Virginians will have the opportunity this upcoming November to elect the first female and woman of color to serve as lieutenant governor in the state's history.
The daughter of a Salvadorian and North African immigrant father and an Irish and Lebanese mother, Hala Ayala won the Democratic Party nomination for lieutenant governor in June, beating five opponents for the state's second-highest office.
In an exclusive interview with LPO, Ayala stated, "It is a great honor to break that glass ceiling, but this election is definitely much more than me. Of course, I have to be cognizant because we'll be leading by example and planting seeds for the future."
Ayala brings diversity to the Democratic ticket. Both former governor Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Mark R. Herring, two White men, won their nomination contests.
"You don't see many leaders that look like me in positions statewide. Being the first in 2021, I don't want it to be the last," she said. "When you are bringing our lived experiences, being a daughter of an El Salvadorian and North African immigrants, living in poverty, just fighting to put food on the table and a roof over our heads, I'll continue to bring those experiences and the voices of all Virginians to the table."
A strong supporter of women's advocacy groups statewide and women's rights in general, she ran for Virginia's 51st House District and won against a four-term Republican incumbent in the diverse and fast-growing suburbs of Prince William County. Since 2018, she acts as chief deputy whip of the Virginia House of Delegates.
Ayala focused on cybersecurity, health care, gun safety, and voting rights legislation during her two terms in the House.
Expanding Medicaid has been one of her main priorities, "We're going to continue to invest in our health care because to have a healthy community means to have a healthy workforce, healthy students, and healthy families. We need to make sure that we have access to affordable healthcare."
"When I got to push the button on Medicaid expansion that waited seven years and we were leaving federal dollars on the table that our tax dollars that were coming back into the Commonwealth to help our communities, it finally not only brought dollars to help our schools, help our teachers, help our workforce, help our communities, but it helped individuals stay healthy because they had access to affordable health care," she added.
"Mind you this is the floor, not the ceiling. We have more to do because there's over 700,000 Virginians who still need access. We'll keep pushing."
A cybersecurity specialist with over 20 years of experience with the Department of Homeland Security, whose personal story includes losing her father to gun violence as a child, Ayala, 48, is committed to protecting Virginians from future cyberattacks, "I've already done it as a delegate. We've made major steps passing the first privacy piece of legislation training for state employees on cybersecurity. We need to protect businesses on data breaches. They could lose thousands if not millions of dollars from one attack."
"We have to do our part to make sure that we not only offer an educational piece, but a way to support businesses in our community so that they have those protections in place and are able to access it," she said.
Ayala also praised the work Democrats have done to protect voting rights, "Virginia has moved light years ahead in voting rights because Democrats have been in charge. We are the first Southern state to have same day voting registration and voting rights act and a plethora of voting legislation that was passed last year."
If elected to serve as lieutenant governor, her main duties will be to preside over the Senate, serve as a tiebreaking vote on deadlocked legislation and step in to lead the state if the sitting governor resigns or becomes incapacitated.
Nonetheless, Hala told LPO that she will fight for the interests of the Latino community, "I'm thrilled that we are growing as seen in our Census count. I am going to fight to make sure that our priorities are at the forefront and make sure that we continue to not only be number one for business but working to be number one for workers."
'We need to invest in healthcare, infrastructure, like we've done with Medicaid expansion, to make sure our health care workers, who are predominantly women and women of color, are able to work in safe environments," Hala said. "This means the world and representation matters. I'm just excited about the future of the Commonwealth. We're planting seeds."
In an election now widely seen as a test on how well- or not- the President and the Democrats are doing, Ayala is confident that the November 2 elections will prove that Democrats can deliver, "We've made a good on our promises to expand Medicaid, passed the equal rights amendment to help our communities of color, including our immigrant communities and become the most welcoming, inclusive Southern state."
"People and other states are looking to Virginia because we have done amazing things. I hope we send bells ringing in celebration and that we're going to continue the good work of governor Northam and President Biden. We've got responsible adults and leadership."
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