Bringing Global Experience To Maryland’s 16th State House District
Last month, Rantt Media had a chance to catch up with Nuchhi Currier, a candidate for the House of Delegates in Maryland’s 16th district. We were able to speak on a broad range of issues, including women in politics, immigration, and what solutions she can bring to her would-be constituents. See an overview of the race and the transcript (with notes by yours truly) below, and/or listen to the interview on Soundcloud.
Who is Nuchhi Currier?
Nuchhi Currier is a six-time President of the Woman’s National Democratic Club (WNDC), a forum promoting progressive politics created shortly after women received the right to vote. She was born in Pakistan, where she also serves as a visiting professor at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) in Karachi. Before her tenure at the WNDC, she worked as a consultant for several UN organizations, and also for Center of International Private Enterprise. Despite her extensive national and international work, Ms. Currier has little experience in local politics in her district. She just moved back to the area last year, after previously living there for several years in the mid-2000s.
The 16th district of Maryland comprises several Washington, DC suburbs in Montgomery County, including Bethesda, North Bethesda, Potomac, and Chevy Chase. Its stated population is 123,645 people. It is a highly educated and wealthy district; median household income is more than $141,000 per year. The district is over three-quarters white, but almost a quarter of the district is not born in the US. This is a solidly Democratic part of the country; nearly 76 percent of Montgomery County voted for Hillary Clinton in the last election.
The State Delegate Race
The district is represented by three council members. Only two of the incumbents are running for reelection, and are doing so jointly with the county’s state Senate incumbent, giving them a solid chance to retain their seats. Ms. Currier has serious competition for (presumably) the remaining delegate seat, including area lawyer Sara Love and Montgomery County teacher Samir Love, both of whom have secured major endorsements. The closed Democratic primary election, which will likely select all winning candidates (Bill Day is the only Republican candidate running), will be held on June 26, 2018, and the general election will be held on November 6, 2018.
Our interview was held at the Whittemore House, WNDC’s headquarters in Washington, DC (transcript has been lightly edited for clarity).
JE: This is Jossif Ezekilov, I am the Foreign Affairs Editor over at Rantt Media and I have the pleasure of interviewing today, Nuchhi Currier, who is running for House of Delegates seat in Maryland’s 16th District. Ms. Currier thank you for being with us today.
Currier: Thank you for having me on your show.
JE: It’s a pleasure. So, I’ll dive right in. Now, Ms. Currier, you’re a part of a record wave of female candidates running for office in 2018. As president of the Woman’s National Democratic Club, I’m sure you have a unique insight into the importance of having more women in political positions. Can you share with us your thoughts on that? And also, if you could talk about why you yourself chose to run for office.
Currier: Okay. So I’ll throw some statistics at you. There are half a million government jobs in this nation. Less than 20% are represented by women. And so this huge imbalance that exists is something that is being corrected now and it’s going to be a long while- I think it’s going to take another 15 to 20 years for us to reach any kind of close parity. I don’t think we are ever going to have complete parity.
There are a lot of very well educated, very qualified women that we have – both in the corporate world, in the media world, in government offices – but traditionally they’ve not had the opportunity to be in leadership positions. And this leadership gap actually then translates to a power imbalance which then results in everything that you’re seeing in the #MeToo situation. It’s all about the power dynamic.
And once women have more economic power and more leadership positions in the nation in every capacity, we will right the balance.
So here I’m not saying men are bad and women are good at all. I’m just saying any time there is any kind of power imbalance, we need to correct it because that creates its own ills.
Why am I running? I am running not necessarily because I’m a woman but because I think that I bring to the table something that is really needed in Annapolis. I’ve been a business leader my entire life. I have run businesses. Even this institution, The Woman’s National Democratic Club. I was elected as president in 2009 because they were in financial distress, and this building was going to be put up for sale We’ve owned it for 90 years- 9 0- then it was 80 some years. I was mandated to basically save the building and put in a business plan that was going to make this institution forward in a sustainable fashion, which we have done. And I say we very advisedly because it was me and my team.
And I was elected four years in a row. It’s a one-year term, most people do two years, maximum three years as president.
