There have been shifts in political power this week, and not just in Congress. Here in Massachusetts, on Beacon Hill, several freshman state lawmakers were sworn in. Among them was Rep. Nika Elugardo of Jamaica Plain. Elugardo beat Jeffrey Sanchez in the Democratic primary last September by positioning herself to the left of the already left-leaning Sanchez. She went on to win the November general election unopposed. Nika Elugardo spoke with WGBH All Things Considered host Barbara Howard about her win and what’s next for her office. This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Barbara Howard: It was an uphill battle when you ran against Jeffrey Sanchez in that primary. He had a lot of endorsements from progressive groups with seniority on Beacon Hill. He was the House budget chief, which puts him in a key position and in close proximity to House Speaker Robert DeLeo. So how did you pull off the win?
Nika Elugardo: I knocked on doors and talked to voters. We shared a message of hope where we said, 'Rep. Sanchez has a form of leadership that is a good form, but we're asking you to sacrifice that for something we think is better and more suited to these times,' and people agreed.
Howard: All eyes, of course, have been on Ayana Pressley, who is in D.C …
Elugardo: Mine included.
Howard: ...I’m sure … but there's been a whole group of women of color, locally, who won in November. But you as a group were saying that you did not have much official support as you were campaigning. You took part in a panel on Basic Black with Callie Crossley here on WGBH, back in November just after you won your seat. You had some harsh words for the Democratic Party. Here's what you said:
"The Democratic Party is straight up racist. The structural racism that we're talking about dismantling is in the party."
Howard: Do you stand by that?
Elugardo: Oh, of course, and I do need to clarify. My situation is different, because I was coming up against an incumbent who had a natural support based on relationships in the party, and so I didn't ask for party support and I didn't feel any kind of way about not having party support, before or after the primary.
I was speaking about a series of conversations I'd had since the election party hosted by the Democrats on election night, where a lot of statements were made and repeated from the stage pointing fingers at the Republican Party. And my point was, we can't be a party that consistently points our finger at every American institution except for our own when it comes structural inequities, including structural racism, and doesn't own it.
Howard: What would you like to see the Democratic Party in Massachusetts do?
Elugardo: So the main thing is, we have a lot of practices that are standardized over many decades, if not longer, for determining who we think — quote unquote — can win.
We find it attractive as a party to reach out to people who are able to be multi- and cross-cultural, and to behave and act in the ways that further perpetuate the status quo. Even though we might be people of color, we understand how to navigate. That's not the same as creating a space where people can be who they are, they can faithfully represent their constituents as their constituents are, they can faithfully represent their upbringing and don't have to bend over backwards to make white middle class, upper class males comfortable.
I'm not trying to put any special requirements or anything like that on the party. Unlike some other candidates, I didn't ask for help. I didn't care that I didn't get it and I still don't. I became a Democrat on June 12th of 2017 when I filed my papers to run for state representative. I have been an independent for my entire life, because I have never approved of the Democratic Party's approach to policy. I approve of the values, but I've consistently been disappointed at the execution on that in a variety of ways. But like so many other things as you grow older, you realize it's like your family. You have to join it, and you have to help.
Howard: Let's turn to your role in the legislature, now that you've been seated. What would you like to accomplish first?
Elugardo: It's a 10-year plan where we're looking to see opportunity and justice for all, particularly in education, healthcare and housing. And we've got these two emergencies of climate and of immigration. I hope that 160 districts over the next 10 years will take on those issues and make sure we get to fully renewable energy here in Massachusetts.
In this first year, however, I'm looking at what is the low hanging fruit, and that's going to be education, in particular, and immigration, because that's something where there's a broad agreement in the House that we really need to make a stronger stance to fully fund education this year, and also to do something to stand by and protect and defend our immigrant residents, whether they have documents or not.
Howard: How is your first — not even complete week — up on Beacon Hill? Do you feel welcome there?
Elugardo: A diverse group of reps are giving me all kinds of support and congratulations and a warm welcome, and even some people who were disappointed to lose my predecessor have gone out of their way to make sure I know that they want me to be successful, and that we can work together.
Howard: Well best of luck to you.
Elugardo: Thank you.
Howard: That's Rep. Nika Elugardo of Jamaica Plain. She was sworn in earlier this week, one of several Massachusetts politicians elected this past cycle at the local, state and federal level who were part of a new trend towards more diversity in government. This is WGBH’s All Things Considered.