The Rookie Candidate: Lorena González

Read the full article and listen to the conversation here at The Takeaway Blog.

Politicians tend to present a dramatized narrative of themselves in campaigns—writing books and telling stories of their childhoods or formative years. These stories (take Barack Obama’s “Audacity of Hope,” for example) are supposed to give life to candidates, to show voters that there are real stories behind politicians.

Lorena González’s story is as powerful as any currently-elected politician, perhaps because it is one that relates to a significant minority in the U.S. that remains almost completely underrepresented in elected office. That is particularly true in the city of Seattle, where González is seeking Position 9 on the City Council.

One of six children from Mexican immigrants, González grew up as a migrant farm worker in the small town of Grandview, in central Washington. She earned her first paycheck when she was 8-years-old, picking cherries while living for three months of the year in a migrant farm labor camp in the town of Wenatchee.

The towns where she spent her youth—apart of the Yakima Valley, one of Washington’s most important agricultural centers—were some of the poorest in the state.

“[There was an] incredible degree of poverty, and incredible amount of having the cards stacked against you,” says González. “I saw a lot of injustices, primarily at the hands of farm owners against my fellow migrant farm workers, where we weren’t being paid wages at all.”

After graduating college and law school, González worked to be come a civil rights leader. She is currently the president emeritus of OneAmerica, the state’s largest immigrant and civil rights organization, based in Seattle. She’s also served on the Seattle Police Accountability Review Panel in 2007, a position that ultimately motivated her to seek elected office. She served as senior adviser and legal counsel to Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, but now, she wants to be the voice for the people she was once among.

“I think that those moments were incredibly formative to me, and really inspired me as I moved forward through college and through law school,” says González. “And now, being candidate for Seattle City Council, to really want to champion those people who I see myself in—the people who haven’t had a very strong voice in our government.”

As a first-time candidate, González is still figuring out what defines her as a politician, a process of “coming to understand” what you want to be and represent publicly.

But she is finding a powerful voice. Her story is resonating, especially in a city that González believes is struggling with an “affordability crisis.” Last month, she won a six-way primary with 65.1 percent of the vote.

“I think that my story, the way that I’ve grown up, the struggle through poverty, the struggle to find opportunity, and to take advantage of opportunity really resonates with the people of Seattle, primarily because we are dealing with a really serious affordability crisis, where people are feeling squeezed out of opportunity, and squeezed out of our city.”