For Ghazala Hashmi, the first Muslim to serve in Virginia’s state Senate, her victory in this month’s election is a fortuitous opportunity to make progress for Virginia’s more vulnerable communities.
“It was back in 2017 that I had a moment of personal crisis,” said Ghazala Hashmi, who defeated incumbent Republican Glen Sturtevant in the race for Virginia Senate District 10 earlier this month.
“I was faced with the Trump Muslim ban, and I had to make a decision for myself about whether or not I belonged in this country anymore,” Hashmi said.
While Hashmi is not from one of the seven countries affected by President Donald Trump’s 2017 executive order that became known as a Muslim travel ban, she was concerned it was an indicator that Muslims were not welcome in the U.S.
For Hashmi, a lifelong educator who immigrated to the U.S. from India at age 4, becoming more politically engaged was the way to prove that she and members of other marginalized groups were welcome in the country. Now, after an election that has increased the number of women in the General Assembly to a record 41 out of 140, she will be the first Muslim to serve in Virginia’s Senate.
Hashmi’s campaign against Sturtevant, who has represented the 10th District since 2016, was not her first political experience.
“I had always volunteered for political campaigns,” Hashmi said, noting that she had previously volunteered for Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, the 2018 campaign for Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, , and Del. Dawn Adams’, D-Richmond, 2017 campaign.
“I had gotten a sense of what the local landscape was like in terms of voters and volunteers and the infrastructure of campaigning,” Hashmi said.
Despite her work on campaigns in the past, Hashmi characterized running her own campaign as “a huge challenge.” She said she and her husband primarily ran the campaign since its launch in December 2018, until Philip Stein was brought onboard as campaign manager in March.
From the inception of the campaign until August, Hashmi worked full time as an administrator at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond. After her resignation, she was able to devote more time to campaigning, such as fundraising or knocking on doors.
“It wasn’t fun,” Hashmi said of simultaneously working full time and running a campaign. “Starting in September, a great deal of stress was just taken off my shoulders, and I was really able to focus on the campaign. And that was an important step for me to take.”
Looking forward to her first legislative session, Hashmi — who taught English for over a decade at Reynolds — is prioritizing education policy.
“Restoring funding to education is a top priority,” she said. “I know that’s something I share with many of my Democratic colleagues, and we want to move forward quickly in making sure our budget reflects the educational needs of our communities.”
Deirdre Condit, associate professor of political science at Virginia Commonwealth University, said on Election Day that Hashmi’s win over Sturtevant is a landmark change in Virginia.
“It’s a really important descriptive representation but also policy and ideology shift for many people in the state,” she said.
With Democrats leading state government for the first time in a generation, Hashmi said she hopes there will be less political gridlock standing in the way of progressive legislation. She noted that bills pertaining to climate change, gun safety, and protecting the rights of women and other vulnerable communities will be prioritized.
“I have been a member of this community for three decades now and really have an understanding of the families and the needs that are apparent in so many different segments of the community,” Hashmi said. “That perspective is going to be critically important in the Senate.”
Hashmi defeated Sturtevant with 54% of votes. In one of the most expensive races in the state, Hashmi outraised Sturtevant $2.6 million to $2.4 million, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
Written by Jimmy O’Keefe, Capital News Service. Top Photo by Susan Shibut, VCU-CNS