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Sri Kulkarni’s youthful indiscretion

We’ll see how big a deal this turns out to be.

Sri Kulkarni

A candidate’s drug arrest at the age of 18 has riled up a Democratic primary contest for the right to challenge five-term Republican incumbent Pete Olson in a potentially competitive congressional district in Houston’s southern suburbs.

Sri Preston Kulkarni, a leading labor-backed candidate in the five-way March 6 primary, acknowledged Tuesday that he was arrested for possessing less than a gram of cocaine when he was a teenager in 1997.

The felony charge later was dismissed by a Harris County judge after a two-year probationary sentence, a disposition known as “deferred adjudication” that is frequently meted out for first-time drug offenses.

Kulkarni, now a 39-year-old ex-foreign service officer and onetime Senate aide, described the incident as a youthful indiscretion at a stressful time in his life when his father was terminally ill with cancer.

“We should not be stigmatizing our youth for the rest of their lives,” he said.

Nevertheless, the issue, raised at the start of early voting in Texas, has shaken up a U.S. House race where Democrats hope to make inroads in their quest to loosen the Republican Party’s long grip on the state.

Kulkarni disclosed the arrest to the Chronicle on Tuesday after the case was raised by the Fort Bend County chapter leader of Our Revolution, a group representing a progressive coalition of activists who supported the 2016 presidential campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.


Kulkarni said his drug arrest 21 years ago should be seen through the prism of criminal justice reform, a top Democratic priority, and not as an election season attack.

“This is a very important issue,” he said. “I’m happy to talk about it in that context.”

Kulkarni is hardly the first candidate to have a youthful indiscretion in his past, and his response is a good one both in general and for a Democratic audience that is indeed interested in criminal justice reform. You can read the story for the rest of the details, but whatever one thinks of his brush with the law, it didn’t prevent him from having a successful career that included getting a top secret security clearance. As a general rule it’s better for stuff like this to come out early than late, and it’s best to own it and answer questions about it in a straightforward manner. Basically, as long as there’s nothing more to it than this, it probably won’t be that big a deal.

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  1. N.M. Horwitz says:

    I have no dog in this primary, but what a silly thing on which to attack him.

    I don’t know how much less than a gram it was, but DA Ogg (like DA Lykos before her) does not prosecute “trace cases” of cocaine anymore.

  2. Flypusher says:

    I’m mulling over my choices in this primary. Whatever I decide, this isn’t something that I would hold against Mr. Kulkarni because 1) I don’t care about one time minor possession offenses (seems to me he was using rather than selling), and 2) unlike too many current politicians I can think of, he was open and honest about it. No excuses, no evasions, no bashing the press for doing their jobs in reporting this.

  3. Jason Hochman says:

    wasn’t Bush’s youthful indiscretion when he was 30 or 32?

  4. Bill Daniels says:

    I agree with Horowitz and Fly.

    Time to get over this kind of stuff and move on. Of course, I’m a libertarian, so I think cocaine should be fully legal to anyone over (take your pick) 18 or 21. I would, however, find it problematic if someone had multiple drug cases, or a recent case, as that shows a lack of good judgement.

  5. Bill Daniels says:

    @ Jason:

    Which youthful indiscretion, the DWI, or the no show “job” in the Air National Guard?

  6. Jason Hochman says:

    @Bill–drunk driving. I thought that he was arrested in the late 1970s, when he was in his early 30s and called it a “youthful indiscretion.” And I thought that 30 is old enough to know better–that is well over the drinking age, which was probably 18 at the time.