Akshay Bhamidipati, a senior majoring in Molecular and Cellular Biology, announced his campaign to run as a Democratic candidate for Virginia’s House of Delegates (87th District) on Jan. 28. Coming from a background in student government and medical research, Bhamidipati looks to make an impact at the local level with his grassroots campaign.
Bhamidipati will first run in the County of Loudoun for the state legislature in the Democratic primary this June. He will then run in the statewide election in November. Virginia, a state with an off-year election cycle, holds its elections for the general assembly and all local officials during odd years.
At Hopkins, Bhamidipati is heavily involved in the Student Government Association (SGA), having served as a senator for three terms since his freshman year. He also spends time at the medical campus participating in cancer research, the field he initially thought his career would take him into.
However, Bhamidipati solidified his decision to run last November, motivated to take a step toward public service by the national political climate. Coming from a science-based background, he values facts. He hopes he can bring a fresh perspective into the political system.
“Traditionally, it used to be Democrats and Republicans arguing about certain core ideals they differed in, but using facts,” Bhamidipati said in an interview with The News-Letter. “We have veered way off course.”
In addition to the current discrepancies in political discourse, Bhamidipati was inspired by the diversity of the elected officials in the 2018 Congress. He was hopeful that he too could win and contribute to more accurate representation within his
community, so he decided to announce his candidacy.
“A more inclusive, representative democracy entails having people our age making the decisions for us,” he said. “Virginia’s median age is about 37 and some change, so half of the population is under 38, yet less than seven to eight percent of our legislature is under that age... Government should be more representative.”
Bhamidipati believes that this message of increased inclusivity and representation in the lower levels of government is one of the driving factors behind his team of high school-age volunteers in Virginia. These supporters contribute by helping to fundraise money for the small, grassroots campaign.
Relying largely on donations, Bhamidipati says the campaign will not take money from large corporations or major interest groups. He is, however, currently looking into a Political Action Committee (PAC) that funds scientists who want to run for public offices.
Bhamidipati’s interests in science and healthcare while at Hopkins contribute greatly to his political values. Prior to his introduction to student government, he aspired to pursue a career in healthcare, as either a researcher or provider. As one aspect of his platform, he hopes to address current issues with the healthcare system to make sure that medicine and care reaches the people who need it the most.
“It’s really important that we have a healthcare system that works for the people. It’s a shame that we’re a western democracy and we have the highest healthcare costs but very little to show for it,” he said. “I don’t care how many Nobel prizes Hopkins puts out if people who need the cancer drugs or who need the HIV medications or who need X, Y and Z aren’t getting it.”
Bhamidipati believes that state protections would help ensure that people get the care they need, regardless of fluctuations in federal policy. He points to the fact that the Supreme Court regards healthcare as a states rights issue.
His platform also looks to address substance abuse in Virginia, as about four Virginians die every day due to drug overdose. Bhamidipati hopes to stop the institutionalized treatment of people who have issues with substance abuse.
“These are people who are sick, and we need to get them help and into rehab programs,” he said. “Not give them a criminal record where they might even relapse further once they are out of the jail system.”
As part of SGA, Bhamidipati takes pride in having helped implement several mental health initiatives at the University. Mental health in Virginia, particularly in Loudoun County Public Schools, is a primary concern for him.
“We are blessed to have wonderful teachers and wonderful schools that produce phenomenal students, but at the same time, high academic achievement is often correlated with a large amount of depression and stress,” he said. “As a government we should be funding counseling and just start talking about it, because if we talk about it in the political discourse, maybe people start talking about it at home and that betters outcomes for people.”
Bhamidipati also discussed mental health in relation to his views on gun control. He advocates for simple mental health background checks in order to help prevent gun violence.
“If you need a driver’s license to be out on the road, you can get one, but we ensure that you are safe. If you have too many reckless driving incidents, your license gets cancelled,” he said. “It should be the same exact way for gun control. We need to be a responsible society with the way we treat guns.”
Other aspects of Bhamidipati’s platform include introducing more public science and trade schools to help the economy; reducing tuition costs in Virginia state colleges; and solidifying Virginia’s implementation of the Paris climate agreements and environmental standards that help future generations.
Responding to the recent political turmoil taking place in Virginia, Bhamidipati firmly believes that his state government needs to focus on accountability. In regard to Gov. Ralph Northam’s recently surfaced racist photo from medical school, Bhamidipati said he stands with Virginia’s Legislative Black Caucus and thinks the Governor should resign.
“We have seen a clear lapse in moral judgment, something that is unbecoming of the state’s chief executive,” he said. “He no longer has the confidence of the people who elected him, and his resignation will allow us to begin the process of healing.”
As for the sexual assault allegations against Lt. Gov. Fairfax, Gov. Northam’s successor should he resign, Bhamidipati hopes to see a thorough investigation and hearing on the developing story. He commends those courageously coming forward to recount these traumatizing experiences and hopes that survivors’ courage will allow the public to take bigger steps long toward addressing the issue of sexual assault and misconduct.
“We cannot allow individuals who have committed sexual assault to hold the highest office of the Commonwealth or any public office for that matter,” he said.
Bhamidipati is hopeful that his views and platform will bring about positive change in Virginia politics and his local community and that his candidacy will increase diverse representation within state-level government.
“The more diversity you see in Congress, the more people like me — people at the local level, the lowest levels of government — feel like, ‘Hey, maybe I can do that too. Maybe I can make a difference. Maybe I can represent my community.’” he said.