Elizabeth Guzman is a Democratic candidate for Virginia Lieutenant Governor. Her name will appear on the ballot on June 8 during the Democratic Party primary election.
Name: Elizabeth Guzman
Race: Lieutenant Governor
Biography: Dele. Elizabeth Guzman represents the 31st District in Virginia’s House of Delegates, which includes parts of Prince William and Fauquier counties. She is a social worker and public administrator who is running to become the first woman and first Latinx person to serve as Lieutenant Governor of Virginia.
Del. Guzman came to this country from Peru more than two decades ago as a single mother with $300 in her pocket. She worked three minimum wage jobs to afford a one-bedroom apartment for herself and her daughter. She put herself through college, eventually earning two master’s degrees. Now a division chief for the City of Alexandria’s Department of Adult Services, Del. Guzman oversees a $20 million budget for a 200-person operations staff that serves some of our most vulnerable populations, including people with substance use disorders and seniors facing food insecurity.
Del. Guzman defeated a 16-year Republican incumbent in Virginia’s 2017 “blue wave,” and was elected by her peers to serve as chair of that freshman class. She was invited by Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi to give the Spanish language response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address in 2018.
She was inspired to run for office by Sen. Bernie Sanders and served as his Virginia co-chair in 2020. Later in the year, she proudly accepted an invitation from the Biden campaign to serve on now-President Joe Biden’s National Latino Leadership Council and campaigned for the Biden-Harris ticket throughout the state. Through her work as a Democratic National Convention member, Del. Guzman has worked to build bridges between the progressive and moderate wings of the party.
Del. Guzman is a second-generation union member and “one of the most progressive voices in the House of Delegates,” as noted by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. She passed historic legislation to lift Virginia’s blanket ban on public sector collective bargaining so that our frontline workers can have a voice on the job, and she is leading the fight for a paid sick days law so that no Virginian has to choose between their health and a paycheck.
In her first four years as a legislator, Del. Guzman passed 24 progressive bills and championed many more in the areas of health care, education, the environment, criminal justice reform, and more. Del. Guzman serves as vice chair of the Education Committee and was named 2020’s “Legislator of the Year” by the Virginia Education Association and by the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers.
She is also a co-founder of the Virginia Green New Deal, was named a “Legislative Leader” this year by the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, and has received “A+ and “A with Extra Credit” ratings from the Sierra Club. She was chief co-patron of the bill to de-criminalize marijuana and passed legislation to raise the age at which juveniles are automatically tried as adults from 14 to 16. Both bills are now law.
Del. Guzman and her husband Carlos reside in Dale City with their four children and her mother, Gregoria.
Why should Virginians elect you as Lieutenant Governor?
I see the position of Lieutenant Governor as a promotion for an experienced and effective legislator, someone who has delivered on the promises they have made and is ready to hit the ground running on day one to make sure all the progressive bills passed by the Virginia House make it out of the Virginia Senate. In my first four years as a legislator, I introduced and passed 24 progressive bills and championed many more in the areas of health care, education, the environment, criminal justice reform, workers’ rights, and more.
Last year, I passed historic legislation to give our frontline public service workers a voice on the job by lifting Virginia’s ban on public sector collective bargaining, and right now I have a bill that is headed to the Governor’s desk to get our home health care workers paid sick days.
Furthermore, I believe the Virginia Senate needs more progressive voices, more diverse voices, and the voices of more moms. There has never been a woman or Latinx Lieutenant Governor, there are no Latinx people in the Virginia Senate chamber now, and I think representation matters.
This is a job for a proven leader. In addition to defining myself as a successful legislator, I hold two master’s degrees and built a 17-year career in human services and local government. I’m a social worker and public administrator who has worked to protect our most vulnerable populations, including children who have been abused and seniors struggling with food insecurity. I oversee a $20 million budget for a 200-person operations staff for the City of Alexandria’s Department of Adult Services, which serves some of the people who have been hardest hit by the pandemic. I’ve also held leadership positions within the party. I was elected as chair of the freshman class of 2017, which is the most diverse slate of delegates in Virginia’s history. I’m also the first Latina immigrant to represent Virginia as a Democratic National Convention member.
What do you hope to accomplish, if elected?
