Home 2021 Elections Exclusive Blue Virginia Interview: Del. Elizabeth Guzman Talks About Her Possible Run...

Exclusive Blue Virginia Interview: Del. Elizabeth Guzman Talks About Her Possible Run for Lt. Governor in 2021, Says “I’m an immigrant…I would become the first Latina, the first woman”

"I have to bring my credentials with me, because I'm going to scrutinized more than any other candidate"

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On June 23, Del. Elizabeth Guzman (D-HD31; Prince William County, Fauquier County) announced that she is “exploring a run to become the first woman and first Hispanic person to serve as Virginia’s lieutenant governor, with a potential Labor Day launch.”  Guzman pointed out that she “came to the United States from Peru as a single mom, looking for a better future for her oldest daughter” and “was elected in 2017 to become the first Hispanic female immigrant to join the 400 year old Virginia General Assembly.” Also note that in January 2018, Guzman delivered the response in Spanish to Trump’s State of the Union address, slamming Trump “for replacing ‘equality’ with ‘intolerance’ and ‘mutual respect’ with ‘racism.'”  Yesterday, I had the chance to chat with Del. Guzman for about an hour. It was a wide-ranging, interesting, lively conversation; see below for highlights. Thanks to Del. Guzman for her time, and good luck out on the (virtual/socially distanced) campaign trail!

  • We started off talking about schools and COVID-19. Guzman talked about the challenge of figuring out how kids can learn online, that kids definitely benefit from interacting with other kids at least once a week, but “I know teachers worry, and I cannot blame them or shame them for worrying about their own safety as well.” Guzman added that teachers “not being included in conversations about reopening is wrong and I don’t think that’s acceptable.”
  • Whatever is offered, “the teachers should have a voice…parents in the community should have a voice, and so should the [school] administration…If we sit down together, we could come up with a solution, but just having a one-sided decision is wrong….An honest dialogue, that’s what we need…where everybody has a voice.”
  • On Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration, Guzman said it’s “shameful” how Republicans “don’t care about [teachers] at all.”  She noted that she introduced legislation where teachers “go through a performance evaluation period more than a one-time disciplinary termination action.”
  • On possibly running for Lt. Governor, Guzman said that after the last legislative session, “it was clear to me that we need more progressive voices in the Senate…I also think about that we’ve never had a woman or Hispanic Lt. Governor, and both of these perspectives are very important…And I think of the Lt. Governor’s job as a promotion…I consider myself as being effective as a legislator for the past three years, being able to pass legislation with a Republican majority…and then pass legislation once we won the majority as well...I will make my case to voters…that I have worked really hard to earn this promotion.”
  • Was there anything specific that happened in the Senate that made her think it needs more progressive voices? Guzman: “I’ve been fighting for paid sick days legislation for the past three years. I was able to pass that legislation in the House, then it was defeated in the Senate the day before we went to sine die” [Note: Guzman sponsored the House bill, which got held up in House, and was chief co-patron on Sen. Barbara Favola’s companion bill that Guzman helped get through the House, but then was killed in the Senate] “The arguments that I heard…[from] Democratic Senators who were not in support of that legislation…Coming from the working class, that was personal to me…as someone who has to sometimes leave your children at home…because you don’t have those types of benefits…That tells me they are not listening to their constituency…that they are out of touch with the needs of the working class on how it’s important to provide this type of legislation…And then I was fighting for including the farm workers on the minimum wage, and I got it through the House…and then the day before sine die as well they decided to scratch the farm workers. That hurt me…I listened to the individuals who came and testified, described their conditions where they are working, and how they are not even allowed to get water breaks. And the Senators who were not in favor of this, the arguments they were using were weak; I had an answer for every single one of them…[I met] with the Virginia Farm Bureau and the agribusiness council…and then in the last minute having the Senate scratch off the farm workers hurt me…because many of those farm workers…look like me…they are Latinx…They were able to communicate in their language with me and describe their conditions and how much they get paid, and I was able to have discussions with Republicans in the House…I could have done that in the Senate as well, and it hurt me that I couldn’t be there…I could be where these conversations happen…I can caucus with them…I see the roles [of Lt. Governor] as not only presiding over the Senate but actually being a voice working together with the leadership of the Senate as well, where I haven’t seen that happening, and that’s how I envision this role…I can be in those meetings, have those conversations and present my point of view.”