And then I said: “It’s now somebody else’s turn,” I went away.
I was called back in 2016 to be president again, and I thought: “Oh my God, what an amazing year to be president because Hillary Clinton is going to be in the White House.
Finally, after almost one hundred years of us winning the right to vote, we will have a female president.”
Well, we all know what happened last November 2016. And since then we then we became the Hub of the Women’s March on Washington. We have become the hub of the Resistance. And so we are doing very, very valuable work.
So the way I’m looking at it is: 2016 or 2017 might have been the year of the woman, now, we are looking at a decade of women. Because women now have realized that for them to make a difference in this world, they have to rise to the challenge and they’ve got to put themselves in positions of power because it’s not going to happen any other way.
And we’re seeing that happen: women are voting, women are running, and women are winning. It’s not because they’re women, it’s because they’re competent women. They’re women who need to be a part of the power structure of our nation.
JE: Let me expand with you on that. I mean, it sounds like you’ve had some amazing accomplishments as president here at the WNDC. In addition to your work here, you are also a visiting professor in Pakistan, and you’ve also worked for a number of international organizations, including the UN. How do you see that experience helping you serve the people of Maryland 16, if you’re to be elected?
Currier: I’ve always said our lives are building blocks. Everything we do we bring to bear upon everything that we do subsequent to what we’ve done before. When I came to the WNDC, I thought everything that I’ve learned in life now is actually coming to fruition and I am using all my skills that I have acquired in my previous working life. All those skills I’m taking to Maryland, because when we sit in Annapolis when we’re elected as delegates and as Senators, we work with the governor to make laws and regulations for the entire state. We represent our district, we represent our county, but laws that are made impact the entire state. And here, at the United Nations, and also at the WNDC, I have been working on policy issues now for over a decade and it’s something that comes very easily and naturally to me.
Politics is something I’ve been steeped in now for the past 12 years. Leadership positions I have held throughout, I would say, two decades of my life. I write, and I am very attuned to whatever’s happening around us.
Maryland is a case in point. Maryland is a very progressive state. We have some of the best schools. But we have issues, even the schools have issues. There’s overcrowding, there are more people coming in then the system can bear and so we need to address those. Achievement levels have been slipping in those schools primarily because there is overcrowding…there are issues.
The fact is that 34% of the people who live in Montgomery County in Maryland, were not even born in this country, which basically means the kids of these people, the children, may have deficiency in in in the English language. They may not have actually had Pre-K schooling. So it takes a little bit of time and effort for them to catch up; they do catch up. But it puts a strain on the education system which we need to address. Because we are a country of immigrants. That’s what makes us great. But we just need to see how to address issues that come with the diversity that we seek and we need, and that adds to what we have.
[Editor’s Note: According to reports by the county school board, there was an increase in class sizes at all school levels, though the increase in the student to instructor ratio was fairly small. At the high school level, graduation, attendance, suspension, and dropout rates saw little to no increase from the 15/16 to the 16/17 school year, while SAT scores saw a modest 2 point increase. However, this data may be masking achievement gaps across racial/ethnic lines.]
JE: I’m gonna press you a little bit more on the immigration issue, because not only are you a woman candidate you’re also a foreign-born candidate, you’re from Pakistan. I’m sure you’re aware, the Trump Administration has done a lot to antagonize immigrant communities during his time in office. We’ve had the Muslim ban; lifting of protections for DACA residents; most recently, the president made some comments, seeming to insinuate that people coming to this country are “animals.”
And as you yourself said, a substantial portion of your District is not born in the US. So if you’re elected, what will you do specifically to protect immigrant communities in your district and in Maryland in general?
Currier: So I think most of us in this country realize. I’m not going to talk about the tone at the top, which is not what it should be. I’m going to use very mild language. I can go much worse, I won’t. So, if we forget the tone at the top and what’s trickling down, which is empowering the divisive voices in this nation, unfortunately.
