Single mom takes on anti-choice extremist for seat in male-dominated Virginia legislature


Hala Ayala wants to fight for women's rights, better wages, and equality for everyone. Her opponent wants to oppress women and make life harder for immigrants.

While most of the country has to wait until 2018 to elect new leaders, folks in Virginia head to the polls in just a few months. And Democrats are putting together a roster of strong, progressive candidates, led by women.

In Prince William County, Hala Ayala is hoping to bring her values of empowerment for women and equality for all to Richmond, and at the same time, send home one of Virginia’s leading anti-choice, anti-immigrant delegates.

Ayala has long been involved in local politics. She volunteered for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012. And in 2014, she helped revive the National Organization for Women (NOW) chapter in her community, becoming its president.

While Ayala has been speaking up for equality, Republican Richard Anderson spent that time kowtowing to the fringe elements of the GOP by fighting against basic rights for women and girls across Virginia.

He has voted multiple times to defund Planned Parenthood, and in 2012 was the leading voice in Virginia for restricting reproductive freedom, sponsoring a ban on abortion at the 20-week mark. The effort was defeated, but it didn’t stop Anderson from supporting similar legislation time and again.

The election of Donald Trump further galvanized Ayala. She'd had enough, and like hundreds of thousands of fellow activists, Ayala attended the historic, massive Women’s March in Washington, D.C.

"Right after, I felt I needed to do more," Ayala said, declaring that Trump’s election inspired her to "walk the talk."

"It's time to get off the sidelines," she decided, because "enough is enough."

When she was younger, Ayala was on Medicaid for several years while working in retail. Republicans are now trying to drastically cut Medicaid and leave folks with no option for affordable care.

And Ayala, who is of South American and Middle Eastern decent, is appalled at Trump’s bigoted Muslim ban.

"I've never seen anything like this," she said of Trump's presidency. "I've felt upset before. But this was just very heavy."

So Ayala threw her hat in the ring. She entered a contested primary, and in mid-June, she won the opportunity to face Anderson in the general election in November.

She’s fighting to raise the minimum wage, demand equal pay for equal work, and expand Medicaid. And she will "urge her fellow state lawmakers to support the Equal Rights Amendment."

Meanwhile, Anderson continues to support an anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-progress agenda.

Echoing the disdain for immigrants often heard on the far right, Anderson is wholeheartedly opposed to sanctuary cities, going so far as to support legislation to ban them. He also voted to ban cities from increasing the minimum wage.

With these kinds of views, and with a legislature that is overwhelmingly male-dominated — between the state Senate and House of Delegates, it is 83 percent men, in fact — Virginia needs more voices like Ayala.

And it looks like that could happen: A record 51 Democratic women filed paperwork to run for state office in Virginia, where Democrats need to gain 17 seats to take control of the legislature.

Maybe one of those seats will go to a single mom from Prince William County who decided that now is her time to fight for women and girls and families.

And maybe when her children grow up, Virginia’s legislature will be 83 percent women, led by trailblazers like Hala Alaya.