For Hala Ayala, Va.’s lieutenant governor seat would be a chance ‘to continue that service’

Virginia Democratic Lt. Governor candidate Hala Ayala addresses the Virginia FREE Leadership Luncheon in McLean, Va. Ayala will face Republican Winsome Sears in the November election. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Virginians have a few days left to vote for the commonwealth’s statewide offices — governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. Seven candidates for those seats — gubernatorial candidates Terry McAuliffe, Glenn Youngkin and Princess Blanding; lieutenant governor candidates Haya Ayala and Winsome Sears, and attorney general candidates Mark Herring and Jason Miyares — sat for conversations with WTOP’s Nick Iannelli.

As is generally the case, there’s been no shortage of attacks in the Virginia campaign, and no shortage of places to find out about them. Some of that is fair game, and important to know; some of it, not so much. Some of it isn’t even true. What we’ve done here is keep phrases such as “my opponent wants …” and “my opponent says …” to an absolute minimum. You’re getting the candidates’ views on themselves, what they would do in office and why they want to do it.

Read Nick Iannelli’s interview with Republican candidate Winsome Sears. 

Del. Hala Ayala, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor in Virginia, hasn’t been in elective politics long, but she’s risen quickly.

Ayala’s first run for office was her 2017 run for the Virginia House from the 51st District, a decision she made shortly after Donald Trump was inaugurated. She called it “a scary time” and a hard choice.

“I was enveloped in the moment,” Ayala told WTOP’s Nick Iannelli, “because this was not an easy decision for me to do — to quit my job working for Homeland Security for nearly 20 years, then turn around and run for office, and I’m a single mother, and with $68 in my bank, I won that election.”

And when she won, “I saw it — that power that we had in representation, and we have an opportunity to continue to amplify that representation statewide.”

She touted initiatives including Medicaid expansion, the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and her sponsored legislation, such as same-day voting registration and training for state workers in cybersecurity (her specialty).

“When you’re in the Democratic majority, it’s not just about the personal legislation that you carry, but it’s a ‘we’; it’s an ‘us’ … so every gain and every measure that we’ve passed over these last two years in the Democratic majority, we’ve delivered, and I celebrate all of them.”

Ayala said her life’s story has informed her policy choices. “I lost my dad to gun violence at a very young age,” she said; “we stood in food lines; health care was always uncertain. When I had my son, I was working for minimum wage; I didn’t know how I was going to provide.”

Why step away from a legislative role, with the opportunity to write laws and work directly with constituents, to join the executive branch?

Ayala said Justin Fairfax, Virginia’s current lieutenant governor, has cast 52 tiebreaking votes in the Virginia Senate, including in favor of a “red flag” gun control law and against abortion restrictions and a limitation on minimum-wage increases.

“And these gains, the lieutenant governor has been instrumental in bringing them across the finish line,” Ayala said. “Service is the foundation of what I do. And I want to continue that service in a greater capacity.”

Leaving the House, she said, was a tough call, but, “This is the impactful work Democrats have done to deliver. And so leaving, you know, it was hard for me … we’re going to continue the good work.”

The issues

Ayala listed among her policy priorities her support for keeping abortion legal.

“We’re going to be a brick wall for Roe v. Wade,” she said; “we’re going to uphold the law of the land.” Re-emphasizing that one of Fairfax’s tiebreaking votes was in favor of abortion rights, she said, “when it comes to choice, our next lieutenant governor will be the last line of defense for Virginians.”

Ayala’s policy focus also includes a proposal mandating paid sick days for all businesses. Asked whether businesses coming off a pandemic would be hurt by more regulation, Ayala replied, “I’m not hearing that with business owners. What I’m hearing is that a healthy workforce means a healthy and robust economy. We need to keep our work force healthy.”

She also said the cybersecurity work she’d done in the House represented only “the floor, not the ceiling,” listing broadband access for the entire commonwealth as another focus.

A split ticket?

The race for Virginia governor between Terry McAuliffe and Glenn Youngkin is tight, so there’s a possibility that Ayala could be in the No. 2 slot behind a Republican governor.

Ayala said she’s prepared for that, describing herself as someone who “always kept our door open, our emails active and our phone on and this is what Virginia voters want — someone who can work across the aisle, even work across the chamber as I’ve done as chief deputy whip, and get progress done. And I’ve delivered on both fronts.”

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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