  •  Does she have any role models for Lt. Governor? “Tim Kaine was a good one…also Don Beyer…It’s about building coalitions…You need to have a proven record…as a fighter…of someone who cares and is knowledgeable about the issues,” also working closely with the governor, “but I haven’t seen that the past three years.”
  •   On current Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, Guzman added: “I think all victims of sexual violence should be heard…they deserve the right to be heard, and then an investigation needs to happen…Inaction is not right either, we have to do something, and that was always my point of view…It’s going to be very hard to produce any evidence against or in favor of the Lt. Governor…but just the fact of these women feeling empowered that they’re going to be listened to will send a strong message to many other women out there who do not come out in a timely manner...I’m a social worker, we see these cases coming out 10 years later, 15 years later, 5 years later…There are women out there who have not come out yet and who will be empowered to come out and share their stories, and for me, that’s what matters…We need “due process…anyone is not guilty unless they are proved otherwise…We have to have due process.”
  •   What would be her top three priorities as Lt. Governor? First, “I would bring the paid sick days bill for sure.” Second, “we will need more criminal justice reform.” Third, “more investment in public education…we have to invest in our future…in those children.” And we have to “protect the environment…hold corporate polluters accountable.” “Those have been my core issues.”
  • On the Green New Deal vs. the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) Del. Guzman said she “absolutely…had to” vote for the VCEA, “it was an amazing piece of legislation.” “Serving during the first two years in the minority show me that these bills…would just die in subcommittee…so having some type of progress is a good step in the right direction; that’s why I voted for it.”
  • I asked Del. Guzman if she agreed with Del. Sam Rasoul’s approach, pushing the Green New Deal and opposing the VCEA, even though arguably the VCEA was the only realistic “vehicle” for major clean energy legislation that had a chance of passing. Del. Guzman said: “I respect his position; however, while I consider myself progressive, I am realistic and pragmatic. Therefore, me personally, I cannot be that radical. I prefer to achieve 20%….I need to be mindful that we had a very conservative legislature for the past 26 years, and change takes time. Let’s build on that 20% for next year so we can accomplish more…We are having this piece of legislation on the floor after being in a Republican majority for the past 26 years, that is a huge accomplishment and I could not vote against it…All of the major [environmental] organizations that had been fighting for it…this was a win for everyone…We can do [more] next year and the following year…I’m pragmatic…I have to be realistic about what can be accomplished or notThe Green New Deal was a resolution only, it was nothing tangible…We need to address the biggest challenges, which are climate change and equity…But one thing is policy and one thing is a resolution; a resolution is just an acknowledgement…But as far as legislation, we’re going to get there eventually…When you are not willing to negotiate or…to listen to your opposition…and be able to..get a commitment from them, you don’t get anything done in the Virginia General Assembly…Sometimes labels don’t work well, let’s focus on the substance of the bill.”
  • “I had…another resolution in the House…Virginia to become the first state to declare a climate emergency resolution. It passed it through the House, but…in the Senate it got stopped because the Clerk told me that they don’t do action items that way, so I have to reword it for next year…I can get it done next year, I’m sure I can.”
  • What should Democratic voters focus on in choosing a nominee for Lt. Governor?  “I think that experience matters…working in the Virginia General Assembly and being an effective legislator is important…someone who is willing to work hard and fight for the right reasons…someone who listens to them, who’s accessible…not neglecting urban voters or rural voters, you have to have a policy and a legislative record that address the needs of both the urban and rural voters.” Also, “qualifications,” someone who has the “education and professional experience…working in the public sector for the last 17 years…[are] important as well.”
  • On having been elected in 2017; is that enough experience in the legislature to run statewide? “There are going to be candidates with serious experience in the Virginia General Assembly, and there are going to be candidates who may have more experience than me in the…Assembly…but at the end of the day it’s how much they accomplished…I would bring up…my collective bargaining bill, where Virginia became the 48th state in the country…we never had legislation that addressed that problem before…Increeasing the age from 14 to 16 for minors tried as adults…that’s important...Providing compensation to wrongfully incarcerated individuals…Being the chief co-patron of the marijuana decriminalization bill. These conversations never happened before 2018, I’m sorry.”
