There’s A Wave Of Latina Candidates In The Midterms — And Their Reason For Running Might Inspire You To Do The Same
A record number of women are running for office this year — many of them fueled by rhetoric and policies coming out of the Trump administration that they hope to challenge.
According to Politico, at least 575 women, a combination of public service veterans and newcomers, are vying for House, Senate or gubernatorial seats — a wave that rivals 1992, the so-called “Year of the Woman.” That year, 24 women were elected to the House, the largest group to enter during a single election, while the number of women in the Senate tripled, though it must be noted that there were only three female members prior to the election.
Currently, a majority of the women running are on a Democratic platform, and many credit progressive women’s movements like #MeToo, which has brought attention to the prevalence of sexual violence, and the Women’s March, which has encouraged ladies to become civically engaged, for their decision to campaign for office.
Among the wave of female candidates are a historic number of women of color, who, more than their white counterparts, were inspired to run after the 2016 presidential election. According to a poll of 1,000 women conducted by Bustle Trends Group and VoteRunLead, 31 percent of women of color said that Trump’s election win increased the likelihood of their running for office or becoming more engaged politically. In comparison, 24 percent of white women echoed the statement.
For Latinas, frustration over Washington’s steady attacks on reproductive rights, immigrants, survivors of sexual violence, trans folks and the environment have energized them to run, many for the first time. FIERCE spoke with a varied cast of Latina candidates — millennial, immigrant, queer and small-town — about their campaigns and how they intend on resisting the Trump agenda should they be elected to office.
Veronica Escobar, Texas’ 16th Congressional District Seat
(Photo Credit: Twitter / Veronica Escobar)
Like millions of people throughout the country, Veronica Escobar will never forget Election Day 2016. “I was distraught, I was frightened and I knew that I had to work twice as hard to help elect progressive candidates to fight a dangerous agenda,” the El Paso native told FIERCE. But when Rep. Beto O’Rourke announced he was vacating his 16th Congressional District seat in an effort to oust U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, it was Escobar who threw her hat into the ring. The 48-year-old Mexican-American, who taught English and Chicano studies at colleges in El Paso before becoming a county commissioner and later a county judge, beat out five other candidates in Texas’ March primary and is expected to win the general election in November. Should she be elected, Escobar — whose priorities include shattering the myth of high crime rates on border cities like hers, comprehensive immigration reform, trade, the environment and expanding access to healthcare — would be the first Latina, possibly alongside Houston’s Sylvia Garcia, to represent and serve Texas in the House of Representatives. “It’s monumental to me personally but also a great source of pride to know a border community is the one that finally broke the barrier,” Escobar said of her likely win, also noting that she is prepared to accompany politicians in Washington who have been pushing back against the Trump agenda. “I would be joining a core group of people fighting a resistance. I feel like I’ve enlisted in their effort and am ready to be a soldier in that effort,” she said.
Catalina Cruz, New York’s Assembly District 39 Seat
(Photo Credit: Twitter / Catalina Cruz)
When Catalina Cruz learned that Trump was elected president, the lifelong activist felt like she needed to do more to ensure the safety and rights of her community. But she hadn’t considered what her mentor suggested to her: running for New York’s Assembly District 39 seat. At 35, the formerly undocumented colombiana has the experience and skills for the job: She’s an attorney and the president of the Latino Lawyers Association of Queens County and was previously the chief of staff for former council member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, the director of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Exploited Workers Task Force and counsel to the Immigration Committee at the New York City Council. After consulting with her mom — who basically said, “duh, mija” — the Jackson Heights, Queens-based Latina entered the race. “It was the right political climate for a candidate like me, for the story and accomplishments like mine,” she said. “What better way to combat anti-immigrant sentiments in Washington than having an accomplished Dreamer run for office?” While Cruz credits fellow Latina politicos like Ferreras-Copeland and former New York City council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito as her biggest political inspirations, she does acknowledge that Trump’s election rushed her 5-to-10 year plan. “Let’s get the first Dreamer elected out of Queens, where he claims to be from, and stand up for immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ families and all the folks attacked on a daily basis by Washington,” she told us.
January Contreras, Arizona Attorney General
(Photo Credit: January Contreras for Attorney General)
In Phoenix, January Contreras is running for Arizona attorney general. Formerly a county and state prosecutor before founding Arizona Legal Women and Youth Services (ALWAYS), a legal aid organization protecting Arizona’s women and children who are victims of abuse, the Mexican-American believes now more than ever the work of lawyers and courts are crucial. “We are at a point right now where our democracy is at stake. We are lacking checks and balances because people don’t want to hold each other accountable, and that’s what needs to stop. We need someone there who is going to say the Constitution applies to all people; you don’t get to choose whose rights are protected and whose aren’t,” the 47-year-old candidate told FIERCE. Contreras, who has had a career in public service, has long been advised to run for office, but she credits the current “unique moment,” where the “new federal administration and state leaders no longer hold each other accountable,” as inspiration for entering the race. For her, securing the civil liberties, safety, health and future of Arizonans are of the utmost importance. “Someone needs to stand up and be ready to do the job of the attorney general on Day 1, and I’m ready,” she said.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York’s 14th Congressional District Seat
(Photo Credit: José A. Alvarado)
Upon Trump’s election, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — a former organizer for Bernie Sanders’ campaign — made a commitment to herself to advocate even more than she previously had for marginalized communities. To start, the 28-year-old Puerto Rican left the Bronx, New York for a cross-country road trip, which included stops in Flint, Michigan and Standing Rock. As soon as she came to the conclusion that politics could no longer be something that’s merely extracurricular for her, she received an email from Brand New Congress, a post-partisan PAC that recruits everyday working people for Congress, asking if she’d be interested in running for New York’s 14th Congressional District seat. “I didn’t know what the next step on my journey would be, but it felt like it was put there for a reason, so I pursued it,” said Ocasio-Cortez — who entered the race to unseat Rep. Joe Crowley, who hasn’t faced a challenger in 14 years, in May of 2017. The Latina, who is calling for a “political revolution,” says Trump unknowingly created an enormous opportunity for activists to become candidates and challenge him in Washington. “The issues we’re confronting today have always been there, their seeds have always been there, but this administration has brought them ahead,” Ocasio-Cortez told us. “…I personally feel more emboldened to do everything possible, to leave it all on the field, for my community.”
Rochelle Galindo, Colorado’s House District 50 Seat
(Photo Credit: Courtesy of Rochelle Galindo)
As a woman, a Latina and a lesbian, Rochelle Galindo’s intersecting identities have been severely targeted by the Trump administration. While the Colorado-based Mexican-American, who has represented Ward 1 on the Greeley City Council since 2015, has been involved in elected politics since she was in college, she believes her run for Colorado’s House District 50 seat could afford her more power to take on the president’s agenda. “I think you can make the biggest impact locally, but I do see that my candidacy now as a state representative can be more impacting in pushing back against the White House,” Galindo, 28, told us. The contender, whose entry into politics stemmed from a drive to ensure local government was both transparent and reflective of the people it represents (she was the first openly queer woman on the Greeley City Council), says one of the best outcomes of Trump’s presidency is the women who have become inspired to run and challenge him. “It was unfortunate that he was elected, but the silver lining is how many people being engaged and wanting to make a difference locally. … We are building a bench for a better tomorrow,” she said.
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