This country is a very tolerant country. This is a very welcoming country. It was based on the premise that all the disaffected and the dispossessed of the world would be welcomed here, and they have been traditionally. So I see what’s happening these days as a blip and an aberration which will be corrected. Because after all, it is also the country that elected a black president for two consecutive terms. So I just think that you have to look at it as a glass-half-full, not as a glass half empty.
The majority of the people of this country actually do not condone- but it’s a 30-some percent that is with the current president in believing the rhetoric that’s coming out of his fingertips. Basically, it’s his tweets, right? And the people that he is surrounding himself with happen to be also extremists in other ways. What’s happening with gun laws in the country, what’s happening with immigration, a lot of it is very difficult for a lot of constituencies.
I’ve been approached by the Hispanic community, I’ve been approached by a lot of other minority communities and they have expressed their fear- at the change of rhetoric, the change of tone, the change of attitude that they’re noticing around them- and how they are feeling threatened. And I think that this is a very regrettable, turn of events in a country which has prided itself on being an open society, and an open kind of country. If I look at the other countries around me- and I have lived in a lot of countries, I have worked in a lot of different countries in the world- even today even where we are today, I think we as Americans are head and shoulders above a lot of other nations in terms of human rights, in terms of the rule of law, in terms of who we are. Things have just taken a turn in the very recent past, which I think is going to be overturned very soon.
JE: Sure. But while that might be the case, you know, there’s a very real threat to a lot of immigrant communities and potentially communities within the district you’re planning to represent. So, you know, even though one might say that this could be a kind of temporary turn within American history, it still affects people here and now. So what can somebody in the position that you’re planning to represent and be elected for what can somebody in that position do for those people?
Currier: So I am going to go back and say, my immediate District actually does not suffer from this, because that is predominantly white. The county that our district is in are the statistics that I’ve given you, and that the country is actually suffering in that respect. But what we have to also we have to look at everything in context.
The state of Maryland is one of the more progressive states in the nation. So when it comes to gun violence and gun laws, for instance, we have bucked the federal system altogether. We had already banned assault-type weapons in this particular session in Annapolis. We also banned bump stocks. So we are way ahead in the game.
It is similar when it comes to issues like immigration. So even though there is a problem, we are- the state, the county is- trying very hard to make sure that law enforcement does not collude with ICE to attack beleaguered communities.
[Editor’s Note: Montgomery County has traditionally supported immigrant communities, most recently reaffirming its commitment to providing an education for all, regardless of immigrant status. However, it is not a sanctuary jurisdiction, and there have been raids by ICE recently.]
And so there is an acute awareness already that exists. Which, obviously, people like me who understand the issue because I come from, I’m a recent immigrant; meaning, when I say recent I’ve been lived here 32 years. But I go back. My mother, who is 91 years old, still lives in Pakistan. My family still lives in Pakistan. So it’s something that I’m very attuned to. I am not impervious to what’s happening around me. My boys grew up in this country. I have my two grandsons who are growing up in this country. I’m very acutely aware of the divisions that have been created and how it’s impacting people and how people do feel vulnerable.
And obviously, I will work with my colleagues to make sure every law that the state passes is a law that is going to safeguard the interests of our immigrant communities, who actually add to the richness of the tapestry of this country.
JE: You alluded to the fact that Maryland in general, and I would add your District in particular-
Currier: My county.
JE: Yes, is particularly, Democratic voting-
Currier: and Progressive.
JE: and Progressive. I would also add, specifically, Maryland 16, is quite an affluent District. One could say that, you know, people have benefited from the status quo. So my question is why should voters, make a change and elect you over the Democratic incumbents and other challengers in the race?
Currier: So, what I am talking about, a lot of my opponents are not talking about. I’m talking about the difficulties that our county is facing in terms of new business, and local business and small business being created which basically means lesser, fewer jobs. And I’m the only one, actually, who has that as part of my mandate. Nobody else is really talking about it. And what I’m suggesting are solutions which are based upon maybe tax incentives, maybe looking at the way regulations are piled one on top of the other to see why we have been perceived as not business friendly. That’s one thing that separates me from the rest of the pack. There eight people running for three seats, we all know that.
