You Know Who Rules? is Broadly's December interview series highlighting women and non-binary people who accomplished incredible things during the dumpster fire of a year that was 2017.
On November 7th, Democrat Kathy Tran, the daughter of Vietnamese refugees, defeated Republican Lolita Mancheno-Smoak to become one of the first Asian-American women elected to the Virginia House of Delegates.
"I made the decision to run when [my] baby was a month old and I absolutely thought the values that my parents had risked their lives for were under threat," Tran, who is joined by Kelly Fowler as one of the first Asian-American Virginia delegates, said in her victory speech. "I want to make sure that we are a welcoming and inclusive commonwealth for everybody. Everyone saw the tenor of the gubernatorial race, it was a very nationalistic anti-immigrant sentiment, we’re going to make sure that we are inclusive of everybody."
Broadly spoke with the delegate about being part of the changing tide of American politics, and her hopes for the future.
BROADLY: What are you most proud of doing in 2017?
KATHY TRAN: This past year has been momentous. For me, I’m very proud of our newest addition to the family who is now ten-and-a-half months old, baby Elise. Motherhood is one of my most exciting journeys in my life. I’m very proud of her and my kids and the campaign that we ran this past year.
Your campaign, among with many others, was very exciting for many people. Do you see yourself among as ushering in a new tide of our country’s political system?
I think 2017 is just a beginning of a tsunami, as some of my colleagues have said. This year has been a tsunami of progressive values that are really resonating with people in terms of who we are putting forward for our community. It’s going to lead to change in 2018, 2019 back in Virginia, and then for the whole country in 2020.
Is there anything that you want to push forward immediately in your home state of Virginia?
Absolutely. I think one of the top priorities for Governor-elect Ralph Northam is Medicaid expansion. We and the house delegates, all the newly elected Democrats as well as the incumbents, are going to be working really hard to support that goal and making sure that more than 400,000 hardworking Virginians have access to health care.
Also, it’s going to be really important that we work hard to make sure our schools are fully funded so we are able to attract and retain the best teachers and that all of the children throughout the commonwealth have a change to thrive and succeed. Also, making sure that we are growing out economy and making sure that no one is left behind. I want to focus on skills and preparing our workforce to compete in the global economy and to make sure that our employers have access to the qualified workforce they need. That includes making sure that our veterans and their spouses are successful in the civilian workforce.
This year, especially, we are then making sure that we have a chance to really expand women’s rights, including access to reproductive health services. That’s going to be really important and in the past that’s something that Republicans have tried to chip away at every year. I think our numbers in Virginia, as Democrats, will make sure that we are protecting women’s rights.
The past year, Emily’s List and other organizations that push for women’s voices in politics have seen huge increases of women who want to run for public office. How does it make you feel to see and be a part of this major uptick?
I am so proud of the phenomenal sisterhood that I ran with during the primary and the general election. I was very fortunate to have participated in an Emerge Virginia bootcamp training that really helped to demystify the campaign process for me. But equally importantly, it connected me with some phenomenal women who throughout this state are determined to make sure that our voices are heard and that we have a seat at the table when laws are being made that affect our families and communities.
I think it’s just the start. I’m so inspired about what happened in November here in Virginia, but also across the country, in terms of making sure that our government reflects the diversity of our communities, whether that is people of color, LGBTQ candidates, immigrants and refugees, like myself, women and moms of kids of all different ages. That makes me so excited and I think we are really going to be able to put forward this progressive agenda as solutions for our communities and I’m looking forward to seeing that support for those ideas.
Since Trump's victory, things have seemed very gloomy. But we’ve always seen hope, such as with your election. What is your advice for someone who wants to keep fighting?
I have a lot of hope for our country. I think what happened on November 7th really reaffirmed to me that people across Virginia and across this country and paying a lot of attention to what Trump and the Republicans are doing in Washington. We are saying no. That is not for us, that’s not for our country. I see the energy around the Alabama senate race and I see the energy around so many folks stepping up and wanting to run in 2018. We are seeing a tremendous amount of interest, that gives me hope for our country. We are going to continue to take a stance against the damaging policies of the Trump administration.