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Peggy Fox, WUSA
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WOODBRIDGE – It’s been six months after the largest national protest in United States history. The Women’s March made big promises. Now, in Virginia, it turns out lots of women are keeping those promises and running for office.
During the primary, 51 women—a record number—ran for seats in Virginia’s House of Delegates. Two years ago, 26 women ran.
“It was a battle cry. Like we must do more. We have to move forward,” said Hala Ayala, Democratic candidate for House of Delegates District 51.
The election of Donald Trump convinced her to run. She won her primary and now is one of 10 women challenging Republican incumbents. Democrats need 17 seats to take control of the legislature.
“When Trump was telling us who he was on the campaign trail… I believed (him). I believe you are going to deport immigrants. I believe that you are going to discriminate against people that look like me,” said Ayala.
Ayala, a single mother of two, is of Lebanese and Hispanic descent. She quit her job as a cyber security specialist for Homeland Security to run for office.
“It was a hard decision,” but she told herself that she was going to “get off the sidelines.”
Her top three issues are job growth, educational opportunities, and health care. Ayala got emotional discussing how she had to get on Medicaid to help her son, which allowed her to keep her house.
“Medicaid saved my son’s life. I was able to get the things that he needed, the services and medication. You don’t feel proud to be on Medicaid, you feel grateful. You feel that there’s something out there that will help you get a foot up, that you will have an opportunity,” said Ayala, who is angry state lawmakers have not expanded Medicaid.
“It’s a humanitarian thing. It’s an attack on humanity. I could’ve lost my son. And there were times that I thought I would have. I was very lucky,” she said.
The election is November 7th.
WASHINGTON — Six months after the Women’s March on Washington, the biggest national protest in U.S. history, women aren’t just thinking about running for office. As the race for Virginia’s House of Delegates shows, they’re doing it.
There was skepticism the women who came to Washington in late January on buses from as far away as Denver and Chicago wearing pink knit hats and waving homemade signs would do anything more than join together to protest Donald Trump’s election for a day. At least when it comes to Virginia, that’s proven wrong.
“Right after, I felt I needed to do more,” said Hala Ayala, a single mother of two and cyber security specialist running for a delegate seat representing an area including Prince William’s County. “At the march you could stare into one another’s eyes and see where they’ve been. It was almost intolerable,” said Ayala, who’s been a volunteer and community organizer but never run for office. Like Ayala, a number of the women running for the first time are minorities.
In Virginia, a total of 51 Democratic women competed in this year’s primaries, a record and up from 26 females who filed in 2015, according to the state party. Democrats need 17 seats to take control of the legislature, which will be difficult despite the Republican Party’s national problems, including Trump’s low approval ratings. Yet, fueling Democrats’ hopes, that’s also the number of GOP-held House districts that Clinton won in 2016 — and she carried nine of them by at least 10 points.
Overall, 10 of the Democratic challengers in those 17 races are women. They include a nurse, teachers and small business owners, and most have never run for office.
“We’ve had women candidates in the past. But this number? No,” said Charniele Herring, a Virginia delegate who chairs the state’s Democratic Caucus. “It’s partly years of recruiting women, asking them to run,” and partly women deciding, after Trump’s election, that “it’s time for them to take their seat at the table,” she said.
During a spring training session for prospective House of Delegates candidates, there were a couple of special guests who illustrate the changing recruitment landscape: two newborn babies tagging along with their mothers, Kathy Tran and Stephanie Cook, who subsequently won their party’s primaries and are now official candidates. Virginia and New Jersey hold statewide races in off years, offering an early lens on the national political landscape.
Tran, Cook and Ayala are among the early signs the march represented more than a single day of protest against Trump’s presidency and policies. Several of Virginia’s 2017 candidates had served as local organizers for the march a day after President Trump’s inauguration that drew an estimated 2.6 million to 673 marches in 50 states and 32 countries. According to Emily’s List, a major force in Democratic Party recruiting of females, an estimated 16,000 women nationwide have expressed an interest in running for office.
To be sure, Virginia doesn’t reflect all states, particularly traditional Democratic-leaning states. In New Jersey, for instance, a state with a strong history of women running successfully at the state and local level, there’s been no real spike in female candidacies.
Yet what’s happening in Virginia may indeed be part of a broader trend. According to the Women’s March, their strongest local chapters are in Republican-leaning or dominated states, including Ohio, Florida, South Carolina and Georgia, where the need for new Democratic leaders is greatest. Overall there are chapters in 30 states.
In Virginia, many women say they are responding to state-level trends. The male-dominated GOP General Assembly (women account for 17% of seats) passed a bill in February to defund Planned Parenthood, which Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed. That was weeks after passing a resolution declaring the anniversary of Roe v. Wade a “Day of Tears,” which the state Democratic Caucus called a “woman-shaming” resolution; and introducing a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks that the state’s Attorney General said is probably unconstitutional.
“Their policies mimic Trump. That’s why it was perhaps that final push where more women are stepping up,” said Herring.
Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List, tripled the size of her state and local team and doubled her group’s financial investment in those races since last year.
