Neil Makhija is an Indian-American lawyer, academic, and former Democratic candidate for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Although his 2016 bid for state office was unsuccessful, Makhija’s campaign holds significance as a trailblazer for South Asian American political representation.
Early Life and Education
Neil Makhija was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1987. His parents immigrated to the United States from India. As a child, Makhija became passionate about public service and politics. He was inspired by leaders like Barack Obama and Sonia Sotomayor, who broke barriers in American politics.
Makhija attended Sarah Lawrence College, graduating in 2009 with a B.A. in Liberal Arts. He went on to earn his Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School in 2015.
Prior to running for office, Neil Makhija worked as an attorney in Carbon County, Pennsylvania. He specialized in cases involving employment discrimination and civil rights violations.
Makhija was active in local professional organizations, serving on the Board of Directors for Family Promise of Carbon County and the Young Professionals Committee of the Carbon County Chamber & Economic Development. Through this work, he gained valuable insight into local issues impacting Pennsylvania residents.
2016 Pennsylvania State House Race
In 2016, Makhija launched a campaign for District 122 of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. He ran on the Democratic ticket against incumbent Republican Doyle Heffley.
Makhija was unopposed in the District 122 Democratic primary election held on April 26, 2016. He officially became the Democratic nominee for the general election.
Facing Republican incumbent Doyle Heffley in the November 8 general election, Makhija campaigned on progressive policies and representation for the diverse District 122. However, he lost the election, with Heffley receiving 59.48% of the votes compared to Makhija’s 38.64%.
Despite his defeat, Makhija’s campaign was groundbreaking. He would have been the first Indian-American ever elected to the Pennsylvania legislature. His candidacy demonstrated the growing participation of Asian Americans in state politics.
Political Views and Platform
During his 2016 campaign, Neil Makhija emphasized economic, education, healthcare, and environmental reforms. His progressive policy positions included:
Economy and Jobs
- Investing in infrastructure to create local jobs
- Raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour
- Support for unions and workers’ rights
- Increased education funding, teacher pay, and STEM programs
- Universal pre-K access
- College loan forgiveness programs
- Defending the Affordable Care Act (ACA)
- Expanding Medicaid
- Reducing prescription drug costs
- Transitioning to renewable energy to address climate change
- Stricter regulations on fracking and drilling
- Conservation efforts to preserve local parks/nature
Later Career and Current Work
Although his political campaign fell short, Neil Makhija continues to work on issues like inclusion, civil rights, and democracy.
Teaching and Academia
Makhija is a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, where he teaches courses on environmental justice and leadership. He also serves as an advisor to the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement.
Advocacy and Nonprofit Work
In addition to teaching, Makhija is the founder and executive director of the Indian American Impact Project. The organization works to increase civic participation and representation of South Asian Americans through grassroots engagement.
Significance and Legacy
While he did not achieve statewide office, Neil Makhija’s 2016 candidacy holds importance in two key ways:
Representation in Politics
Makhija helped expand South Asian American political representation by mounting a viable campaign for state legislature. He paved the way for future Indian-American candidates in Pennsylvania.
Inspiration for Future Candidates
By boldly running at a young age, Makhija became a role model for younger Indian Americans interested in politics and public service. His campaign inspired the next generation to engage with the political process.
Neil Makhija resides in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Outside of his professional work, he is an avid runner who enjoys reading history books and listening to audiobooks during long runs. Makhija also plays the saxophone as a hobby. He lives with his partner, who is an inner-city public school teacher.
While his 2016 Pennsylvania House campaign was unsuccessful, Neil Makhija made history as the first viable Indian-American candidate for state legislative office. His trailblazing run demonstrated the growing political power of Asian Americans. And Makhija continues to work for inclusion, justice, and representation through his teaching, advocacy, and nonprofit work. His passion for public service is an inspiration.
Q: What election did Neil Makhija run in?
A: Makhija ran as a Democratic candidate for District 122 of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 2016.
Q: What was historic about Makhija’s candidacy?
A: If elected, Makhija would have been the first Indian-American ever to serve in the Pennsylvania state legislature.
Q: Who defeated Makhija in the 2016 general election?
A: Incumbent Republican Doyle Heffley defeated Makhija to retain his District 122 seat.
Q: What types of policy reforms did Makhija campaign on?
A: Makhija advocated for progressive policies like healthcare expansion, education funding, economic justice, and environmental protection.
Q: What does Makhija do now after his political campaign?
A: He teaches law courses, runs a nonprofit to engage South Asian Americans in politics, and works on democracy/civil rights issues.