Ayala wouldn’t just be the first woman to be Virginia’s lieutenant governor. She also wants to be the voice at the table that knows how the government can help Virginians thrive.
Del. Hala Ayala is used to being the first. She was one of the first Latinas elected to the Virginia General Assembly in 2017, and she could become the first female lieutenant governor the state has ever seen.
But it’s not just that part of her story that makes her unique among legislators. It’s that she’s lived so many of the experiences that public policy tries to shape.
Getting food assistance? She’s been there. Medicaid? Has been on it. It helped her pay the bills when she almost lost her life giving birth to her son. And lost a loved one to gun violence? Yes.
All of that, she says, pushed her towards running for office. To bring the “voice of Virginians to the table” where decisions are made, “making room and space for lived experiences.” Because Ayala has seen first hand how government assistance can help Virginians “get a hand up.”
“I stood in food lines,” Ayala said. “I was on public assistance, all of this, so this trajectory in life, it did not set the tone for me to be talking to you today, for running for statewide office.”
Ayala’s Past Shapes Her Approach to Policy
When Hala was 2 years old, she lived on the second floor of a three-story apartment building in Alexandria with her parents. Her aunt lived one floor below her. Her grandmother and another aunt were one floor above her.
“My parents were married at 21 years old, and I was born in that same year, the first year of marriage, and my grandmother would tell me how proud my dad was,” Ayala told Dogwood in an interview.
Her family has Afro-Latina, Lebanese, and Irish roots, a melding of cultures that Ayala celebrates as representing Virginia’s diversity.
“We are just a very blended family, with a lot of big conversations, diversity, heritages, and celebratory moments [about] what the meaning of family is and how you can persevere over the toughest of circumstances,” Ayala said.
An immigrant from El Salvador, Hala’s father was a mason in the DC area. One morning, Hala’s grandmother and aunt brought the newspaper down to her mother.
“My dad was on assignment,” Ayala told Dogwood. “It wasn’t unheard of that he would be gone for a day–or two or three–because he was on construction projects.”
But when he was on that job he was fatally shot. And her mother found that out in an obituary in the newspaper delivered by her family.
“You would never want to witness somebody finding out so tragically about your spouse,” Ayala said.
Since she was a toddler, Ayala doesn’t remember her father. But her grandmothers would share stories about him constantly.
“That was the worst day of [my grandma’s] life,” Ayala said.
Becoming a ‘Firewall’ for Women’s Rights
After the death of her father, life got harder for her family. During her childhood, Ayala struggled to get health care and stood in lines to get WIC food assistance. At 24 she was ready to start a family, but worried about repeating the cycle. She was working a minimum wage job without insurance, and Medicaid helped cover her medical expenses.
She got pregnant, and her delivery was complicated–Ayala’s life was jeopardized, in addition to her infant son’s. They survived, and Medicaid helped pay expensive bills. But beyond making healthcare more affordable, her experience led her to focus on expanding healthcare access to Black mothers to combat racial disparities, especially in maternal health.
According to her plan, “55% of Virginians do not have access to paid family and medical leave in Virginia.” And that access can greatly improve maternal health outcomes. She also wants to create medical safe houses for high-risk women and increase access to doula care. And while representing the 51st district, Ayala led the creation of a Fetal and Infant Mortality Review Team.
“Reproductive health care is something that is on the line this November 2, as you see across state legislatures, Republicans are trying to rollback…our reproductive health care, attacking Roe v Wade,” Ayala said. “I am a firewall–no pun intended because I am a cybersecurity specialist–but I bring that tenacity and passion for protecting an individual’s right to choose.”
Ayala would be a “firewall” because Democrats only have a one-vote majority in the state Senate, and one Democratic member votes against abortion access. So if she wins the lieutenant governor’s race, she would be the tie-breaking vote. Her Republican opponent, Winsome Sears, in contrast, is staunchly against women having access to abortions.
Looking back at her time as a delegate, Ayala attributes a lot of her successes to women in the state house as a whole, almost exclusively using ‘we’ when discussing legislative successes
“This is why we elect women,” according to Del. Ayala. “Good governance, good policies, and everybody wins.”