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Swati Dandekar

I was born in Nagpur, India and educated in both the University of Nagpur and the University in Mumbai, Bombay. I have a Bachelor's degree in BioChemistry, and a Masters in Dietetics. In 1972, I married my husband, Arvind, it was an arranged marriage. He was living and working in Cedar Rapids, Iowa at the time - that's how I came to the US.

Today, I have two grown sons, Ajai, 28 and Govind, 25. Ajai is doing his medical degree and Govind works for Walt Disney.

When my sons were young, I stayed home because they were my priority. But I really wanted to be involved in the community so I volunteered and taught at the elementary school. Soon after, I started to teach high school. Next, I became chair of the Parents Teachers Organization (PTO).

During the 1992-1993 school year, the Linn-Mar School District introduced a program called Outcome Based Education (OBE). It sounded great on paper, but I felt it could not be implemented without drastically changing the program and weakening the curriculum that was already in place. I went in front of the Linn-Mar School Board and convinced them not to go with the program.

When my youngest son graduated and left the house, my friends said I didn't have an excuse not to run and convinced me to put in a bid for the School Board in 1996. I won 80 percent of the votes, and that was the start of my political career.

Dick Myers and other leaders in the Democratic Party were watching me at the time. I ran for the Iowa Association of School Boards and won by a big margin. In 2000, Governor Tom Vilsack appointed me to the Vision Iowa Board, an economic development board focusing on the quality of life of our state. Democratic Minority Leader Dick Myers called and encouraged me to run as a representative for District 36. The opportunity was open and interesting to me, so I ran.

I think the issues important for Asian American politicians are the same as those for any other politician - they are issues of education for your children, the economy, family security, and health care. The community here sees me as a mainstream politician with an Asian heritage. They often tell me "We all come from different countries." I believe it is up to us, it's about the attitude we have. We have to be optimists.

Her opponent Karen Balderston, sent an e-mail to the conservative political action committee, Winning Hearts and Minds, intercepted by the Cedar Rapids Gazette. In the e-mail, Balderston questioned Dandekar's background. Balderson's email cast doubt on Dandakar's ability to represent Midwestern values and core beliefs. Balderson would go on to express her concern and desire to have a native-born opponent, feeling that she would rather have a fellow citizen representing the district.

I had promised my District that I would run a positive campaign. I focused on the issues of the District - jobs and children's education, to name a few. I really didn't think I needed to answer to my opponent, because I felt it was a non-issue. Even with her criticism, I won by 58 percent, which in politics, they tell me, is a pretty large margin.

I have never planned my political career; I didn't even think I would be here. My future is really for the people of District 36. I don't have plans for Swati Dandekar, but I do have plans for District 36.

Swati Dandekar is the first Indian-born, first Asian Pacific American to be elected State Representative from the Iowa House District 36. Dandekar, 52, lives in Marion County with her husband, Arvind. She is running for re-election in November 2004.

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