by Del. Hala Ayala, a Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor of Virginia
“Too emotional.” “Doesn’t have the skills needed for the job.” “Lacks leadership qualities.” Every woman has their own story of being discriminated against, belittled, and overlooked. Every day, across every industry and sector, women hear the same tired and insulting innuendo about why we are “not ready” for the opportunity.
That’s why, as an Afro-Latina woman just 10 days into my campaign to serve our
Commonwealth as the next Lieutenant Governor, I was hardly surprised to see the Editorial Board for Inside NoVA publish a piece, entitled “Experience Matters.” In their 472-word publication, they attacked and criticized me, as well as my fellow seatmates in the Virginia House of Delegates for running for statewide office.
Predictably, the editorial board’s unfounded grounds for why we shouldn’t be running were delivered with the same coded language women have heard for decades: “a lack of experience and a lack of a track record of accomplishments that demonstrate an ability to forge coalitions, reach compromises, and lead others.” And for their closing argument, Inside NoVAclaimed – “they are doing themselves a disservice by letting their ambition take charge.” I say that what would be the real disservice to our communities is if women, especially women of color, let these attacks stop us from leading.
Experience and ambition only seem to come into question when women, particularly women of color, run for higher office. Who defines experience? If the authors of this article define what “good” experience is, then women and people of color will always be left out of the conversation. However, what the editors of Inside NoVA failed to account for, is the precise reason the people of Virginia in 2017 elected the most diverse class of freshmen with the most diverse range of experience in the history of the Commonwealth — and re-elected in 2019. It was because the entrenched, career politicians claiming to “lead committees” and who had “successfully carr[ied]significant pieces of challenging legislation” were fixated on playing political games, maintaining the status quo, and looking out for their own re-election. Politics was broken in Richmond – and I’ve spent every day since I was sworn into office trying to fix that.
I’m a single mother of two who worked my way up from a service job to serving our country as a cyber security specialist with the Department of Homeland Security, my community as former president of the Prince William County chapter of NOW, and my state on Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Council on Women. I know firsthand the stress of working a job that doesn’t provide health care. I understand the economic anxiety of living paycheck to paycheck that working families throughout our Commonwealth confront. And I have personally felt the inequalities and discrimination every woman and person of color has faced in our country.
This is the experience I brought to the Virginia House of Delegates when I voted to deliver affordable health care for 400,000 Virginians. This is the experience I used to forge coalitions and lead the effort to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, eliminate Jim Crow policies, expand voting rights, and codify civil rights in Virginia. And this is the experience that led to increased cybersecurity training and readiness for our state – at a time when our country faces unseen threats both foreign and domestic.
Now, our Commonwealth, as well as our country, is navigating an unprecedented public health pandemic that has killed around 150,000 Americans, an economic crisis that has left 30 million unemployed across our country, and a national call for real social justice reform that protects our communities of color. I’m running for Lieutenant Governor because we need a new generation of leadership with a new kind of politics at the statewide level to take on the monumental challenges we are confronting today. My professional and life experiences enable me to understand personally what every Virginia family is confronting right now and to be the bridge builder and unifier we need to move our Commonwealth forward into a strong, just, and more prosperous future.
As the first female and Afro-Latina Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, I plan to continue to use my experience to deliver real results for ALL Virginians – because Inside NoVAis right. Experience does matter.