Debonair and charming Kumar Barve is the longest serving state
legislator of South Asian origin. First elected in 1990, Kumar is the Majority
Leader of Maryland state legislature who is spearheading Democratsí frequent
political duels with Governor Robert Ehrlich. We recently spoke to him.
Why did you get involved in politics? I was always interested in politics.
Even in school I was involved in student government. My parents always thought
it was important to participate in the political process and unlike most Indian
parents of the time they didnít discourage me from becoming involved in
politics. So as early as 1974 when I was in 10th grade I was working in
political campaigns. My father was a government employee and understood the
importance of having a say in the government.
How hard was it to get elected the first time? It was hard work. I got elected the first time I attempted to run for the
office. My ethnic background really didnít matter even though there were very
few Indian Americans in my district. The voters of my district judged me on my
stance on issues and not on my ethnicity. I quit my job to run for office and
campaigned so hard that I went from 145 lbs to 129 lbs.
You are pro-choice so what do you think about the pro-choice
stand of new Supreme Court justices? The new Supreme Court justices are
anti-choice and itís clear that President Bush wants to make abortion illegal
through the use of court or make it much more difficult for women to avail
themselves of. I think it is unfortunate that he has chosen such radically
conservative people on the bench.
You disagree with Governor Ehrlich on embryonic stem cell
research. What do you think he should do? He himself used to be supportive of
embryonic stem cell research but the right wing of his party has basically got
him to back off. He is walking away from a position that the extremists in his
own party donít like and rather than listening to me or listening to them he
should pay attention to the majority of people of Maryland who support embryonic
stem cell research.
You say you are pro-business so what do you say about Governor
Ehrlichís statement that recent minimum wage increase by Maryland is a ĎJob
Killerí? Well, it has never happened that way anywhere else. Minimum wage has been increased by states and municipalities throughout the US and of the last ten times it happened only in one instance unemployment increased and even there it hasnít increased very much. Increase in the minimum wage of poor hard working people really gives them
more pocket money to spend in their local community and there is simply no
objective evidence that it hurts employment.
Recently, Democrats in Maryland Legislature voted to override
many of Governor Ehrlichís vetoes. Is there a showdown approaching?
No, itís approached. Governor Ehrlich and Democrats in the House of Delegates disagree on policies so we have overridden vetoes of his where we felt very strongly that he was wrong. The constitution gives us the power to do this. Just as the governor himself has the power to veto bills that pass the legislature, we have the power to override it
if we can get the super majority.
How could we get more South Asian Americans in politics?
The main problem with Indian American community is that not enough of them believe that they can win elections and if my election and the elections of others have proven itís that we have as much a chance of winning election as any other candidate from any
Gov. Ehrlich has endorsed Dilip Paliath, for District 42. Are
you going to support him because he is an Indian American or oppose him because
he is a Republican? o. No. [laughs] I am the Democratic leader and itís my job to
support Democratic candidates. Dilip is a good friend and I wish him good luck
but I would be stripped of my office in nanoseconds if I support any Republican.
What is the most satisfying thing about your tenure in Maryland
assembly so far? I think that in 1995, my passage of the Patient Access Act was the first law in the US to begin the process of regulating HMOs. That was a big victory for the State of Maryland and for me. Itís probably my most satisfying accomplishment.
You once contemplated running for congress but didnít. Would you
run for the Congress again? Yeah, if the opportunity presented itself. In politics you canít really set your heart on anything. You have to prepare for unexpected opportunities so may be I will run for that or maybe I will run for something else.