Recently, two different Latina members of the General Assembly, Hala Ayala and Elizabeth Guzmán, have announced their candidacies for Lieutenant Governor of Virginia; if either is elected, they would be the first Latina woman to hold the office.
Hala Ayala and Elizabeth Guzmán, two delegates who represent Prince William County, have formally announced a run for lieutenant governor. If either is successful, Ayala or Guzmán would become the first Latina to serve in the role.
The delegates were among the first Latina representatives elected to the state legislature during the wave of Democratic victories in 2017. Ayala and Guzmán ran for office to provide diversity in state government in order to more accurately represent the population in Prince William County, where a quarter of residents are Latino; almost 25 percent are Black and nearly 10 percent are Asian, according to the U.S. Census.
‘A bridge builder’
Ayala was born in Alexandria to a Salvadoran father and Irish-Lebanese mother. Before becoming a state delegate, she volunteered for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and founded the Prince William chapter of the National Organization for Women. She also was vice president of the organization at the state level. Ayala defeated eight-year incumbent Republican Rich Anderson to represent District 51 in Virginia’s House of Delegates.
Ayala said she first considered running for lieutenant governor in 2019 to be a bridge builder. She said she has seen the societal divide in America grow this year because of COVID-19, and knew she could do more. Before becoming involved in politics, Ayala worked in national security, where she said settling disagreements and being a bridge builder is part of the job.
A self-described politician and activist, Ayala said she has always championed for equality.
“My work with Prince William NOW was about bringing people together, which I’ve always tried to do,” Ayala said. “You may not like what I say, but at least you know you are seen, you are heard and you are welcomed.”
Ayala is also an advocate for improving Medicaid, which she credits with saving her son, who has autism.
“We need a healthcare system that is inclusive of our economy and works for every family, especially now, as Virginia deals with the pandemic,” she said.
In the upcoming General Assembly session, Ayala said she plans to introduce legislation providing hazard pay for essential workers, defining broadband as critical infrastructure, and improving schools.
‘A matter of representation’
Guzmán immigrated to the United States from Peru and settled in Northern Virginia. She worked three jobs to afford a one-bedroom apartment before earning a master’s degree in public administration and social work and becoming a social worker.
Guzmán defeated eight-term Republican incumbent Del. Scott Lingamfelter in 2017 for the 31st District seat. She ran on a platform of improving public education, raising the minimum wage, and expanding Medicaid.
Guzmán said her decision to run for state legislature was a matter of representation, and that Lingamfelter was not a good representation of the diverse constituents in Eastern Prince William. Guzman said that because of her background she was able to champion historic legislation this year.
“It was because of the communities that I represent,” Guzmán said. “It was about the struggles that I had as a first generation immigrant.”
Guzmán was tapped to co-chair Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in Virginia with fellow Prince William Del. Lee Carter.
Guzmán said she’s passionate about investing more into the state’s public education, including more counselors in schools and more resources for special education and remote learning. Guzmán said she was surprised to discover education issues and legislation that would improve “quality of life” were seen as partisan in the chamber.
“It didn’t matter how well I could make my case or how prepared I would be with data and facts, it was all about party,” Guzmán said. “My intention was to serve all Virginians, not only those who voted for me.”
As a member of the Prince William-Manassas Regional Jail Board, Guzmán had a hand in getting Prince William County to end its agreement to work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to pursue and detain immigrants who entered the country without legal permission. Guzmán said that Prince William was no safer statistically while they had the program than nearby localities without it, and ICE made the county’s immigrant community feel less safe and more hesitant to report a crime they were the victim of, such as a robbery or domestic violence, for fear of being deported.
“The vision for Virginia should be a place where diversity is embraced and not disrespected,” Guzmán said. “It should be a place where people feel safe, and feeling safe means that you should be comfortable calling the police when there is a crime, regardless of your immigration status.”
Guzmán said she has heard from constituents that health care and access to higher education are important issues.
“Your credit score or your eligibility for a loan should not define whether you should go to college,” Guzmán said. “If you have good grades, if you’re a good citizen, you should have the opportunity to go to college, and college affordability is definitely what young voters want.”
Written by Will Gonzalez, Capital News Service. Top Image: Hala Ayala and Elizabeth Guzmán; photos via Virginia General Assembly