U-M medical student launches primary challenge against Dingell

Tuesday, September 10, 2019 - 8:21pm

Second-year medical student Solomon Rajput will challenge Congresswoman Debbie Dingell for her seat in Michigan's 12th Congressional District

Second-year medical student Solomon Rajput will challenge Congresswoman Debbie Dingell for her seat in Michigan's 12th Congressional District Buy this photo
Courtesy of Solomon Rajput

The Dingells have been a household name in Ann Arbor politics for more than 85 years since John Dingell Sr. began representing the 15th Congressional District in 1933, now known Michigan’s 12th Congressional District.

Second-year medical student Solomon Rajput has decided to challenge this local political dynasty.

Rajput announced his campaign against Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., on Thursday. He is running on a progressive platform with the slogan, “We’re done waiting.”

“I care about a couple key progressive issues that a lot of other key progressives care about as well, like getting money out of politics, fighting climate change through an aggressive mobilization of our economy through the Green New Deal, making college tuition free and eliminating student debt and Medicare for All as well,” Rajput said. “And for many issues, unfortunately, our current representation with Congresswoman Dingell is not. She is not a champion for these issues.”

Students have varying levels of support for their current representative. Public Policy senior Noah Rothstein, who previously worked on Rajput’s campaign, said while Dingell represents some of his political views, he wishes she would take more radical action against climate change.

“In some areas, I think she does well,” Rothstein said. “On local issues, such as PFAS, she has delivered. But, on the whole, I think Congresswoman Dingell has a lot of room to improve. Climate change, which is personally my most prioritized issue, has been one that she has not given enough serious attention to.”

Dingell, a top progressive in the Democratic Party, has been serving Ann Arbor since 2015. Dingell has also been a long-time proponent of Medicare for All and founded a Medicare for All caucus in July 2018.

When asked how the two candidates differ on this point, Rajput acknowledged that Dingell has been a proponent of the policy.

“Congresswoman Dingell is an advocate for Medicare for All and I am grateful that she has taken a progressive stance on that front,” Rajput said. “I think that is something that many progressives appreciate. But I think for me, part of the reasons why I’m running are for the areas we disagree on.”

One of Rajput’s biggest differences with Dingell is her support of the Green New Deal. The Green New Deal, introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., currently has 94 cosponsors including two Michigan representatives — Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich. — but not Dingell. 

In a statement earlier this year, Dingell’s Communications Director Maggie Rousseau said Dingell has urged Congress to take more aggressive stances on combating climate change.

“Mrs. Dingell has been reviewing the Green New Deal, but believes it is time Congress takes serious action to address climate change,” Rousseau said.

When asked to comment on Rajput’s campaign, Kellie Lounds, the Dingell campaign’s political director and a recent University graduate, restated the congresswoman’s commitment to the issues in the district.

“Congresswoman Dingell is focused on continuing to lead the fight in Congress for quality, affordable, healthcare safeguarding the environment, and delivering for hardworking men and women in Southeast Michigan,” Lounds wrote to The Daily over a text exchange. “Across the 12th Congressional District, Mrs. Dingell meets with everyone, and this August held 10 Congress in Your Community events at local farmers markets, hosted seven town halls and has gone to more than 200 meetings and events. People who know her, know she is a fighter.”

Rajput said he felt compelled to run for office because people are looking for ambitious new ideas and not safe solutions.

“I think they are trying to solve very big problems with very small solutions,” Rajput said. “That even if they were to get implemented, would not have any meaningful impact on anyone’s life. That is what I fundamentally disagree with. I think we need to dream up a solution that will actually solve the problems and not kick the issue down the road.”

Rajput said even though he’s never been an elected official, he does have a political background. He began grassroots political organizing by organizing for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. After her election loss, Rajput said he felt an urge to stay politically engaged and that he saw a similar sentiment on campus. That’s when he decided to start a local grassroots organization, the Michigan Resistance. 

“After the Hillary campaign, we ended up having many volunteers who really wanted to keep fighting but didn’t really know what to do,” Rajput said. “And we had heard that there were a lot of bad bills, anti-progressive bills, coming through the state legislature and we heard that even a few dozen calls could make a difference on the state level. So we organized and we did what we knew how to do as organizers and made tons of calls and got volunteers to make tons of calls. We were calling about six bills and we were able to help stop all of those six bills.”

Rajput acknowledged that taking on an established figure such as Dingell will be challenging. He cited his lack of name recognition as one roadblock.

“Nobody knows me,” Rajput said. “That’s the fact of the matter. But I need to get my name out there and I need to get people to know who I am and know what I stand for. So we’re just going to have to do a lot of talking with voters and building a grassroots army to educate voters about this campaign.” 

He cites Ocasio-Cortez as a source of inspiration, both ideologically and due to the challenges she faced when campaigning against then-incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y.

“I am inspired by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,” Rajput said. “I think that’s another thing that everyone could probably guess. She inspired me because she believed that you don’t need to be a dynasty, you don’t need to be a millionaire or have corporate connections to win an election.”

Rothstein also has a message for future students who may be hesitant to vote for a name they aren’t as familiar with.

“Keep an open mind,” Rothstein said. “Solomon is addressing some of Rep. Dingell’s shortcomings. Being that he grew up in the era of skyrocketing student debt, mass shootings and worsening climate change, Solomon will be able to view these issues from a more personal perspective that aligns more closely with our generation.”