HD-28 Candidate highlight — Raman Velji
By Adam Gretzinger, House District Leader HD-27
I spent a couple of hours with Raman Velji to get to know him for this candidate profile as he runs for House District 28 in the Democratic primary in 2020. He sits atop a lifetime of political staff, political volunteer, Peace Corps, United Nations, and business/executive leadership. He holds a BS in Linguistics from University of the Pacific in Fiji and is fluent in 4 languages. It was fun to get to know a long-time Washington County resident and party activist in both the US and his native of Fiji.
Raman’s story is very interesting, born in Fiji, a country with a troubled history of military coups. In his youth he was invited to join the US Peace Corps where he taught the Hindi language and culture in Hawaii. He later served as a young diplomat for Fiji at the United Nations at age 23. The dictatorship in his country was able to offer him the opportunity to leave, because this was their policy towards democracy advocates at the time. Removing democratic activists did not stop revolutions and military coups as the country had many changes in leadership over the years. Including when he went back as a seasoned American politico to instill democratic principles in a new party in Fiji.
While working at the United Nations in the foreign service for Fiji, Raman worked on diplomatic tasks such as the issuance of visas, passports, UN functions, and committees. He served a 4 year term on a UN committee on racism discrimination.
In 1972 after the Peace Corps Raman went into business in the Hotel Management/Restaurant Management industry. Learning about Oregon in the 1980s and being environmentally conscious, Raman moved to Oregon because he heard from a friend about the good quality of life and environmental conditions. Right away he settled in Washington county and chose to raise his kids here where they went to Beaverton and Tigard’s public schools.
After moving to Oregon he was hired as the regional VP for Sambo’s Restaurant chain where he managed an impressive portfolio of 68 restaurants in six states. Putting this executive leadership to work he dove into the Rev. Jesse Jackson campaign in 1984, and in 1988, staying loyal to the party, he moved onto the Dukakis campaign as staff. In 1992 and 1996 he worked for the Bill Clinton campaign volunteering, fund raising, phone banking, including transporting actor John Allen Amos Jr (of Good Times fame) and Bill Russell (NBA player) to events in Oregon to support Bill Clinton.
Relating to Raman’s experience with the Washington County Democrats he was chairman of the first congressional district in the late 90s and early 2000s. Also he ran for a state house seat in a red house district in 2000, receiving 8,000 votes. In that race he stepped up to stop a candidate from running unopposed — giving voters an alternative to the Republican. Over the years he has also helped out the party by serving as an executive board member and with the Campaign and Finance(Fundraising) committees. A long-time PCP and activist, he’s been with the party for decades.
With a lifetime of experience already, Raman wasn’t done with politics. In 2010 he moved back to Fiji for eight years to fight for democracy. Using his organizing skills from the United States he worked to influence peaceful change including consulting then prime minister of Fiji Frank Bainimarama on democratic principles. At the height of his activism he helped start a new political party called the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) modeled on what he learned from the American Democratic Party. Many of the founding principles of the SODELPA party are those Americans would be familiar with including free/fair elections, civilian leadership of the government and civilian control over the military.
Fiji is a relatively young country gaining independence from Britain in only the 1970s. Raman saw racism close up as a child, the British pitted the Hindi against the Fiji natives playing both sides and planting seeds of distrust and racism. While modern America is very much steeped in racial issues, he’s seen racism from many dimensions. Today Fiji is still divided along racial lines since 2013, despite being a democracy.
After all that life experience Raman has quite a bit of policy ambition in wanting to represent house district 28 in the Oregon house. Having extensive platform items in environmental, gun violence, education, transportation, housing, and local protections still to be done in Washington County.
An exciting element of Raman’s platform is his education policy goals which include:
- Publicly funded K-16 free education, compulsory higher ed/technical schools that are part of public schools across the state. Supporting technical programs for trades as alternatives to the 4 year degrees for other paths as well.
- Debt-free education for everybody in Oregon and pulling funds from the Oregon lottery to expand financial support to education as was stated in the original creation of the lottery.
- Revisit the tax system so priorities like education (and several others) are funded at top priority. Shifting strategies to account for the long-term decline of the timber industry and compete against the rest of the world in high-tech and grow the tax base strategically with education.
- Using our cultural diversity in this state to share cultural activities and background to help the US and Oregon natives learn from immigrants to enrich their cultural knowledge.
