College Dems Anger Indian-Americans for Attack on GOP Candidate

Robert B. Bluey | July 7, 2008 | 8:29pm EDT
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( - The president of the College Democrats of America is facing criticism from Indian-Americans for "despicable" comments he made about a Louisiana Republican gubernatorial candidate of Indian descent.

In an e-mail Tuesday, College Democrats President Ashley Bell, a law student at Louisiana State University, informed students of the upcoming governor's election between Democrat Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco and former Bush administration official Bobby Jindal, who was born a Hindu.

"On Saturday - we nominated Kathleen Blanco the Lt. Governor to be our nominee to take on Bush's personal 'Do Boy' Bobby Jindal," Bell wrote. "Jindal is Arab American and the Republicans [sic] token attempt to mend bridges long burnt with the Arab American community."

The fact that Bell called Jindal an Arab-American caused alarm, but Indian-Americans told it was shameful for the College Democrats to label him as a token candidate because of his ethnicity.

"Playing the race card is just despicable," said Harin Contractor, an Indian-American student at the University of Georgia. "If that happened to the Jewish-American community or the African-American community ... there would be a huge backlash. But [Bell] doesn't care because we're Indian-American and we don't matter."

To compound the situation, Bell responded shortly after sending the original e-mail with an apology that Contractor said was even more ignorant.

"In a recent email describing the Republican Nominee in Louisiana Bobby Jindal, I used what local news has termed Arab American - But in Fact Indian American is the politically correct terminology," Bell wrote. "So thank you to the curteous [sic] college dems - who let us know of the terminology mix up."

Contractor, vice president of the university's Indian Cultural Exchange, said he immediately wrote other Indian-Americans, asking them to contact Bell to tell him "ignorance will not be tolerated." Although Arab-Americans and Indian-Americans could potentially be mistaken, Contractor said Bell has no excuse because he attends law school in Louisiana.

When Anna Peediyakkal, former director of the Indian American Center for Political Awareness, saw the e-mail, she said she couldn't believe what was she was reading.

"To marginalize [Jindal] or somehow diminish his work by calling him a token candidate is completely inappropriate," Peediyakkal said. "It's uncalled for. The entire e-mail was egregious."

Jindal is a conservative Republican who was most recently an assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and had earlier served as president of the University of Louisiana System. He was also selected as a Rhodes scholar at age 20.

The Republican candidate won 33 percent of the vote in the governor's race. Because no candidate reached 50 percent, Jindal will meet Blanco, the second-place finisher with 18 percent, in a Nov. 15 runoff election. A recent poll indicates the race is a dead heat.

Jindal's campaign didn't return a call seeking comment, but Tulane University student Chris Meyer, state chairman of the College Republicans, said the candidate wants to stay focused on the issues facing Louisiana.

"It's just ignorance and it's pretty sad that somebody would make claims like that based on Bobby's skin color," Meyer said of Bell's e-mail.

The College Republican National Committee, however, pounced on Bell's comments, calling the College Democrats a "laughing stock within the party of political correctness."

"This is just typical liberal spin trying to throw race into it to bring down the opposition or to bring themselves up," spokesman David Joyslin said. "As Republicans, we don't care about race. We just look at the person's stance on the issues and if they're going to be a good candidate."

Indian-Americans, meanwhile, want Bell to acknowledge his mistake and offer a sincere apology. Peediyakkal called Bell's first apology a "joke." She said it made the situation worse.

Neither Bell nor students affiliated with the College Democrats in Louisiana responded to requests for comment. National spokesman Aaron Thompson, a student at Westminster College in Utah, said the organization sends out e-mails to students every day. He acknowledged this one contained a mistake.

"It generally wasn't a typical e-mail per se. It was something actually that had some problems," Thompson said. "Unfortunately a mistake was made in the text that was sent from Ashley."

Contractor said he was glad to see the University of Georgia's Young Democrats repudiate Bell's comments. Billy Joyner, the group's president, downplayed the matter. He said the campus group would meet with Indian-American students to apologize.

"Ashley right now is at LSU, he's from Louisiana, and he's mixed up in this governor's race," Joyner said. "I think there was some emotion in his comments and he didn't think them through. Ashley Bell is a good person. He is a wonderful leader, and he is very caring and thoughtful."

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