“You ask me if that’s enough? I’d say no,” she said. “What’s happening in Virginia, I believe, is part of a historic wave of women running in 2018,” said Schriock. “It’s happening particularly in red and purple states where there are opportunities,” she said.
Even so, taking control of Virginia’s legislature seems daunting. Democrats would have to sweep the districts Clinton won. “It’s possible but 17 seats would be an unbelievable haul for them,” said Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
As for the Women’s March leaders, they are among the organizers behind major civil rights and Trump policy protests around the country and in Washington, including a recent sit-in on health care. Last weekend, they organized an 18-mile march in 90-degree heat from the National Rifle Association to the Department of Justice.
Why they’re running
Interviews with three Virginia candidates revealed differing policy concerns, with one common inspiration: Trump’s politics.
Kelly Fowler, who works in real estate and is a former school teacher, said she had been reaching out to her local representative about an abortion resolution, and getting no response. After the march, she thought to herself “why am I not stepping up?”
“It was a changing day, it was one of the top days of my life, up there with my kids and getting married,” said Fowler. “Being there and feeling like I wasn’t alone changed me and changed my course,” she said.
Tran came to this country as a refugee at 2 years old at the end of the Vietnam War. While her family was offered asylum to Canada and France, they waited an extra 13 months at a refugee camp in Malaysia because “It was this country that embodied the values they risked their lives for,” she said.
“Those values are under threat by Trump and Republicans,” said Tran, citing Trump’s proposed travel ban predominantly effecting Muslim refugees. “My husband and I want all of our kids to know we are doing absolutely everything we can,” she said.
Ayala, a single mother of two of South American and Middle Eastern descent who works in cyber security, was on Medicaid for several years while she worked in retail at a gas station. She cited Trump’s travel ban and stance on reproductive rights and health care as her biggest concerns. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said of Trump’s presidency. “I’ve felt upset before,” said Ayala, who’s volunteered on campaigns. “But this was just very heavy,” she said.
Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist who worked for 10 years in Virginia politics, said what’s happening in Virginia may portend a national trend ahead of next year’s midterm congressional elections.
“From the day after Trump was inaugurated to the day of his first general election in 2017, women have been at the forefront of taking him on,” said Ferguson, who also worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
Likewise, “if we’re going to be successful in 2017 and 2018, it’s going to be because of suburban women voters pushing Democrats across the line,” he said.
WOODBRIDGE- Hala Ayala, candidate for the 51st District of the House of Delegates, has earned the endorsements of women’s advocacy groups throughout Virginia and beyond, as well as a number of state and local elected officials, including state Sen. Jennifer Wexton and former state Sen. Emilie Miller.
“I am honored to have the support of so many champions of Virginia women and working families,” said Hala Ayala. “These elected officials and groups have been instrumental in the effort to fight for positive change and gender equality. I look forward to continuing our work together in Richmond.”
Out of 100 members of the House of Delegates, only 17 are women.
“Hala is a doer and a fighter, and I’m proud to support her,” said state Sen. Jennifer Wexton. “I got to know her in Richmond and around Northern Virginia during her time as vice president of the Virginia chapter of the National Organization for Women. We need her passion for progress across the Commonwealth, especially when it comes to key issues like Medicaid Expansion, equal pay for equal work and providing a living wage for working families.”
Because of her past work in pro-choice advocacy, Ayala has earned the endorsements of national political groups, EMILY’s List and Feminist Majority PAC, as well as active state-based chapters, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and National Organization Women – Virginia.
“Hala is a community activist who has worked hard to help Prince William,” said Former State Sen. Emilie Miller. “Hala is committed to the rights of all citizens to live and work in the county. Instead of watching from the sidelines, Hala wants to fight for her friends and neighbors in the General Assembly. I am honored to support her and strongly urge everyone in the 51st House District to do the same.”
Hala Ayala’s endorsements thus far are as follows:
Congressman Gerry Connolly County Supervisor
John Jenkins – Neabsco District
Fmr. State Sen. Emilie Miller
State Sen. Jennifer Wexton
Feminist Majority PAC
NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia
National Organization Women – Virginia
Take Action Virginia PAC
WOODBRIDGE – Today, EMILY’s List endorsed Hala Ayala for the 51st District in Virginia’s House of Delegates. Ayala founded and was president of the Prince William County chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW). She served as vice president of Virginia NOW and is a member of Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Council on Women.
“Hala’s passion and advocacy for women and families in the Commonwealth represent the spirit and mission of EMILY’s List,” said Geri Prado, EMILY’s List Senior Director of State and Local Campaigns. “Her long record of activism in Prince William County make her the best person to fight for working families in Richmond and turn the 51st District blue in November. We are proud to support her in her first run for elected office.”
Ayala helped organize the Virginia delegation for the Women’s March on Washington in January and was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention last year.
“EMILY’s List candidates have long been a source of inspiration to me,” said Hala Ayala. “I am excited to join such a distinguished community. Their endorsement demonstrates our campaign’s momentum toward victory on June 13th and November 7th.”
