“I had to say yes”
What do you do when you’re the Human Rights Campaign’s state political director who just oversaw Michigan’s blue wave and your old friend calls and asks you to manage his historic run for U.S. Congress? For Amritha Venkataraman, making the choice to leave a fulfilling job was tough, but the Bloomfield Hills native said she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pack up, relocate to Kalamazoo and join Team Hoadley.
“It was a hard decision,” she said. “I really loved working with the organization, and I got to work with so many tremendous advocates and activists all around the state, so that was so much fun and such a privilege. You don’t often get a candidate who you know really well and you support like this running for office, so when he asked, I had to say yes.”
As campaign manager, Venkataraman said her duties will include keeping the day-to-day operation running, managing staff, fundraising and sending emails to provide regular communication with supporters. Plus, she mentioned “other duties as assigned,” since a campaign manager must be a jack/jill-of-all-trades and an expert at everything campaign-related.
As a matter of fact, Venkataraman hit the ground running, dispatching an email the morning following Hoadley’s official launch. It was in response to the Republican National Congressional Committee’s press release issued within hours of the announcement of Hoadley’s run for Congress, which called him, among other things, an “[Ilhan] Omar protégé,” and an “open socialist.”
Signed by Venkataraman, the email began, “Republicans in Washington are petrified of Jon. They flipped out yesterday after his announcement with a name-calling and Islamaphobic rant that would make Donald Trump proud.”
A request for a donation followed. To be sure, she said there will be many more attacks and responses in the next year-and-a-half, but Venkataraman appears to have a knack already for being quick on her feet.
On numerous fronts, Hoadley’s campaign has meaning and resonance for Venkataraman. She and Hoadley aren’t simply old friends; she was his field organizer in 2014 when he first ran for state House, which led to what is now his third term. A 2015 graduate of Kalamazoo College with a degree in political science, Venkataraman has roots in West Michigan as well.
“Kalamazoo is a community I care a great deal about,” she said. It’s the place in Michigan I really consider home. So first of all, I’m just really excited to be back in Kalamazoo, that’s awesome. And then I think that this is a really important time for our country and a leader like Jon is the type of person I want to be supporting.”
She added that she believes he has the right values, and expressed how much she is looking forward to connecting with the community across the Sixth District in new and innovative ways.
The fact that Jon is an openly gay candidate and stands to become the first openly LGBTQ member of Congress from Michigan is certainly not lost on Venkataraman either.
“You can’t be what you don’t see,” she said, in reference to LGBTQ representation in politics. “So I think it’s really important that we’re supporting LGBTQ candidates across the board. I think that Jon is such a strong, deep candidate, and he’s a leader on LGBTQ issues but also so many progressive issues.”
Further, Venkataraman said in some ways she wants to continue in the same vein as she did with her work on behalf of HRC. Of that experience, she said, “I wanted to be in that role because I really want to energize and mobilize LGBTQ voters in Michigan and allied voters and progressives, because we’ve got a lot of power when we all vote together. So, hopefully, this campaign will do that.”
Connecting with voters is what Venkataraman said she is most looking forward to in her work for Hoadley’s campaign.
“My background has always been in field campaigns,” she said. “So I’m really excited to start talking to voters.”
She mentioned being eager to kick off a 16-city listening tour starting the weekend of April 13.
Where it Began, Where It’s Headed
At 25, Venkataram has wide-ranging political experience through her work on numerous political campaigns, as well as Emerge California — an organization which trains Democratic women to run for office — and of course as HRC’s state political director. Not only that, Venkataraman has worked in the advocacy arm of politics, with groups like the League of Conservation Voters. She said her interest in all things political was something she learned at home from her parents, where there was always talk of politics around the dinner table. But she described the 2000 election as a sort of awakening when she was just seven years old.
“I was so sure that Al Gore was gonna be president. I knew it. And it was like a holiday for me. I camped out in front of the TV, in my Barbie sleeping bag, ready to watch the results come in, of Al Gore becoming our next president. And I watched the election results and I was so confused. I went to my mom, and I said, ‘What happened? We both knew that this was the right candidate.’ And she said, ‘Sometimes, the candidate you think is gonna win, or you know should win, doesn’t win. It’s not set in stone that the folks who share our values are gonna be winning elections.’
“So, that was kind of a big turning point for me. I was young, but I haven’t taken an election for granted since then,” she said. “And I’m not gonna start now.”