As a Democratic Party, we often pat ourselves on the back for our historic gains in representation and our respect and recognition of the need for diverse voices in leadership. These are the right values to hold near and dear. But too often our tweeting doesn’t match our actions.

The process to replace now-Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is evidence of just how often we fail to meet that admirable goal — and this paper’s story (“Handicapping the contenders to replace Haaland," Ringside Seat, March 17) is emblematic of just how the media and other institutions contribute to that failure.

In this majority-minority district, Deb Haaland’s Congressional victory ushered in a collective relief for unheard communities whose needs have been marginalized and misunderstood for the entirety of our nation’s history. Haaland carried with her a lived experience that had never walked the halls of Congress before and she made our nation’s highest elected leaders see what they have ignored for too long. That is the magic of representation. Voices are heard. Experiences are shared. Ehange is made.

But the reality is that Haaland’s victory, and the wins for underrepresented voices in general, comes in spite of a system that is designed to tout their needs, but not to empower the individuals at the heart of those needs. It is why the outpouring of celebration and relief was so palpable here in New Mexico. Haaland beat a system that has worked against people like her for all of history — a feat in itself worth exalting.

As a Latinx trans activist, Bunnie has spent years standing up for those who don’t have a voice. And as a community organizer, Joe has worked for years to build power for the Democratic Party and fight for New Mexican values.

That’s why we support a candidate who has fought against this system to deliver for the people — that candidate is Victor Reyes. Perhaps it is our respect for this accomplished candidate that led to our outrage at the “handicapping” of the race. Or, more likely, it was exhaustion and frustration. After spending the last three years celebrating Rep. Haaland and the power of diversity, this article and the very process it handicapped brought us right back to square one.

The column extolled the accomplishments of white Democratic candidates as “terrific” and the stuff that inspires movies. It defined the Native woman entirely by her biography and her race. And, when it came to Victor, it dismissed racist, homophobic and ageist attacks by waxing nostalgic about a time when you could freely dismiss candidates without doing a deep dive on their accomplishments.

Here is more about who Victor Reyes is and what he has done to qualify him for Congress, so we’ll hit the highlights here: Victor was the architect of the special session that delivered what Congress hadn’t been able to: actual COVID relief checks to unemployed New Mexicans. As the governor’s legislative director (the youngest in the nation), Victor has been the driver of every piece of major progressive legislation that has passed in the past three years: The Energy Transition Act, free public college, gun safety legislation, increased funding for K5-plus education. Victor was who lawmakers called when reproductive health was on the line and when our air, land, and water were under attack.

The article had none of that. This is one reason that things don’t change. This is the reason that majority-minority districts like ours don’t see the policy shifts we so desperately need. This is why people like us and those we advocate for are forgotten by Washington.

This is why we — and especially we in districts like Congressional District 1 — must elect leaders like Victor Reyes to Congress.

The coverage of this election has perpetuated the problematic notion that those without the “right” credentials aren’t ready for leadership. These concurrent roadblocks silence the voices we need most in the conversation. And, thus, we keep sending the same kinds of people with the “right” credentials to Congress and expecting something to change.

We should be asking if this person’s voice is needed and if it will represent us - if they will be the kind of changemaker that New Mexicans in this district clearly demand.

Casting aside Victor’s experience or perspective because it doesn’t fit the status quo sends a message to the communities he represents that they are not seen here. And when we see institutions falling into the same old traps the way this coverage did, it's further evidence of why we need Victor in Congress, to be a powerful reminder and a powerful voice for us.

Bunnie Benton Cruse is a Latinx trans activist and Joe Noriega is a community organizer and political activist.

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