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Swati Dandekar

As expected, Swati Dandekar of the Democratic Party was elected from the 36th district to the Iowa state assembly, making her the first Indian American woman to be elected to a legislative body in the United States.

The 51-year-old Nagpur-born Dandekar got 6,727 votes (57 per cent of the total cast) as against 4,983 (43 per cent) for her opponent Karen Balderston, a farmer and substitute teacher. She is the fourth Indian American to be elected to a state assembly.

The last days of the campaign witnessed allegations from Dandekar’s opponent, even making India’s caste system an issue. Balderston questioned Dandekar’s ethnicity and her qualifications to contest in this Mid-Western state.

As expected, Swati Dandekar of the Democratic Party was elected from the 36th district to the Iowa state assembly, making her the first Indian American woman to be elected to a legislative body in the United States.

The 51-year-old Nagpur-born Dandekar got 6,727 votes (57 per cent of the total cast) as against 4,983 (43 per cent) for her opponent Karen Balderston, a farmer and substitute teacher. She is the fourth Indian American to be elected to a state assembly.

The last days of the campaign witnessed allegations from Dandekar’s opponent, even making India’s caste system an issue. Balderston questioned Dandekar’s ethnicity and her qualifications to contest in this Mid-Western state.

“While I was growing up in Iowa, learning and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, Swati was growing up in India, under the still existent caste system. How can that prepare her for legislating in Iowa or any other part of our great United States?” Balderston wrote in an email.

But the Republican Party disagreed with her campaign style and withdrew its support for her.

Even without this incident, Dandekar was poised to win.

Dandekar has been living in Marion, Iowa, for 27 years and has a track record for community work and leadership. So when she was approached for running from the newly carved 36th district on a Democratic ticket, nobody was surprised. She expected challenges in the primary, but nobody came forward and she won unopposed.

The district has 20,000 voters and Republicans have an edge. In the Iowa legislature, the Republican Party has a thin majority and the Democratic leadership was trying hard to remove the GOP from the number one slot. The Democrats identified Dandekar as a possible winner and the party machinery came to work for her.

In the US presidential election also, Iowa is important along with New Hampshire. The presidential candidates test their popularity in these two states.

A member of the Linn-Mar Board of Education since 1996, Dandekar is currently serving a one-year term as director in the Iowa School Boards Association. She is a member of the Vision Iowa Board and also a member of the Leadership Team of the Phoenix Club.

As a member of the Linn-Mar School Board, she was co-chair of the district’s 50th anniversary celebrations. She was credited with initiating district-wide staff and student recognition programmes.

Earlier, she worked in the Junior League of Cedar Rapids and as president of Sustainers, a chair of the Linn-Mar Booster Club Academic Committee. She was a member of the Boys Scouts of America Hawkeye Area council.

In 2000, she was presented with the J C Penney Education Golden Rule Award and in 1982 she was selected for the Linn-Mar Foundation Wall of Fame.

Dandekar, who got her high school diploma from the J N Tata Parsi School, Nagpur, earned a postgraduate diploma in dietetics from Bombay University in 1972.

Her husband Arvind is CEO/president of Fastek International of Hiawatha, Iowa. Their two sons, Ajai, 26, and Govind, 23, are graduates of Linn-Marr High School and Stanford University. Currently, Ajai is a fourth year student at the University of Iowa in the MD/PhD programme. Govind works with the Disney Corporation in Burbank, California, as a strategic planner.

Dandekar says she has experience from the local to the state levels. “My experience as a member of the Linn-Mar Board of Education has taught me that I can positively influence hundreds of students and make a difference in their lives,” she said. “As a member of the Vision Iowa Programme board, I feel that I am making a difference in the lives of our young people by promoting initiatives that will allow young Iowans a chance to economically prosper and grow in Iowa.”

Excellence in education, encourage new businesses in our area, quality jobs, and property tax relief were her campaign slogans.

The state needs to attract businesses that will bring quality jobs that will keep young people in the state, she says. According to her, Vision Iowa is a big step in the right direction.

She is against capital punishment, same sex unions, and expansion of gambling.

read more – http://www.rediff.com/us/2002/nov/06us.htm