  • “I have to be aware also that I’m an immigrant…I would become the first Latina, the first woman…so I have to bring my credentials with me, because I’m going to scrutinized more than any other candidate…[Also] I worked very hard to get us to the House majority…I worked building coalitions, I care deeply about Democrats taking the majority that we fought so hard to win…Five candidates [already are] calling me to express interest in running for my [House of Delegates] seat…that is a testament of how well I’m working and helping my constituents [in my district]…We went from having no candidates [in the 31st district]…to having five candidates to choose from.”
  • Thoughts on far-right extremist State Sen. Amanda Chase, who very well could be the 2021 VA GOP nominee for governor: “That’s who [the Virginia Republicans] are…After serving with them…after what happened on Martin Luther King Day at the Richmond [gun rights rally]…Amanda Chase was there and many of the leadership in the Republican caucus in the House and the Senate was there as well…agreeing with them...She’s just more vocal…but the reality is that they have been proven on and on that they are out of touch with the issues that Virginians care about the most, that’s why they continue to lose elections…If they continue to run on a Trump agenda…on a Corey Stewart agenda, they will continue to lose.”
  • What was it like to be asked to deliver the Spanish-language response to Trump’s State of the Union address in 2018. “I’m privileged and honored to be able to have that opportunity. I think that’s going to be the experience of my life, having Nancy Pelosi give me a call…I was like, oh my god…being the first Hispanic immigrant elected to the legislature…something I can talk to my children and grandchildren about…”
  • I asked her whether she’s fully on board with Joe Biden now, having supported Bernie Sanders in the primaries.  “Absolutely. I really believe in the process…We have the presumptive nominee, we all need to get behind him to elect him as the next president. I was recently appointed…to his national leadership Latino Council…from Virginia it’s Alfonso Lopez and me…We definitely want to make sure to work really closely with him to address the issues in the Latinx community…our voice being heard is very important...the Biden campaign reached out to me because they really wanted to work on unity; there’s no time for division right now in the Democratic Party. I do believe in [what] Bernie Sanders was fighting for…but right now, Joe Biden is going to be the nominee, and in November the choices are clear, and I will make sure that I will do what I can in my district and my community to make sure that they vote for President Biden…For the Latinx community, the choices are very clear – we either vote for someone who has demonized our community and put children who look like mine in cages, or we vote for someone who is offering to do immigration reform on the first day of being president. My community is about the dignity and respect we deserve as…Americans, for all of those who call America home…Our children are on the ballot, our dignity and respect are on the ballot. I will do what I can do to deliver those votes her in Virginia for Vice President Biden…We are going to do what we can do to educate, energize and empower our communities so we can decide who the next president of the United States will be.”
  • Any favorite for Joe Biden’s running mate?  “It’s going to be a woman…There’s a Latina on the short list, that’s exciting…the governor of New Mexico...I would love to see a progressive woman of color…With the current news on COVID and policy brutality and the racial justice movement, that’s what we need to do.”
  • On the Virginia redistricting amendment, Del. Guzman said there was definitely serious division among Democrats. “You have to vote responsibly, because at the end of the day, you’re going to have to go back to your district and defend your vote…The reason I voted no is because I believe in non-partisan redistricting, and it’s been shown year after year that any time we’ve had a bipartisan redistricting committee, we’ve always ended up gerrymandering districts – the record shows that…Also the [Virginia Supreme Court] justices…were appointed by Republicans as well…[My Democratic colleagues] will have to answer these questions at the doors…DPVA made a decision that I think they are going to campaign against [the amendment] so we can kill it on the ballot, so…I would not want to be [one of the Democrats who voted for this amendment]…It is not ok to be called a gerrymanderer.” Guzman argued, again, that this shows why we need a progressive like herself leading the State Senate.
  • Finally, I asked Del. Guzman about the upcoming special session. Guzman said we definitely have to have legislation responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the economic impact (e.g., 10% unemployment). Also, legislators “absolutely have to address police brutality and how they should be accountable for their actions…As a person of color, I can tell you that this is not new to me…for brown people like me, we have to stand up and support our black brothers and sisters…I have experienced racism myself, I live in Prince William County…Corey Stewart.”