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Chintan Desai: Democratic candidate for District 1

(Photo courtesy: Chintan Desai)

Chintan Desai is running on the Democratic ticket for the District 1 Congressional seat. Below are his answers to KATV's questionnaire.

1. In your own words, what differentiates you from your opponents?

I believe that one of the most important duties of our elected officials is to listen to the citizens of their district, regardless of their political persuasion. It is the job of our elected officials to amplify their voices in Washington and to fight for the issues they care about. My opponent has not been able to do that, given that he has held only one public town hall in the 8 years that he has been in Congress. He has shut down his social media page. He has cobwebs on the doors of one of his constituent service offices. He simply does not take the time to listen to his constituents. In contrast, I have traveled over 40,000 miles in my car to visit all 30 counties in the District multiple times. I have answered every single question that I have received on social media and in-person, even the hard ones. If elected, I have pledged to hold at least one public town hall per month. If my opponent finds it too difficult to hear opposing viewpoints and to take challenging questions, then the people of the First District of Arkansas might want to consider electing someone who doesn’t.

2. Explain what you see as the most important issue facing the state.

My opponent voted to cut the healthcare of millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Arkansans. His vote would have led to the closing of rural hospitals up and down the district, from Stone County to Phillips County. It would have ended vital protections for individuals who have pre-existing conditions. I believe that healthy people are able to more fully contribute to society and the economy. Healthy people are also more likely to take risks and become entrepreneurs to start small businesses, creating more jobs. Politicians in Washington have shown time and time again that they do not have any vision when it comes to fixing our healthcare system. While the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicaid have led to positive results for Arkansans, we cannot afford to lose momentum on the progress we have made. I’m running for Congress to protect and expand access to affordable and quality healthcare in Arkansas.

3. How are you uniquely qualified to address that issue?

I have traveled up and down this District and talked to many folks who are facing challenges with respect to their healthcare. I have connected with individuals who have pre-existing conditions and are terrified of losing their healthcare coverage. I have spoken to administrators at rural hospitals who know that fewer people covered with high-quality and affordable coverage would be disastrous for their operations. These conversations have led me to the conclusion that healthcare is the defining issue in this election and that we must ensure that everyone in our country is covered with high-quality, affordable health care. A strong first step in that direction would be protecting and expanding Medicare, a system of health care that is popular and that has already been proven to work for folks who are 65 and older.

4. Should teachers and/or other school employees that are not law enforcement be armed?

No. I have been a classroom teacher and know first-hand the demands we are already placing on teachers. From teaching content to developing relationships with students and parents, teaching is already a difficult profession for which teachers are not paid nearly enough. Let teachers teach. Train and support teachers in the way they need to be trained and supported. Pay teachers what they are worth so more teachers stay in the profession and become betters at their jobs. Adding an extra layer of complexity to the profession will not help and could even lead to disastrous scenarios where inexperienced teachers make decisions in the moment that lead to disastrous consequences for students who are not initially compliant.

5. Are the current gun laws in Arkansas too strict, too weak, or just right? Why?

I believe in the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms. Based on the recent string of mass shootings we have seen in our country, I do believe that we need to implement common-sense gun legislation that keeps guns out of the hands of non-law-abiding citizens, particularly violent criminals, domestic abusers, and individuals who have mental health histories that are likely to lead to violence. By implementing these reforms, we are ultimately honoring the law-abiding citizens who use firearms in a responsible manner.

6. Arkansas currently allows marijuana for medical use. What has shaped your position on the issue?

I am glad that Arkansas voters passed medicinal marijuana via the ballot box. We have clear evidence that marijuana has medicinal value, particularly for folks who experience chronic pain. It is vital that the state government now takes the proper steps to ensure medical marijuana is implemented and available for patients throughout the state.

7. Under what circumstances would you support the legalization of marijuana for recreational use?

I support the legalization of marijuana for recreational use and would vote in favor of such a measure if it was brought forth to Arkansas voters via a ballot initiative. Research suggests that marijuana is not nearly as dangerous as other drugs in terms of its addictive nature and also has clear usefulness for individuals who suffer from chronic medical conditions. Arkansas should also follow the lead of other states that have benefited financially from the revenue generated from taxing the legal sale of the drug.

8. What is an example of a policy or issue you have changed your view on in the last 20 years?

While I was initially hesitant to support the legalization of marijuana, particularly because I have seen firsthand how opioids and other drugs can destroy families and communities in Eastern Arkansas, I have ultimately come to support legalization for the reasons explained in the previous answer.

9. What question do you wish someone would ask you and why?

“How can I get involved?” I believe that our political system has become so angry and so partisan that it has pushed out too many people from participating. I’ve heard many folks say, especially our younger generation, “why should I get involved? Nothing gets done and people just spend their time yelling and arguing with each other.” While they’re not wrong, this situation won’t get any better until people of good faith and good will re-engage with our politics, people who are eager to work towards implementing common-sense and bipartisan solutions for their communities.

10. Under what circumstances would you lie?

National security. While I strongly believe in the value of transparency and accountability in government and in national security, I also acknowledge that there may be times when, as a Congressman who may be privy to classified national security information, it may be necessary to withhold information to protect the lives of the men and women of our armed forces and intelligence communities. Under such circumstances, I would take full responsibility for the consequences of such a decision, though I also believe that the people of my district would ultimately agree with the moral imperative to keep the men and women of our armed forces safe.

11. Who is your political hero?

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal from the state of Washington was the first Indian American woman ever elected to Congress. I am an admirer of her story and her passion, as well as the way she ran her initial campaign to get elected, which was a grassroots, community-focused campaign.

12. What is the best advice you have ever received?

Before I declared my candidacy, someone told me that campaigns in Arkansas aren’t about speaking loudly over others or shouting your opinions at others, but about carefully listening and hearing what people have to say about their lives, about their families, and about the issues that affect their communities. That has been the central defining focus of my campaign. I believe that our politics in Washington have become so distorted by scandals, corruption, and partisanship, that Arkansans feel like they are no longer being heard or respected by our elected officials. I’m running for Congress because we need a representative in Washington who won’t get bogged down in scandals or partisanship, but who will listen to them and will fight for the issues that they care about.

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