Washington (AFP) – The son of a Sikh temple leader slain in a massacre said Monday he may seek the Congress seat of Republican heavyweight Paul Ryan, calling for a more peaceful America.
Amardeep Kaleka –whose father Satwant Singh Kaleka was credited with saving lives when he fought off a white supremacist in the August 5, 2012 assault in Oak Creek, Wisconsin — said he hoped to decide by November whether to seek the Democratic nomination to challenge Ryan, the Republican vice presidential candidate last year.
Kaleka hit out at Ryan, chair of the House Budget Committee, over the ongoing shutdown of the federal government in which some 800,000 workers have been furloughed. Republican hardliners have refused to authorize spending without forcing changes in President Barack Obama’s signature reform of expanding health care coverage.
“He’s definitely part of the problem — being the budget chair and having no sway inside your own party to stop something like this from happening — and 800,000 people losing jobs including in his own district, where a number of government services were stopped,” Kaleka told AFP.
“Ultimately, he’s a career politician to me — 13 years in Congress coming out of an internship in DC. He left Wisconsin to go to DC and never really came back,” he said.
Kaleka, a 35-year-old filmmaker, said he met Ryan twice as he pressed for tighter background checks on guns following the massacre at the temple, which killed his father and five other worshipers. The U.S. Senate in April rejected a push supported by Obama to increase background checks for purchases after intense opposition from the gun lobby.
“Responsible people should have guns; people who are irresponsible — or who cannot pass a background check — should not have guns. Easy as that,” Kaleka said.
“I think 90 percent of the nation agrees, but it’s funny that Congress wouldn’t even pass a bill toward that direction.”
Kaleka said that a more peaceful society would benefit the economy.
“There are so many people who don’t comprehend that peace-building starts with changing our punitive justice system, taking guns out of the wrong people’s hands, and all those affect the economy … as noticed in Europe, where the most peaceful nations are the most economically well-off nations,” he said.
A David and Goliath fight
Kaleka acknowledged he would face a “David and Goliath” race next year against Ryan, saying the congressman is “run by corporations” including David and Charles Koch, billionaire brothers and businessmen known for their conservative activism.
Ryan, who is seen as a potential Republican presidential candidate, already has a formidable war chest of nearly $3.9 million for the congressional campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics.
But while Ryan has won election comfortably since 1998, his district — a heavily industrial region in southern Wisconsin — has historically been competitive. Les Aspin, a Democrat, represented the district for 22 years before president Bill Clinton named him secretary of defense in 1993.
Ryan, 43, who worked as an aide to Republican politicians before running for the seat in 1998, rose to prominence as a champion for cutting government spending and has proposed privatization of Medicare, the government insurance plan for senior citizens and people with disabilities.
Kaleka said he agreed on the need to cut spending but criticized the Republicans’ reluctance to trim military spending, pointing to the U.S. Army’s statements that it has enough tanks already.
“There is an obvious need for the federal government to stop spending or stimulate certain parts of the economy. We do not need to stimulate more tanks being built,” Kaleka said.
Kaleka’s father was an immigrant from India who put in long hours at a gas station as he saved money to build the Sikh temple, or gurdwara.
The 65-year-old used a fruit knife and was shot five times as he vigorously fought Wade Michael Page, a heavily armed U.S. Army veteran active in white power groups.
Sikhs have faced a wave of violence in the United States, especially since the September 11, 2001 attacks, with some assailants incorrectly associating Sikh men — whose faith requires them to wear turbans and beards — with extremist Muslims.