The other thing is, I’m the only senior that’s running in this race. One in every four residents of our county is going to be over 60 in two years’ time. [Editor’s Note: In MD-16, they already are] That’s a huge number of people. I am the one who is talking about issues, which relate to aging in place, real estate taxation relief for these people, medical relief for these people, recreational facilities, green spaces, all these issues which pertain. And I’m also actually going one step further, and I’m saying: we have this huge talent, which resides in our retired community. I think that we need to create state programs where the younger people in our communities benefit from the experience that the older residents can provide.
So one of the issues of aging- and I can tell you, I’m aging myself, but my mother is 91 years old- one of the issues is an issue of redundancy. When you start to feel that you have done your life’s work, and now what? That “now what” is what I’m trying to address. I want to work until I die, and I think that if we create programs where we tap the talent of the retirees for the benefit of the young, it’s a win-win for both generations. And so that’s another issue that I’m very, very acutely aware of.
All of us, we’re all progressive Democrats, all eight people running for office for these three seats in District 16. We’re all talking about education, we’re all talking about challenges that transportation poses, we’re all talking about environmental issues. We’re all very similar on those.
What distinguishes me is, number one, the diversity issue. And when I say diversity it is not just that I’m a woman, it is not just that I’m an immigrant and not born in this country.
It isn’t just the kind of the education that I’ve had. I’ve been educated in different parts of the world and I got my Master’s Degree at Columbia University in international finance and business. So it’s diversity of experiences as well. I bring a diversity of experience from different nations, from different professions.
And, then also, the experiential diversity is essential, I think. You can’t only have lawyers sitting in Annapolis. The preponderance of people who run for these positions are lawyers. Sure, we make laws. But, what scoop do we bring to issues that ultimately become laws? You need lawyers, but you need other professionals as well. That is what I bring to the table.
JE: I really like that you touched upon experiential diversity because it seems like that’s something that’s very central to your campaign and to what you’d like to bring. I want to reference an interview you had with Bethesda Magazine back in February where you mentioned that one issue the current House of Delegates handled poorly was that they didn’t establish enough links between constituents and representatives and that if elected you will “ensure that legislative initiatives include greater participation from the people and communities that these bills will eventually impact.”
Now, we’re talking about experiential diversity. One could argue that most of your opponents have experiential diversity and have experience working on the local level in Maryland politics in one way or another. How will you, using your experience, be able to build links between constituents and representatives better than them?
Currier: So I’m not saying better or worse. I’m just saying what is each of us bringing in terms of emphasis, right? So when I talk about a greater understanding between constituents and legislators, I’m talking about- because I’m seeing a lot of disaffection amongst our residents in District 16, when it comes to the way development is happening in our district.
There’s a huge amount of development happening in Bethesda, for instance, right? And a lot of constituents are very unhappy about the way that’s happening. They’re saying that it’s haphazard and they’re taking into consideration what’s going to happen to transportation; what’s going to happen to their green spaces; what’s going to happen to schools, that they’re going to be overburdened again. And so we need to be able to listen to our constituents more, less to vested interest and developers. A lot of these issues might be county issues, so the County Council might be tackling them. But we have a great sway over what and how things happen because the funding comes from the state, and a lot of the regulation comes from the state. And so there’s a synergy that exists between state legislators, between the county executives and the council, and the school board, and so it is a collaborative effort.
And the scope that each one of us brings can be a very local one and it and it can be a universal kind of scope. And I think what I’m bringing to the table is all of the above. So I have an international scope; I have a national scope; and I have a local scope as well, because, here at the Woman’s National Democratic Club, we are so steeped in politics that we weigh in on issues which are at every level.
And I have now lived in the area that I live in, in Chevy Chase, I was there for two years- and moved to DC to be closer to my work and my husband’s work- and we’ve been back now, I’ve been back for almost two years. And so I have a ton of friends who live there, people who have grown up there, people whose children have grown up there, or are growing up there. And so I have an understanding of what the issues are. But then when it comes to arriving at solutions to those issues, I think that’s when the diversity of outlook and the diversity of experience really comes in, because you then are sensitized in a way that somebody whose scope is very limited is not.
