LAS VEGAS, Nevada—Thousands of people gathered here for the Women’s March “Power to the Polls” rally Sunday, marking the start of a national effort to register one million new voters and elect more women and progressive candidates to office. Organizers will target key swing states, like Nevada, Texas, Pennsylvania and Ohio, over the next year.
“We are a strong group of women with a plan,” said Linda Sarsour, one of the Women’s March organizers, at Sunday’s rally, which took up about half the seats in the 40,000-seat Sam Boyd football stadium.
This adds energy to a women-led political revolution that's been brewing over the last year. Data show that more women are running for office than ever before, at every level of government. Some 390 women are running for the U.S. House, compared to 272 in 2016. Women are running for governor in record numbers, too: just seven women now serve as U.S. governors; 79 are likely to run in 2018.
In Las Vegas, Univision spoke to five women running for office. Here are their stories:
Yvanna Cancela, running for Nevada State Senate
Yvanna Cancela never expected to be a politician. In 2016, the Miami-bred daughter of Cuban immigrants was working as the political director of Nevada’s Culinary Union, leading political outreach for 57,000 union members. She was planning to take time off and start law school. But then Trump won.
“I felt everything I had fought for and cared about was deeply under attack, and it meant doing something new and unexpected, pushing past fear to take a step to continue fighting for the things I care about,” she said.
So she put her name in the running for the state senate seat vacated by Ruben Kihuen, a Democrat who was elected to Congress. In December 2016, two months after the presidential election, county commissioners voted unanimously to appoint Cancela, making her the first Latina ever to serve in the Nevada Senate. Now she’s running to keep the seat in November.
“It’s been very special to be the first Latina, and I also feel a deep responsibility to make sure that the door that was opened for me is broken down completely. I don’t want to be the only Latina in the state senate. I want there to be multiple Latinas for generations to come.”
Paulette Jordan, Idaho representative now running for governor
A member of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, Democrat Paulette Jordan is the only Native American lawmaker currently serving in the Idaho Statehouse. After serving two terms, last month she announced she will run for Idaho governor. If elected, she would be the first ever Native American governor in the United States.
“My grandmothers have shown me the way, by fighting for the sovereignty of my people, fighting for the rights to live and to breathe this air and to exist,” she said. “Because of them and their courage and leadership I stand here today. Because I’m able to continue on with their legacy I’m able to represent the state of Idaho.”
Jordan knows she has a tough road ahead. Idaho hasn’t elected a Democrat to governor since 1990; Trump won the state by more than 30 points in 2016. But that’s not stopping her.
“My whole life there have always been folks challenging me and saying I can’t do something,” she said. “Overcoming all these obstacles builds your confidence and courage over time. You know you can do it regardless of what’s in your way.”
Amy Vilela: from Nevada businesswoman to a run for U.S. Congress
It was personal tragedy that led Amy Vilela to politics. In 2015, her 22-year-old daughter Shalynne went to the ER with severe pain and swelling in her leg, but was refused service because she didn't have insurance. Vilela would later learn her daughter had deep vein thrombosis, a treatable condition. But without care, Shalynne died soon after from a pulmonary embolism.
Vilela, a businesswoman, eventually found activism, using her unimaginable personal tragedy to push for changes in the U.S. healthcare system. She became an advocate for “Medicare for All,” or a single-payer healthcare system. She led a group from Nevada to go to the Women’s March last year in Washington, D.C. That’s when she knew she had to get involved in politics.
“I knew then I couldn’t stay silent knowing that other mothers would have to feel the same pain I’ve lived through if our healthcare system does not change,” she said.
Vilela has seen her share of struggle. She was once a single mother. She put herself through college, becoming the first in her family to earn a college degree. She’s been on WIC, food stamps and Medicaid. Her husband is an immigrant from Brazil. “I understand the struggles of ordinary people,” she said. “Because I’ve lived them.”
Juana Matías, Massachussetts state representative, seeks U.S. Congress seat
Juana Matías likes to say she is a product of the American Dream.
Born in the Dominican Republic, she immigrated to the United States when she was five with her parents and was raised in a working-class neighborhood in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Her parents worked in factories, earning minimum wage, and Matías got her first job delivering newspapers when she was 11. Eventually, the family achieved their dream of sending her to college.
She’s a social worker and lawyer and, in 2016, was elected to the statehouse at just 28-years-old, unseating a 65-year-old incumbent—the city's longest-serving politician. Now, she’s running for Congress. Should she win, Matías would be the first Latina member of Congress from all of New England.
“The values and opportunities afforded to my family are really under threat in this administration, and if there’s a time and a place for me to play an important part in the direction of this country it’s now,” she said. “It’s time for me to be a voice for working and middle class families who are challenged everyday, living paycheck to paycheck, who have college debt. Those are things I’ve lived and I want to be a champion for them.”
Chris Giunchigliani, running for governor of Nevada
Nevada has not had a Democratic governor since 1999. But Chris Giunchigliani, a special education teacher and county commissioner, wants to change that.
“I’m the only woman running and I’m gonna kick butt,” she said.
Giunchigliani paid her way through college working full-time, earning her bachelor’s degree in special education in Kansas City. She taught special education for two years before moving to Las Vegas to earn her master’s degree.
She is a former union president and served as a representative in the state legislature for 15 years, during which time her political victories included legislation for felon rights, solar energy and contraceptives. In 2006, she was elected to the Clark County Commission.
So far, she’s raised $1 million for her governor’s race.
Giunchigliani says she’s hopeful that more, and younger, women will follow her lead and get involved in politics in the coming years.
“This is not about me, this is so young women and men can have the opportunity,” she said. “It’s your time, we’re just laying the groundwork.”