By GUY KOVNER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sukhwinder Lamba and Rumka Singh, an upwardly mobile Santa Rosa couple, are taking their two children on a special trip this
week to North Carolina.
Lamba, a software sales executive, has degrees in engineering and business administration. Singh is a physician specializing in internal medicine.
They are immigrants from India, members of the Sikh Temple of Santa Rosa and naturalized citizens.
And as recent converts to political activism, Lamba, 46, and Singh, 45, are among the roughly 6,000 delegates attending the Democratic National Convention starting today in Charlotte, N.C.
“We’ve never done anything like this before,” Singh said last week.
“We tell our friends if we can get involved in politics, anybody can,” Lamba said. “It’s such a great thing about this country that anybody can get involved.”
Any registered Democrat, in fact, may sign up as a candidate in the party’s open caucuses, held in each California congressional district, to elect 399 delegates and alternates, the majority of California’s roughly 700 convention delegates this year.
Lamba and Singh did so, then engaged in classic grassroots politicking: house parties, phone calls and public speeches before the April 29 caucus in Santa Rosa.
“We campaigned very hard,” Lamba said.
They won two of the eight delegate positions in the 5th Congressional District, which includes Santa Rosa.
“I was amazed at how much love and support I got,” said Singh, who described herself as a hardworking physician and “not a very social person.”
In daily life, the couple wear contemporary American clothes, but at the convention they will dress as traditional Sikhs, Lamba in a turban and Singh in long slacks, a shirt and scarf.
Singh said she wants to “raise awareness about our (Sikh) community so people learn we are part of the fabric of this nation, part of the political process.”
The presence of about 500,000 Sikhs in the United States was highlighted by the fatal shooting of six Sikhs at a temple south of Milwaukee in early August, possibly because they were mistaken for Muslims.
Ishwar Singh, a Sikh leader from Orlando, Fla., made history last week as the first Sikh to open a Republican National Convention session with an invocation.
Blake Hooper of Petaluma is another newcomer to Democratic Party politics, a 22-year-old graduate from UC Santa Cruz who switched majors from computer engineering to political science.
“The whole process fascinates me,” said Hooper, who worked on congressional candidate Norman Solomon’s unsuccessful primary campaign and attended the California Democratic Convention as a proxy delegate in February.
Energized by that experience, Hooper went to the 2nd Congressional District caucus in San Rafael and got elected as one of the district’s nine delegates.
“You have to make a case for why you want to be a delegate,” which meant lobbying strangers as well as counting on friends he brought along, Hooper said.
Hooper, now working on Assemblyman Michael Allen’s re-election campaign, said his political career started while he attended Tech High School in Rohnert Park and appealed to the school board over proposed budget cuts.
The 2nd District delegation is geographically lopsided, with 13 of 17 delegates — both elected and appointed — from Marin County, which holds 37 percent of the coastal district’s registered voters.
Hooper is one of three delegates from Sonoma County, along with Marie Gil of Santa Rosa and Petaluma City Councilman Gabe Kearney.
Debra Broner, a party leader from Del Norte County, is the lone delegate from the district’s four counties north of Sonoma.
Broner, 60, said she had to drive 90 miles to the party caucus in Eureka, along with some supporters, from her home in Smith River, an Easter lily and dairy farming town on the coast 10 miles from the Oregon border.
Broner finished first in caucus voting among 34 candidates. “It worked. I was surprised,” she said.
A retired small-business owner from Arizona, Broner moved to Smith River in 2004 and has logged more than 20 years as a Democratic activist.
“I figured this was my one shot to go,” she said.
Like the other North Coast delegates, Broner said she’s looking forward to President Barack Obama’s acceptance speech Thursday night at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium, which holds nearly 74,000 people for Carolina Panthers football games.
Lamba and Singh think the Democrats are “on the right track” and want to introduce their older child, Noor Lamba, 13, to politics from a seat in the stadium on Thursday.
Noor, an eighth-grader at Rincon Valley Middle School, got permission to miss class this week but is taking homework with her.
Hooper said he hopes Obama will make it plain that he supports Medicare and Medi-Cal, two of the entitlement programs the Republicans want to cut.
“There’s no point in pretending it’s any other way,” he said.
You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.