JE: Well, let’s talk about some of your potential work if you’re to be elected. Being in the house of delegates means you will be working with Governor Larry Hogan-
Currier: It does not mean I’d be working with Governor Larry Hogan because Larry Hogan is up for reelection. And so hopefully I’ll be working with a Democratic Governor.
JE: Yes, my apologies-
JE: [laughs]-but there is a chance, let’s say.
Currier: There is a chance, yes, yes.
JE: Yes, and, you know, Governor Hogan – if he’s re-elected himself – he is a Republican in a very Democratic state. However, he does enjoy some strong approval ratings. So if he’s reelected, and you’re elected in the house of delegates, Where do you and Governor Hogan differ on policy and-
Currier: Okay, so I’m going to respond to you even before you go further.
Currier: So, you see what I’m wearing? I’m wearing purple which is my campaign color. What is purple? Purple is a cross between red and blue. I’m a coalition builder and- I have always- I have done strategic planning, I have reached across the aisle, I have worked with very different constituencies and very different leadership styles and groups to arrive at solutions. So that I actually believe that we have to stop being hyper-partisan the way we are. I would love to see a Democrat sitting there because if you just look at Governor Hogan’s record – if you just look at the last legislative session- how many vetoes had to be overridden by the legislature to get anything passed, that will tell you why we need to have a Democratic governor. Right?
Currier: And now that the election is close, now he’s coming up in his largesse with some, he’s sort of throwing little crumbs to show how he is working with the rest of the Democrats because it is largely a Democratic state, right? But I honestly think that we need to have Democratic leadership to be able to move in the progressive direction that we already are embarked on.
What would I do if he were to be reelected? I would work with him and I would work with the small percentage of Republicans who are represented in the state. Now in our district, for instance, we have Republicans too. I actually have my yard signs in Republican homes, in Republican-leaning homes, because I think that there are some of them are so disenchanted with what’s going on in the White House, and in the country as a whole, that they are willing to have an open mind and to listen to the other side if you are able to talk to them.
I knock on every door. I don’t care whether it’s a democratic home or a Republican home. And I reach out. And I’ve actually had some success, where I’ve been told: ‘Well, I will switch to be able to vote for you. You can put a yard sign in my yard’.
Now that’s very unusual. There are others who will say: ‘Sorry, you’re the other wrong party, I don’t want to talk to you.’
But I honestly believe that the course that we are on as a nation which is so hyper-divisive is the wrong course. We have to be able to work together. We have as a nation in the past, and we should today. And so whatever the situation on the ground is, I don’t think I will have any trouble in working within the framework of that situation.
JE: What are some issues that you anticipate being able to collaborate with your potential Republican colleagues?
Currier: So the one issue that is not going to be much of a problem is actually my business agenda. Because that is perceived to be traditionally a Republican issue, which I think is absolutely incorrect, because I think every single citizen, every single resident of our state wants to see us prosper. They want jobs for their kids; they want to see small, big business, and local business grow, which is not happening.
And the statistics they’re actually also quite alarming. We have grown by a handful of jobs, meaning…the statistics are really very discouraging for the moment. And I have friends who are trying to set up businesses- these are friends of mine who went to school with me at Columbia- who have worked in various industries and now have moved here to Maryland, and they are trying to set up businesses. This one gentleman said to me that just to get a license to operate, he has to wait nine months here (in Maryland); whereas he explored Virginia, it took only three months. Now, there’s something wrong when we appear to be discouraging and the guys next door are basically opening their arms and saying: ‘Come to us, we’re much more business-friendly.’
We have to change that. I don’t think I’m going to find any dissent amongst my Republican colleagues, although they are fighting on the statistics, even. They are saying: ‘Actually, it’s not true that we’re not business friendly.’
It is true. Because, if you look at what the districts that have come out from the Sage Report, which is painting a very gloomy picture, and then you look at statistics that are coming out of the public policy – I think it’s called the Public Policy Institute of Maryland, which is a Republican think-tank – they paint a very rosy picture.
