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Record Number of Women Head to the State Legislature

Change is inevitable. We’ve learned that the hard way this year, and this year’s election taught us that so much of that inevitable change is coming on full force in the people we elect and the issues that matter to voters. New Mexico has always been somewhat diverse in our elected officials, in that our state’s makeup isn’t a majority white population. That said, there was much more room to grow.

This year we’ve elected one of the most diverse bodies of candidates in the entire country. From whom we’re sending to the U.S. Senate (Ben Ray Lujan Jr.) and the House of Representatives (all women, thank you very much) to whom we’ve elected to serve in our State Senate and House. The shift has been palpable, with a laser focus on local elections. The Democratic Party gained seats in both the State Senate and the House.

Does this signal a change? You bet it does. The State House of Representatives will make up a majority of women representatives for the first time in history. A record 37 women were elected to the legislature. We’ve elected more LGBTQ members to our legislature than ever before. Districts that have traditionally been more conservative have chosen candidates who represent the pride and progressive force of change that is inevitably coming.

Brittney Barreras is one of those women and is a prime example of New Mexico’s shifting political landscape. Born and raised in Albuquerque’s South Valley, she never had any intention of entering politics. She landed on the ticket by chance. Longtime County Commissioner Art De la Cruz didn’t make it on to the ballot in time due to a clerical error. Barreras ran as an Independent, and De la Cruz was a write-in for the Democrats.

Barreras said she decided to run because she feels that the South Valley District has always been looked down upon. It’s one of the poorest districts in Bernalillo County, and one of the oldest. “I wanted to change the face of what our politics looks like down here. Someone told me that the reason the South Valley can’t have nice things is because we don’t take care of the neighborhood. That needs to change, and I want people to show how much pride they have in the valley.”

In addition to entering politics with a fresh set of eyes, the 32-year-old is one of a handful of openly LGBTQ house members serving. She and her partner Angela are raising her 1-year-old daughter. “When I was a kid, I didn’t see any families like us. I didn’t see anyone in the spotlight that I could connect with. If just one kid sees me and sees that I’m doing it, even if it’s uncomfortable, I just want them to know it gets better. You can’t ignore all of our voices. You can ignore one person, but not all of us,” Barreras said.

Senator Martin Heinrich—the junior U.S. senator from New Mexico, who will become our state’s senior senator when Tom Udall retires in 2021—said he believes that the changing political landscape in New Mexico and the Southwest is the direction the Democratic Party is headed in. “There’s growth here. New Mexico is what the future of the Democratic Party looks like.” [ ]