Back in August, five months into the pandemic, I attended a Zoom event organized by Vote Mama with several rock star women politicians — Katie Porter, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Buffy Wicks and a newcomer, Candace Valenzuela. These women are all mothers. Porter, famously, has three kids and a white board. Mucarsel-Powell, an outspoken lawmaker from Florida, has three children. Wicks’s newborn was seen round the world this summer when she was forced to bring her on the floor of the California Assembly to cast a vote. Liuba Grechen Shirley, the founder of Vote Mama, a PAC dedicated to supporting Democratic mothers running for office, was the woman who pushed so candidates could use campaign funds to pay for childcare. And there was Candace Valenzuela, holding her own in this group of accomplished women even when her young curly-haired, adorable child popped into the video. Because what woman — mom or not — doesn’t know what it’s like to juggle 18 things at once?
At the time of this call, I had already conducted a little research on Valenzuela. I had teared up viewing her campaign video, “Four Walls,” in which she shared her experience of being homeless with her mom, sleeping in a kiddie pool outside a gas station.
Valenzuela — mom, former school board member, educational mentor — has had to struggle in ways that most Americans couldn’t fathom, but that never stopped her from achieving her goals, like attending an excellent school, Claremont McKenna College, on a full scholarship no less. She has since dedicated herself to helping bring opportunities to others. And now she is running to represent Texas’s 24th District and become the first Black Latina in Congress.
This vacant seat has been in the hands of Republicans for many years, but the 24th District has grown more diverse with Latinx, Black and Asian residents. Back in 2019, when Valenzuela started her campaign The Fort Worth Star-Telegram likened her to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Abby Finkenauer and Lauren Underwood, all young women who fought hard and upended their congressional races. Valenzuela initially was the underdog in the primary but through force of personality and political winds, she is emerging as the future of the Democratic Party.
Valenzuela and her Republican opponent, Beth Van Duyne, have diametrically opposed interests. As expressed by The Dallas Morning News, “Van Duyne, the Republican, hopes to serve as a firewall in a district that has been reliably conservative. Valenzuela, the Democrat, hopes to help her party continue to expand its base deeper into the suburbs.” Valenzuela sees a basic democratic value in her candidacy, saying “We need to make our Texas delegation look more like the Texans they’re designed to serve.”
In her school board race, she defeated an 18-year incumbent to win a seat, where she pushed for higher teacher wages and more vocational education. She is certain to be as fierce a champion for Texans in the 24th District. Valenzuela is “fighting for working families” and aid for Americans hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. “Donald Trump and his enablers let this virus spiral out of control,” she said. “North Texans are hurting, and while Washington Republicans bailed out their corporate donors, they refuse to come to the table and discuss relief for North Texans.” As a member of Congress, Valenzuela promises to work with anyone who can help enact a relief package to help unemployed workers, small businesses and hard-hit families.
Aside from COVID-19, Valenzuela prioritizes numerous other issues, many of which have personal resonance. The lack of economic opportunities and affordable housing impacted her childhood as her family struggled with homelessness, housing and putting food on the table. As both a child and an educator, she has seen how children of color are punished disproportionately. And access to affordable health care posed a direct problem for Valenzuela after she was injured in a car accident and had to take on three jobs in order to pay for insurance.
Valenzuela has always understood and valued the importance of helping others. Now she is poised to be the one reaching out the helping hand to North Texans.
Photo courtesy campaign Facebook page.
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