‘Reddi to serve’: Manhattan Mayor Pro Tem Usha Reddi on her run for U.S. Senate

Usha Reddi, current mayor pro tempore, speaks during a Black Student Union meeting in the Bluemont Room of the K-State Student Union on Nov. 1, 2017. (Alex Shaw | Collegian Media Group)

The last time Kansas elected a Democrat to represent the state in the Senate was in 1932. Usha Reddi, Manhattan mayor pro tempore, hopes to change that in 2020, and her motto is that she is “Reddi” to serve.

Reddi is running for Pat Roberts’ soon-to-be-vacant seat, and she said the 2020 election could set a new tone for Kansas.

“I think this candidacy is different because we do have a democratic governor,” Reddi said. “I think that Kansas is ready for something different.”

Riley George, president of the K-State Young Democrats and senior in political science and history, said she thinks Reddi is on the right track.

“Personally, I think what I’ve seen from her campaign looks great, and I think she’s absolutely correct,” George said. “Kansas voters proved that they’re open to fresh, progressive ideas in 2018, and I absolutely think that’s still the truth.”

Even with a democratic governor, Reddi said she’s prepared to face plenty of political adversity in Kansas.

“It’s going to be hard for any Democrat, and I think having a democratic primary is going to be what elevates this to the national level,” Reddi said. “I want to be a part of that movement, and there’s a whole generation of people who have never voted who are inspired by this campaign.”

Reddi said her strategy to gain the support of Kansans is simple: personability.

“I try to be as accessible and approachable as possible,” Reddi said. “I’m not one of those candidates who you have to work through three or four people just to get to. Most people even have my cell number.”

Rod Harms, operations manager for the Reddi campaign, also called her accessibility one of Reddi’s strengths as a candidate.

“I’ve never heard anybody say they tried to get ahold of her and couldn’t,” Harms said. “That’s why I support her: she’s always listened.”

When it comes to discussion on her campaign, even from people with opposing views, Reddi said she welcomes it all.

“I have nothing to lose by having a conversation,” Reddi said. “If someone is comfortable in their truth, even if I disagree with it, that’s them. They’re not bad people.”

Harms echoed Reddi’s claim.

“She’s able to understand and bridge different viewpoints,” he said. “I think it’s the teacher in her. She understands that the way to get things done is to listen to people.”

Much of the media conversation about Reddi’s campaign has focused on her race and gender, and Reddi said while she understands the public’s interest, the shock factor is lost on her. Being unapologetically herself is nothing new.

“I think there’s something to be said for leading by example, and people may not know anything about any policies I’ve ever implemented, but if they say, ‘Wow, there’s an Indian woman who’s a senator,’ that speaks volumes,” Reddi said. “I’m grateful to the women who have paved the way for me to be where I am, and I hope to be one of those people who others can look up to.”

Reddi’s campaign as an Indian American woman has captured national attention. Thursday, September 19, she sat on the “Women of Color, Here to Lead” panel at the annual IMPACT Summit in Washington D.C. The panel comprised of several women of color running for elected office.

While leadership of the Young Democrats has agreed that endorsing one candidate over another isn’t their place at this point, George said she notices Reddi’s impact at the local level.

“I’ve met Usha, and I think she’s an amazing leader in our community,” George said.

Political affiliation aside, Harms said he hopes to see new voters registered and exercising their civic duty in 2020.

“We really hope young people pay attention to this election cycle.”

Empowering citizens to take action and have a voice, Reddi said, is her greatest hope for her Senate campaign.

“Whether I win the seat or not, I have a voice that can speak to so many things,” she said. “We need to move away from the status quo conversation and really start talking about issues that matter to people.”

Reddi’s name will appear in the Kansas Democratic primary on August 4, 2020. At this point in the race, Elliott Adams, Nancy Boyda, Barry Grissom and Robert Tillman have also announced their campaigns for the Senate seat as Democrats.