boys to pick out anything that was, well, not rice. Every Sunday my Mom assembled the “good rice” into a fabulous family lunch I remember fondly to this day. Those family moments were special - ingrained in my memory.

Arriving to a good graduate school program in the United States I bought my first pair of blue jeans, had my first Thanksgiving dinner with a Professor’s family, discovered the delightful experience of my first snowfall fight, and found America to be a welcoming country I knew I would love forever. I loved every second!

America had given me incredible opportunities and stability, and I intended to return the favor.

It all started in my neighborhood

I met my better half Seema at the Washington D.C. cherry blossom festival for the first time and it was love at first sight… and we ended up in Saratoga with two beautiful children. Seema and I found the opportunity to both chase the dream of innovation and give back to our amazing community here.

Saratoga was that perfect bubble to raise a family — Seema worked for Cisco and I worked for IBM. The unique culture of our hard working residents had resulted in residents disconnected from City government. I heard about repeated neighborhood break-ins and many felt helpless. I knocked on doors organizing neighbors who rewarded me with a fountain of sometimes decade-long pending issues. Seema still calls me a “glutton for punishment,” but I felt empowered enough that I tried to solve their problems.

I knew roads in my neighborhood needed work, but I didn’t realize they hadn’t been paved in decades. I petitioned our city’s public works director who got it done. It can be this easy? I joined our city’s planning commission, and decided we needed to steer the city with more than just a plan, and I jumped into problems facing school districts, revitalizing our local economy & local businesses, and even a senior center strapped for funds.

My STEM passion

I believe that if you are lucky enough to do well, it’s your responsibility to champion the issues of disenfranchised communities who have never had a voice. I launched a no-charge Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for youth in many underserved neighborhoods of Silicon Valley teaching STEM and entrepreneurial skills.

My wife Seema and I have hosted a Lego Robotics Bootcamp annually teaching design and programming for the last ten years. I was honored to be appointed to the California Dept. of Education’s Computer Science Implementation Panel, part of a team that drafted the curriculum for California’s K-12 public schools, which goes live in Fall of 2022.

Our community work truly strengthened our family bond as our children participated in these programs and later helped to organize them.

A political platform to get things done

My political journey started in 2012 when a state senator invited me to run for a political party position. I was shocked to win both the Executive Board and Delegate position — the top spot and was first amongst 43 running for the seat. The party establishment was not happy with me. I shrugged my shoulders and pushed ahead, exploring the political opportunity to get things done and be the fearless voice of our community.

When a local council member met me at a Starbucks and told me to stop pushing on a community issue, I pushed back, and decided to find a seat on the table, and NOT be listed on the menu anymore; I ran for city council.

I barely scraped through the first election, winning by just 71 votes, as the same council member made it a personal mission to try to keep me out. I took my role very seriously, because I almost didn’t have it. I worked hard, taking on tough challenges and solving problems. I was putting in 60 hours at my tech job and then another 40 each week with the city council, community leadership, and non-profit work. It became a 24 x 7 “job” but I loved it!

Getting things done

I found my calling as an activist, but as a council member, I challenged the system and status quo, unafraid to be the dissenting vote on burning issues that went against the people, and focused my energy on the tough community challenges.

I led efforts to reject many San Jose Water Company's rate increases, easing the worries of a million ratepayers. Interestingly, I am the only elected leader from 6 cities who has battled their gouging for 6 years now. I have even called for their municipalization as a way out of a messy situation.

I worked hard to reduce burglaries: the largest reduction compared to any other Silicon Valley city. As part of the crime fighting effort, I never toed the establishment politics, but the old guards soon recognized the positive contributions to our city and embraced the success - 50% drop in burglaries. It became a funded city program - what an amazing outcome!

I stopped a potential 300-room hotel mega development project on a hillside in a high fire-hazard zone because it was the right thing to do, and it’s what the People wanted.

When my colleagues on the city council proposed a road tax, I was the only dissenting vote. I pushed for a budget optimization approach instead to free up money for road repair. Eventually the city council abandoned the road tax proposal.

I organized protests when I saw CPUC gutting California’s solar program (currently paused by CPUC), and pushed for audits of California Housing Department’s flawed housing quotas (RHNA numbers) - the audit report proved my suspicions.

I demanded four Valley Water Board members to resign when they spent millions of taxpayer dollars on a misleading ballot that falsely claimed to be further restricting board term limits, but in reality it INCREASED the limit from three terms to four. Santa Clara County residents should vote NO on Measure A in this election - you can find my Mercury News op-ed piece published last week, that is also published on our website.

When I ran for re-election we knocked on the door of every home in our city — something that had never been done before. We won in a landslide and I was re-elected with the most votes in our 64 year city history.

I have always championed issues on behalf of the People - never the Special Interest Groups. This historic win told me to NEVER change my people-centric ways.

The first Congressional run

The desire to bring justice and integrity to politics led us to this run for United States Congress, and when we launched in March 2019, we did it with just 5 close friends who believed in our purpose and ability to impact the world around us.

The passion and commitment inspired many more and our grassroots efforts snowballed. For the November 2020 run, we had a thousand volunteers from 29 states who wanted to be part of our fight for justice and to restore integrity to American politics. We walked neighborhoods that felt left out and overwhelmingly won their support as no elected leader had found a desire to hear them out or approached them.

In the early months of the pandemic, we suspended our campaign and formed a phone bank calling more than 86,000 seniors offering assistance with groceries, medication, and masks. Hundreds of our volunteers helped thousands of neighbors during the California wildfires. We knew what to do in a crisis and people knew I could bring urgent action! During the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order, we organized hackathons, facilitated entrepreneurial boot camps for young students, and provided online coding camps. Our fellowship program today is providing valuable leadership experience for hundreds of high school and college students all over the country.

The establishment political guards of Silicon Valley cast aspersions, made up rumors, called me “Batman” because my record includes crime reduction, and pressured supporters to pull endorsements. But, I always fought on with integrity and felt overwhelmed by the support we received from the people.

I’m bringing ethical integrity back into Congress by NEVER accepting PAC or Special Interest Group money. I bring a result-driven outcome to challenge the Washington status quo and divisive partisan politics. America is ready for a new leadership and a change within its political culture, and I will never let you down!

This country gave me everything and I love America dearly.

Help me fix some of the problems like money in politics and lack of medical care that has plagued Californians for decades.

I will NEVER let you down.

Via our website and take action:

  • Join us in the fight by volunteering.
  • High school and college students can join our internship, and
  • Please consider chipping in for our Ethics in Politics run at RishiKumar.com

I will be honored to have your vote in the next election.

- Rishi Kumar
United States Representative, California’s District 16 Candidate

Will I accept boatloads of pharma money - #1 in the U.S. House - as the chair of the House Health Subcommittee?

Will I standby and just watch while a million people die due to the opioid crisis as the chair of the House Health Subcommittee?

Will I standby and watch as they privatize medicare as the Chair of the House Health Subcommittee?

Will I only legislate 4 trivial bills in 30 years?

Will I claim credit for bills that never were signed into law?


-Rishi Kumar