As recently as 2019, Virginia was ranked last in the nation when it comes to workers’ rights. I want to make Virginia number one for working families by working with Virginia Senate Democrats to make sure we’re raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, passing strong paid sick days legislation, and expanding collective bargaining rights so that no worker is left behind.
A lot of good progressive legislation, especially workers’ rights bills, gets watered down or killed in the Virginia Senate. I noticed a lot of the Virginia Senators recite the talking points that lobbyists for corporate interests when I’m talking to them about my bills. I want to be a voice for the workers in the Virginia Senate. I want to caucus with Virginia Senate Democrats so that I can be in the conversation when they are deciding the policy agenda for the legislative session and how they are going to vote on bills. I can be a voice for working families in that chamber.
I also look forward to taking an active role on the boards and commissions that the Lieutenant Governor serves on and will present the priorities of those entities to the Virginia General Assembly to potentially convert those priorities to legislation. I also plan to travel throughout the state to talk to Virginians in every zip code about the issues they care about.
What is the most important legislative issue facing Virginia, and what is your position on it?
I think this pandemic has shown us we need stronger protections for workers, including paid sick days. No one should have to choose between their health and a paycheck, but 1.2 million Virginians do not have a single paid day off, so people are coming to work sick, which is the last thing you want in a pandemic. Passing a strong paid sick days package for all workers is priority number one. It protects the workers and their families, as well as their co-workers and all the customers they come in contact with.
I also think the pandemic has highlighted that we need broadband for all. I was a proud chief co-patron on Del. Roslyn Tyler’s legislation this year to help expand capacity to underserved areas, and we have definitely made headway in the last two years to expand broadband access to 130,000 homes and businesses. We’re on track to expand broadband access to all of Virginia by 2025, but I would definitely support measures to accelerate that timeline to 2023 so that parents don’t have to take their children to fast-food parking lots to do their homework or use their cell phones as mobile hotspots.
What is your position on Virginia’s overall response to the coronavirus pandemic, and what might you have done differently?
I think there was a lot Virginia did well, but a lot we could have done differently. Democrats have the majority, and we used that opportunity to step up to empower more health care providers to administer the vaccine and to allow the private sector to distribute the vaccine as well. We also funded the eviction moratorium to keep families in their homes.
But, we should have made the vaccination efforts more centralized from day one. We left it to the individual health departments. Some were well organized, but others couldn’t even figure out how to sign people up for an appointment. My mother is 78 and she was on the waiting list for a vaccine for a long time. The state also did not do a good job of providing information about COVID-19 and the vaccine in Spanish. They were relying on Google Translate, which is not an adequate translation tool.
We also heard reports that people weren’t getting the vaccine because they couldn’t get paid time off for the appointment and to stay home if they had a reaction. Passing stronger paid sick days legislation would have allowed people to do that.
What are the top three issues created by the coronavirus pandemic in Virginia, and how would you plan to address them?
I mentioned paid sick days in a previous answer, so that’s definitely number one. Dr. Danny Avula, who is leading the state’s vaccination effort, has said it would have slowed the spread of COVID-19 if people were simply staying home when they were sick.
The achievement gap from virtual learning is also in the top three. The pandemic highlighted the disparities with broadband. There were kids doing their homework in fast parking lots, so we definitely need broadband for all. We also need an unprecedented investment in our public schools, starting with raising teacher pay so that it’s competitive with states like Maryland and Pennsylvania. We have a teacher shortage in Virginia, which is not going to help us close the achievement gap. We need teachers to want to teach here, and we do that by making pay competitive and ensuring they have a voice on the job through collective bargaining rights.
Women leaving the workforce is also a huge issue caused by the pandemic. So many women left to care for children and oversee their virtual learning. I have kids at home and it was hard, but I was lucky to have support from my mother, who lives with us. I don’t look at it as these women stepped back from work; they stepped up to take on more responsibilities at home as a result of this pandemic. As Lieutenant Governor, I’d like to work with my colleagues to champion legislation to ensure employers are not discriminating against people who have gaps on their resume for leaving the workforce during the pandemic to care for their families.
We should also be looking at all these issues through the lens of both gender justice and racial justice. Women disproportionately left the workforce, and black and Latinx communities were disproportionately sickened by COVID-19 and are under-represented when it comes to getting the vaccine, for example.