[Editor’s Note: According to the Sage Policy Group report, the county added only six more businesses and 210 more jobs in 2016, and has seen a net loss in job creation in the decade preceding. The Public Policy Institute of Maryland, however, reported that 60% of businesses in the Washington suburbs rate the county as “Pro-business and business-friendly.”]
And so, you look at the two, you weight the two, and then you go out and you talk to small business owners and then you have to make a judgement on what really is going on, and then you look at the number of jobs that have been created, you look at the new businesses that have applied, you look at the number of businesses that have actually opened in the state, and that tells a story which is not a good story.
So I am all for regulation, because I am a Democrat, and I am a progressive. I think regulation is good because it keeps people honest, right? However, if you have haphazard regulation, one piled on top of the other, which is creating barriers to entry, that is not right. Taxation, yes. But, maybe, to encourage small businesses you need to give tax incentives. Why should we only give tax incentives to people like Amazon? To companies like Amazon? Right? I’m just saying, common sense, smart legislation is what we need.
We have a lot of work still to do. We are a great state, and I have already said we are a great country, right? But, there is always room for improvement. I have actually have pinpointed areas where there’s major room for improvement, and we all need to work together to solve those problems.
JE: Ms. Currier, I’d like to end this interview on a personal note. Um, now, Maryland 16 is my mom’s district.
Currier: Oh? O my God…
JE: Yes, she’s been living in the North Bethesda area for quite some time, for about a decade now. What is your message to my mom, who would be one your constituents if you are to be elected, ahead of the elections in 4 weeks?
Currier: So, I would just like to congratulate your mom for living in one of the greatest counties in the nation, and laud her on her choice of picking that because that means you went to some of the best schools in the nation.
JE: Yea, my sister actually went to Walter Johnson.
Currier: So, there you go. And what about you?
JE: Um, actually we moved when I was in high school, so I went to Gonzaga downtown. [laughs]
Currier: Ah, I see. Alright, ok. And so, and she must be now in the senior bracket?
JE: Uh, she is not.
Currier: Or approaching-
JE: Uh, you know-
Currier: ..or fast approaching that? Maybe not
JE: Uhh, you know slowly, let’s say, diplomatically. [laughs]
Currier: Ok, all right.
JE: If there’s one person that will be listening to this interview, it’s definitely my mom, so I have to be diplomatic [laughs]
Currier: So what I’m saying is- well, but no senior is specific, it’s an age group, right?
Currier: So anybody who is 60+ will be classified as a senior.
JE: Sure, sure.
Currier: I’m not saying I’m old. I don’t consider myself as old at all. But I am a senior,
just in terms of the way we classify age brackets, right?
Currier: I think that what she can look forward to when I take over, number one, is compassion. I am going to bring in very compassionate leadership. What she can look forward to is an understanding of the issues that we face in our county, and in our district. What she can look forward to is the fact that we are finally righting the balance between gender leadership participation. There are more women in the workforce at every level than there ever have been, but are they in leadership positions? They’re not.
And so, I think the other thing that I bring to the table- that she can then point to her daughter- is we are all setting examples for young girls about what is possible. Because there are subliminal messages that we give out every time we take a step which is a little bit off track. Right? So the track is that you accept the status quo, this is the way things are, there is a glass ceiling, I can’t shatter it. We must try to shatter every glass ceiling.
Virginia elections in 2017 showed us that. The most unlikely candidates won. Most of them happened to be women, but they need not have been women, right? Because these were committed human beings who felt confident in their leadership skills and who felt that they were just as entitled as anybody else who had won previously. And they showed the world that they could make possible whatever their dreams were. So, this is what somebody like your mom can look to and say, this is an example for my daughter and for my granddaughters when they come around.
JE: Ms. Currier, thank you so much for your time, and best of luck with the remainder of your campaign.
Currier: Thank you, there are only four weeks left, so I am urging every listener of this program, you must make sure are registered to vote. It doesn’t matter who you vote for. We fought really hard for the right to vote in this country, we have to make sure that we exercise that right. It is a right and it’s a privilege and you have to use that.
JE: Please go vote!
Currier: Thank you, go vote!