EMILY’s List is the nation’s largest resource for women in politics, raising over $500 million to support pro-choice women candidates. A grassroots community of more than five million members helps Democratic women wage competitive campaigns and win.
WOODBRIDGE – Congressman Gerry Connolly endorsed Hala Ayala today in her bid for the 51st District seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, citing her long history of work for Democratic causes in the Commonwealth. Ayala is the former president and founder of the Prince William County chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), vice president of Virginia NOW and serves on Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Council on Women.
“I am proud to support my friend Hala in taking the next step to better serve Prince William County,” said Congressman Connolly. “Over the years, I have come to admire her passion for our community and advocacy on behalf of women and families. Without a doubt, she will fight to expand opportunities for working people and represent all of us in Richmond. I look forward to working with her when she is the next Delegate for the 51st District.”
Ayala helped organize the Virginia delegation for the Women’s March on Washington in January and was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention last year.
“I am so honored to receive an early endorsement from my own Congressman,” said Hala Ayala. “I have long admired his commitment to Virginia’s families and record of public service, both locally and nationally. Congressman Connolly consistently seeks to represent all of his constituents equally and fairly, something that is clearly lacking in our current Delegate. When elected, I will put our community ahead of partisan Richmond politics.”
Connolly’s endorsement follows that of Supervisor John Jenkins, member of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors- Neabsco District.
By Jill Palermo
As printed in the Prince William Times
Lake Ridge resident Hala Ayala has been active in the local political scene for a while. She volunteered for the Obama campaign in 2012 and re-launched Prince William County’s dormant NOW chapter, becoming its president in 2014.
Now, Ayala says she’s ready to take it to the next level. The 43-year-old mother of two launched a campaign last week for the 51st District state delegate’s seat, currently held by Del. Rich Anderson, a Republican serving in his fourth term.
Ayala said she made the jump because she doesn’t think voters in the diverse 51st District “are having their voices represented in Richmond.”
“I’m passionate about the families in our community and I want them to be represented equally and fairly in Richmond,” Ayala said in an interview with the Times.
If elected, Ayala said she will fight for issues that benefit women and families, including expanding Medicaid, raising the minimum wage and ensuring women earn equal pay for equal work. Toward that goal, Ayala said she would urge her fellow state lawmakers to support the Equal Rights Amendment.
Ayala said she became more aware of systemic inequality through her involvement in NOW, the National Organization for Women. She also cites the 2010 documentary “Miss Representation” for inspiring her to become politically active. The film argues there are too few positive role models for young girls and that the media shirk their responsibility to showcase them.
“It struck a chord with me … it was like being gut-punched,” Ayala said of the film. “At that point, I said we’ve got to do something about this. We’ve got to take a stand in our communities.”
Ayala is the second Democrat to enter the race. Ken Boddye, a member of the Prince William Progress Coalition, announced his candidacy late last year. The two will face off in the Democratic primary June 13.
Ayala waited until about a week before the March 30 filing deadline to announce her candidacy. She attributed the delay to the many decisions she faced to run, including leaving her job as a cyber-security analyst with the Department of Homeland Security. She also had to take a hiatus from her position with NOW.
“I had to talk with my children, talk with my family, I had to talk with my [NOW] board members because I’m passionate about everything,” she said.
Ayala is a native of Prince William County. She went to Elizabeth Vaughan Elementary, Fred Lynn Middle and Woodbridge Senior High School, where her son, 19, and daughter, 22, also graduated. She has a degree in psychology.
Like many residents in minority-majority eastern Prince William, Ayala’s background is diverse. Her last name, Ayala (eye-ala) is Hispanic, due to her father’s Salvadorian and North-African roots. Her first name, Hala, is Middle Eastern, her mother being Irish and Lebanese.
“It’s a little like Ragu,” Ayala jokes. “It’s all in there.”
The 51st District stretches across the center of the county, from just northwest of Occoquan, in eastern Prince William, to Nokesville on the county’s western border. The 51st has been targeted by Democratic operatives as one of the “Clinton 17,” districts that voted for Hillary Clinton last fall but are held by Republicans.
Anderson, a retired Air Force colonel, was first elected in 2009, when he beat Democrat Paul Nichols in a squeaker by just 269 votes. Since then, he’s gained a reputation for his work on veterans’ issues and distracted driving and is known for the time he devotes to constituent outreach.
Anderson, 61, was uncontested in 2011 and 2015 and beat his 2013 opponent, Reed Heddleston, by nearly 2,000 votes. His wife, Ruth Anderson, was elected to the Prince William Board of Supervisors in 2015.
Ayala said there’s reason to be hopeful Democrats will remain energized this year. A recent NOW town hall meeting, held a few weeks after the Women’s March in Washington, attracted a crowd of more than 250 women, she said.
Trump’s election, she added, inspired her to “walk the talk.”
“If someone is voting to restrict my rights or to loosen gun-safety laws or is discriminatory toward immigrants, its painful to watch,” she added. “I just decided it’s time to get off the sidelines. Enough is enough.”
Reach Jill Palermo at firstname.lastname@example.org