A young, relatively unknown Indian-American looks to shakeup statewide elections in his first run for public office. This same Indian-American maybe unknown to the public, but they’re well-regarded in their professional fields. Back in 2003, I could have been describing Bobby Jindal as he was launching his bid for governor. In 2016, we’re talking about New Orleans businessman Abhay Patel. But as you get to know Patel, that’s where the similarities to Jindal end.
The 40 year old Patel will be kicking off his Senate bid at LSU’s Free Speech Alley on Wednesday at 10:30 A.M. Patel is an LSU graduate and received his law degree from Boston University. Far from running away from his age, Patel plans on running as a “next generation” Republican that wants to take the baton of leadership from the older generation and lead the party in a new, more constitutionally conservative direction.
Patel embraces his Indian-American heritage more than Jindal did. When we met on Monday for a “get to know you” lunch in New Orleans, he had just returned from a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi in Washington D.C. He also joked that he liked Marsha Brady, not Bobby, so his name is Abhay.
One subject that Patel is very passionate about, with good reason, is improving U.S.-Indian relations. India is the world’s largest democracy and largely shares our values. “Look at where India is located. They have China to the east and Pakistan, who hid Osama bin Laden in daylight, and Afghanistan, which is always in turmoil, to the west. It’s vital we form a partnership with them.” said Patel. He also pointed out that much of the world’s shipping passes through the Indian Ocean.
Which led to another issue Patel is very passionate about, free trade. This is a welcome change in an election year which has seen the revival of protectionism in both parties. “If we started a business, it shouldn’t be our goal just to sell in New Orleans and the Northshore. Our goal should be to get on an online market like Ebay for example and sell all over the world. Instead of just selling locally, we should be selling to New Dehli and all over the world.” said Patel. He says he will work to make it easier for that happen for Louisiana’s businesses. These are welcome remarks in a state heavily reliant on international trade like Louisiana.
One of the biggest issues of the year has been immigration. Patel, who is the son of immigrants, has some strong views on that. While he realizes that it is not possible to deport 12 million people, he also rejects amnesty. “If you’re a criminal, you’re gone.” he said. But Patel also brought up something that is not usually mentioned when discussing the immigration issue, the welfare state which he believes provides incentives for Americans not to work. “This whole “jobs Americans won’t do” line is infuriating. My dad came here and he only had $8 in his pocket. He would’ve picked lettuce if that was how he had to survive because he was happy to be here in America.”
Economic growth is a very important issue for Patel. He spent much of his professional career as an investment banker raising money on the private debt and equity markets for companies such as General Electric and Harley Davidson. He then returned to New Orleans and joined the New Orleans Business Alliance where he was responsible for recruiting businesses to come to New Orleans. Patel believes that the tax code is too complicated and needs reform, however he will release a tax reform plan later in the summer. But there will two things that definitely will be in there, ending taxation of capital gains, which he sees as punishing investment, and repatriating corporate profits held overseas by American corporations.
Patel also understands the sharing economy better than most in the race. He’s nearly legally blind and cannot drive so Uber has been a god send for him. “Although I can barely see, I’m going to rate this restaurant on Yelp. It’s what people do these days. What we have in the sharing economy is a self-regulating marketplace where buyers and sellers do business together without some government bureaucrat in the way.” he said.
Ideologically, Patel describes himself as “between Rand Paul and Ted Cruz.” Restoring our Constitutional liberties is a major theme for Patel. That would be a welcome change in representation for Louisiana.
He’s a very likable man and can certainly improve his standing among Louisiana voters as they get to know him. That’s going to be the most important thing going forward for him. Patel certainly has a bright future ahead of him in politics, regardless of how this race turns out.