Ph.D candidate Kiran Sreepada is no stranger to changing career paths — he started in banking, transitioned to teaching and then entered the policy realm. He founded a company that helped people get into college, worked in the U.S. Government Accountability Office and later started his Ph.D. at the School of Public Policy. Even then, he wanted to do more to help his community. So, he decided to run for office to be a voice for the most vulnerable.
“I decided to run for the U.S. Congressional seat here and did my best to push a positive vision for the government, based in responsible and fact based policy,” said Sreepada. “I started my campaign to be a voice for the most vulnerable, and am more sure of that now than I was when I started running.”
In 2018, Sreepada and his wife moved to the Nashville area to raise their kids closer to family. There, he noticed a disconnect between his neighbors and elected officials, who he said didn’t accurately represent their districts' concerns. Sreepada decided to run for election to the U.S. House to represent Tennessee’s 7th Congressional District, putting his public policy background to use.
Sreepada described how profound an experience running for office was and how it helped him understand both his policy education's practical implications and the importance of civility.
“I learned that being true to myself and my ideals were more important than any party positions," Sreepada said. “People are inherently good and just looking for a way to have a better life. They aren’t interested in the parties or the fighting. They are just interested in results, so they can have a little less to worry about tomorrow.”
Before running for office, Sreepadawas most interested in international security and economic policy, the focus of his thesis. However, running for office expanded his center of attention to domestic policy and good governance issues such as gerrymandering and campaign finance.
“Through many elections, we have seen how gerrymandering is a detriment to our system, promotes gridlock and hinders progress while also suppressing the voice of the people.” Sreepada stated. “Similarly, the unbridled power of money in politics, through corporate and extremely wealthy donors, overpowers the concerns of many Americans and also skews elections to the most extreme. These areas are hurting our democracy and are areas in which I would like to see a major change.”
Sreepada also reflected on how his experiences as a student at SPP helped prepare him for this experience. Specifically, other students' diversity and experiences allowed him to interact with people from different walks of life. Additionally, the faculty's teachings helped strengthen his positions on an academic level, which helped him understand how government can work better for those who do not interact with government in an obvious or everyday manner.
While the election did not turn out the way he hoped, Sreepada is thankful for the experience and what it taught him. He plans to continue working on his Ph.D. while also listening to those in rural areas. Working for a better community is not just limited to a campaign or the year before an election, Sreepada said. He wants to make sure representatives hear their constituents' concerns regardless of whether there is an election coming or not.
"Everyone who is even considering running for office should run for office,” Sreepada said.. “It is also important to make sure that people know that there are those of us who study policy because of the compassion we have for people. That compassion is there not to advance a party or political agenda but to make sure people's lives are improved through good and thoughtful policy."