BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE
Atlanta, GA, November 8, 2021: The Indian American journey from the fringes to the US political mainstream has been remarkable. Be it Kamala Devi Harris who put her Indian roots on full display during her acceptance speech or Nikki Haley who invoked stories of overcoming racism as the daughter of Indian immigrants, the rise in political engagement within the community in both democratic and republican sectors have been significant. Indian American candidates are running for federal, state and local offices across the US, and Georgia is not far behind. Johns Creek City Council elected two out of three running Indian American candidates. Joining the race is Kartik Bhatt, Republican, running for the office of Labor Commissioner for the state of Georgia.
In his exclusive with NRI Pulse, Bhatt highlighted his priorities, core principles, and policy plans, if elected to office.
A property manager at his family business, Laxminarayan 108, LLC, Bhatt was appointed by Governor Kemp to Georgia Board of Examiners for the Certification of Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant Operators and Laboratory Analysts. Bhatt has worked for 10 years as Animal Control Officer with the Cobb County Department of Public Safety. In 2020, Bhatt had the opportunity to be the first Indian American Honorary Driver at the US President Motorcade. Bhatt has worked through COVID times coordinating with various Indian American individuals and organizations to donate essential supplies to frontline staff across Atlanta. Bhatt lives with his wife Twisha, his daughter Namasvi and his parents Harikrishna V Bhatt, Hirnaxi H Bhatt in Acworth, Georgia. They have been residents of Cobb County since 2001.
“My main goal is to ensure that hardworking Georgians are financially independent. I believe this is the right time to safeguard the future together,” noted Bhatt.
“America is a land of opportunity for those who talented and hard-working. And I am a living, breathing example of that. This land has provided me and family a wonderful life with plenty of prospects that I look forward to. It is my time to give back and serve this nation and all of its citizens, particularly the state of state and Georgians who welcomed me with open arms. I intend to do that to the best of my ability,” Bhatt said about his inspiration to run for office.
Empowering businesses, Election integrity, and a ‘Forget and Forgive’ policy, Bhatt underlined are the core themes of his campaign. “In talking to a lot of small business owners, I learned that SBA loans and commercial loans process banks takes approximately 60 to 90 days. As a Labor commissioner, I will work with banks and lenders and make this process 30 to 45 days with popular documents. If banks and lenders are closing resident loans for 30 days then why not SBA and commercial loans? I plan to look into this within the first 100 days of my office,” Bhatt said in answer to question from the townhall styled zoom meeting.
Bhatt also said that he would work towards finding ways to reduce the Permitting and Licensing Process to have business and entrepreneurs up and running quickly. Bhatt plans to create a business website that lists all Business documents including guidelines for all countries and cities. His plans also include an annual or biennial Global Business Summit and International Business Conference.
With unemployment rate in GA at 5.6 %, which is double than the usual, Central Georgians are currently seeking answers from GA Department of labor after not receiving unemployment benefits for months. In fact Georgia labor agency sued over delays in jobless benefits. And State lawmakers call for congress to investigate Georgia DOL pending unemployment responses. How does Bhatt plan to address these issues? “As a Labor Commissioner I want to bring the agency back on track. I would like to create teams of A, B, C and D to address and separately address the issues. Meaning if someone applies for benefits, Team A will help them, Team B will help them find a job, Team C will follow up and Team D will get applications. My goal as a Labor Commissioner is to ensure that unemployment rate is 0%. I want to create more businesses which will in turn create more jobs and my office will help them find these jobs.” Bhatt said he is very keen on taking all aspects into consideration such as termination and layoffs, in some cases, setting people on either path of grief or crime.
How would your office help people struggling to find work? “We will start with the basics. If someone has trouble putting together a resume, we will help with that. The need will be addressed irrespective of color, economic status or zip code.”
In the coming years, what do you see as the biggest opportunities for Georgia workers? Where are the jobs going to be, and how do workers get ready for them? For Bhatt the possibilities are endless. “My goal is to make Georgia a Global Business hub. I have some big dream projects in mind like a 7 star hotel, International Cricket Stadium, World’s biggest shopping Mall in Georgia, World’s Tallest Building, Global Business HUB, IT HUB, Technology HUB, World’s Best Medical college, World’s best Dental College, World’s Best LAW College.” And yes even the World largest Food Court! Bhatt plans to invite more investors to invest in Georgia through annual conferences.
It’s hard to find farmworkers in Georgia. How can you help address this issue for the agriculture industry? “I actually went down to South Georgia and spoke to these farmers,” said Bhatt who shared their struggles with lack of manpower. To address this, Bhatt plans to start a “H2A Program”, which allows U.S. employers who meet specific regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary agricultural jobs. Bhatt plans to create Agricultural workforce Development Program through the Technical college system of Georgia to train future farmers and Agri-Business Leaders. He is very keen to be part of the “Georgia Grown” campaign. Bhatt said he will offer international help to Georgia Farmers and Agri Business to take their products to the global market.
What are the biggest issues that the labor commissioner will need to face in the next four years? “Biggest challenge for me is to motivate the workforce. There is a lot of debate about mask and vaccine mandates. So I want to sort of bridge that communication gap.” Bhatt said that while he will simply follow the CDC and Governor’s guidelines and does not believe in mandating masks or vaccines. When another audience raised concern over being fired about the issue, Bhatt said his office can talk to the employer about the issue.
Addressing a question from the audience about Hotel/Motel industry, Bhatt said he is keen on supporting the owners. He has plans to cut $ cut $5.00 state tax, with a special committee created for the purpose. The $5.00 charge was passed in March as part of Georgia House Bill 170. The Hotel Occupancy Tax which charges guests an extra $5.00. per night no matter what the rate of the Hotel Room. The fees and Taxes add up for guests budgeting for an extra $5.00 Per Night.
Addressing concerns from a police officer who wanted to know about any benefits for officers working on Sundays and in the night shifts, Bhatt said that his office will ensure that any employee working on Sundays, or any holidays will be paid $1.00 extra per hour.
An audience presented his concern of imbalance in the skill, career and education in Georgia, compared to the other 49 other states. Also highlighting the law that provides for one day holiday to an employee should an unfortunate death happen in the family, he said immigrants require minimum of 7 days including travel and other traditions and that should not be a ground for terminating an employee. He went on urge the upcoming proposed Labor Commissioner to actively look into these issues with a promise from Bhatt that it would be addressed.
Bhatt who beings a unique perspective from serving as an Inmate Supervisor, says he understands inmates’ worries about their next meal, next job and survival. He plans to create a special committee to send motivational videos and after they have served their time, provide them benefits, and provide assistance in search for a new job.
Bhatt also has plans to host various Entrepreneurship Seminars including Free Seminar for High School and College Students, and Mission Financial Protection Seminars.
“I want to ensure that hard working Georgians are financially independent. I will support small business and offer a listening ear to all concerns. People have to make their choice. Think about this: Hopeless end or Endless Hope, Breakdown or Breakthrough, By Chance or By Choice. My motto is America First. Americans First. Georgia First and Georgians first.” Bhatt appealed to voters.