On housing, Raman wants to help the citizens of the state play catch up to declining value of wages to help them afford the housing everybody needs. He wants to find ways to capture revenue from fully depreciated housing assets and complexes. In doing so mandate at least 20% of apartments are for lower income people after housing assets are fully depreciated from construction and land owners/building. This would prevent profiteering which is raising housing prices. Urgently he wants to address the students and families sleeping in cars and relatives homes to address housing security so students can focus on studies rather than staying in housing as these are adult problems we have the money to fix, if we can get the political will. Also on housing he is in favor of stricter rent controls tied to the cost of living and wages and 3rd party review of rental rates for large rental businesses to deny them excess profits at the expense of low-income residents.
On immigration — locally, Washington County is still not a sanctuary county despite the state-wide law from the 1980s. Given the death grip from conservative politicians until recently held on Washington County board of commissioners the time is right to lobby for making Washington County a sanctuary county. Recent national leadership has been rather hostile towards immigrants and Raman plans to use his position to educate Oregonians about the danger to the food supply, farm economy that such demonization of immigrants is causing. Threats to poison the food supply would put people in prison, but recent federal policy (tweet and otherwise) threatens to let crops rot in the fields. Being a successful immigrant himself he hopes to bring compassion and facts to cut thru rhetoric in the state legislature parroted by conservatives. A key agenda item for Raman is to work to get tax-id numbers (TIN’s) for every immigrant in addition to drivers licenses so they can be responsible members of society.
America’s aging population is a threat to the labor force of America and immigrants still want to be in the United States. He hopes to increase legal immigration and communicate their role in helping our GDP and export markets. Older generations do need to understand that social security, medicare, and society can’t work if the population is older and unwilling to have new workforce from other places to make up for the baby boomer demographic shift.
Another key policy item Raman is eager to bring to the legislation is a state-level ban on military style assault weapons. His home country has no civilian ownership of guns and has almost no gun violence. He is eager to enact a strict background check system to restrict weapons from falling into the hands of those with anger and temperament problems. Loopholes in the current background check system allow private party transfers of weapons at gun shows and untraceable transactions are a source of many deaths and injuries every year. Oregon never applied lessons learned from the 1998 Kip Kinkel massacre in Springfield as it should have been a wake-up call to address access to mass shootings.
On government and election reform issues Raman is in support of the upcoming campaign finance limitations to be on the November 2020 ballot — which will allow the state to set caps on contributions. He’s eager to set limitations on corporations also to educate people that unions are people driven and thus are actually free speech and assembly. Increasing the Oregon Political Tax Credit to $200 per married couple and $100 per single person is a key change to foster participation to make up for the reduced money from corporations and large donors. He supports reforms to the Trimet board to make them elected board members and a re-evaluation of metro’s seat count and proportion to adjust for shifting populations.
Transportation issues are a huge problem for the entire state, and for Washington county. Raman is frustrated with the lack of action in the state regarding traffic problems, meetings, and political will that does not fund improvements to our transportation infrastructure. He is eager to get the i5 Columbia River crossing and the i205 crossings upgraded as well as improvements to i84. Raman is not afraid to raise taxes and introduce alternative transportation assets such as bike paths, transit infrastructure additions as well as finding ways to set time limits on projects such that action is taken when times runs out on transportation projects.
Finally on climate change, one of Raman’s most urgent priorities, he wants to help us make up for the lost time since 1998 when we knew the scope, impact and size of the problem but did nothing for more than 20 years. He wants to get the state ready for sea-level rise, to change state and local governments to electric fleets where possible. Build out a large-scale electric vehicle charging network, get rid of plastic and styrofoam and cut the plastics out of the food supply to reduce fossil fuel usage. Raman cares deeply for his Island nation of Fiji and for Oregon and it’s time to take care of the whole planet starting right here in House District 28.
The plastic waste crisis threatens the state’s exports & GDP as fisheries and sea life are increasingly victims of plastic pollution. Corporate polluters like Nike and Intel are notorious for business pollution and need to contribute substantially to the health of Oregon and the planet with major business changes. Finally, lobbying reforms are a key way to actually address climate change — corporate polluters can afford to buy off the officials, laws and rules or force honor systems on dangerous environmental practices that really should be tightly monitored.
Raman’s parting remark from our meeting was, “[There is] no substitute for life and political experience.” In 1968 he wanted to run for office. After everything he has done, 2020 seems like when he’s needed most. Raman will be on the Democratic ballot for House District 28 in May 2020. Read more on his website at ramanvelji.com .
Endorsement Note: prior to the May 2020 Democratic party primary the Washington County Democratic Party does not endorse candidates in partisan elections. This article is provided for informational purposes and should not be read as an endorsement. Other candidates in this race have been contacted for similar coverage.