Chintan Desai, a first-generation citizen of Indian immigrant parents, will seek the Democratic nomination in Arkansas’s First Congressional District. Desai, the KIPP Delta Schools regional project manager, has lived in Helena the past seven years. He moved there to teach fifth-grade social studies in 2010.
“I believe in Arkansas. I believe all Arkansans should have access to the things I had access too,” Desai told Talk Business & Politics.
If he wins the nomination, and defeats four-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., one of his first priorities will be to improve conditions for the working poor. He thinks the national minimum wage should be increased to $15 per hour. A voucher program to allow the working poor to live in middle class neighborhoods that are closer to better paying jobs should be implemented, he said. Both are key to ending the cycle for many families.
“I think if you work 40 hours a week, you shouldn’t live in poverty,” he said.
Robert Butler of Maramaduke is the only other declared candidate in the Democratic primary for the seat. Jim Huff has contemplated a run. No one has emerged to challenge Crawford in the Republican primary.
Desai said Crawford is “a good man,” but his recent vote for the American Healthcare Act would have taken away health insurance for 23 million people, including hundreds of thousands of people in Arkansas. He’s voted to loosen restrictions on the financial industry, and Desai doesn’t think it benefits of Arkansans. Drug addiction, education, smart gun control legislation, and global climate change are other issues that will be priorities for Desai if elected.
Former State Sen. Kevin Smith issued an endorsement for Desai on Thursday.
“Now more than ever, Washington needs new faces and new energy to shake up Capitol Hill,” Smith said. “It will take a new generation of leadership to break the stranglehold of those special interests who have all but destroyed middle income families. That is why my wife, Sissy, and I enthusiastically support and endorse Chintan Desai for congress in the first district. We have both witnessed Chintan provide transformative leadership in our community and have no doubt he will do the same in Washington.”
Desai was born and raised in California and studied political science at the University of California-Davis. After graduating, he joined Teach For America and moved to Helena to teach fifth grade social studies at the successful KIPP Delta schools. He has since held administrative positions at Teach For America Arkansas and KIPP Delta Public Schools. In 2015, he helped open the Hunt Education Center, a multi-purpose community center, in the heart of Helena’s historic downtown.
Desai serves on several local boards, including the Delta Cultural Center Advisory Board, the Boys and Girls of Phillips County, and Teach For America Arkansas’ alumni of color organization. He ran for alderman in Helena in 2016, but lost.
“The Natural State has always had a flair for creating unlikely leaders. My unlikely story began when my parents moved to this country with little money and even fewer friends. They lived the American dream working hard every waking moment to provide their only child a bright future,” he said. “I had opportunities beyond my wildest dreams of going to college to earn a degree and launching a career in education. … I believe that all Arkansans have the right to the same opportunities I’ve had in my life no matter where you live, no matter who your family is, no matter the color of your skin.”