Ricky Hurtado becomes first Latino Democrat elected to N.C. General Assembly
In a narrow victory, Ricky Hurtado defeated incumbent Stephen Ross for the District 63 seat in the North Carolina House. The win makes Hurtado the first Latino Democrat elected to the North Carolina General Assembly.
Latinos have been elected to the state house and state senate in years past, but both were Republicans, Hurtado said.
Unofficial results from election night called the race in favor of Hurtado and that narrow lead has held up as ballots received by Nov. 12 were counted. As on Wednesday, Nov. 17, Hurtado claimed 20,584 votes to Ross’ 20,107 votes. Election results will be certified by the state on Nov. 24.
While this is Hurtado’s first term as an elected official, he is not new to the activism or public policy worlds.
“In my work with education, I would often go to the General Assembly to talk about issues with education with representatives from across the state. I work with students who are low-income, who are first-generation and I work with schools that are underfunded. I remember telling these stories and my story to current legislators sitting in office and these stories really fell on deaf ears,” he explained. “ I didn’t get a sense of any urgency and I sensed a real disconnection between the issues working families face and [representatives’] priorities and their vision for North Carolina.”
These experiences led him to his campaign for N.C. House District 63.
“After a while, I came to realize that representation truly matters in all forms in terms of where people come from, their communities, race, gender, identity, etc. Until we all have a seat at the table, it will be really difficult to build the North Carolina that truly represents all of us,” he added. “That was the moment when I felt like I had the tools and resources to run for office myself.”
Hurtado was born in Los Angeles, but moved to Sanford, North Carolina when he was 6 years old.
“I always start telling my story by telling the story of my parents. My parents are from El Salvador in Central America and in 1980 they fled the country to escape a civil war that broke out there and lasted through the 80s. That pivotal moment, that sacrifice, even though I wasn’t born yet, has really been the background to my own life and understanding their sacrifices, understanding everything they went through to not only pursue the American Dream, but to escape a nightmare,” he explained.
He worked hard throughout his education, he said, to fulfill his parents’ desires for him and became a first-generation college student when he was accepted to the University of North Carolina as a Morehead-Cain Scholar.
After graduation, Hurtado spent a few years working in consulting with non-profits and foundations. He later completed graduate school at Princeton University with a focus on public policy.
“I understood that many of the challenges that my family faced growing up – living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to make ends meet, mom working second or third shift jobs -- that was a reality that existed not just for my family but for many families in rural North Carolina."
“I went to Princeton to study public policy to understand how we begin to really address issues of inequality in our community and how to begin to make sure all of our communities can really thrive.”
After graduate school, Hurtado moved back to North Carolina and became an educator at UNC and began working around college access.
“We happen to live in the most competitive house race [district], it ended up, in North Carolina and you saw that in the vote totals,” Hurtado said. “I decided to throw my name in the ring to make our case as to why we need to chart a new path for Alamance County and North Carolina. From the results, it seems like that message resonated with people and that folks are ready for something new here.”
Hurtado called being the first elected Latino Democrat to the North Carolina General Assembly is “historic” and “exciting.”
“It’s been exciting and humbling. There’s been an overwhelming response form the community and it gives me hope for the future. I’ve seen that this campaign has been able to really tell a story and touch people’s lives and resonate with families in a way that I never anticipated,” he said.
“The historic nature of the race certainly sort of raises the stakes so I’m excited to step into that leadership role to make sure we can build a community here in Alamance County that really engages everyone. I understand that in not just Alamance County but across North Carolina, the future is one that has to engage all of our communities whether Black, white or Latino and making sure everyone is part of the conversation,” he added.
Campaigning for this race took on a new life thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hurtado said, especially after he and his wife both tested positive for the virus this summer.
“At the same time we got COVID, a lot of people we knew in the community were getting COVID. I could name five or six people off the top of my head whose parents have gotten COVID or who have lost family,” Hurtado explained.
In addition to the logistics changes needed, he said the stories he heard from constituents also drove home the need for relief in the community.
“It’s been a really challenging experience because many of the people that I’ve met have been impacted now or many have lost family. It certainly changed the tactics of the campaign, but I think it just made me more hyperaware of the challenges that I heard every day. Even if they weren’t dealing with death necessarily, there was unemployment, there was food insecurity and all these challenges. … It just made COVID very, very real for me in a way that I’m not sure it has for everyone because they haven’t had those experiences.”
As Hurtado prepares to take office, he has his eyes on a few issues like public education funding, Medicaid expansion and COVID-19 relief.
“The current lending of funding and support for our public schools are unconstitutional in North Carolina and so I want to make sure that we’re creating a plan to support our students and our educators in the long term,” Hurtado said.
In discussion on Medicaid expansion, he added, “In the midst of a pandemic when we see revenue shortfall and people continue to get sick, I think it’s a moral imperative that we expand Medicaid to make sure that more people have access to the insurance they need and that hospitals are receiving the revenue they need to make sure they can support folks on the ground.”
COVID-19 relief will continue to be a major focus as well, Hurtado added.
“As I hit the ground running in January, I think what’s on the top of my mind of course is COVID relief. With the election behind us but a crisis still in front of us, I hope that Republicans and Democrats can put their differences aside and focus on solutions for families in Alamance County and across North Carolina,” he said. “Working families are still hurting, people are still unemployed in our community, small businesses are still really on the edge of uncertainty, so I hope we can come together those first few weeks when we go back in session in January and really work out a plan that helps weather the storm together.”
With about a month and a half until he takes office, Hurtado’s message to the community is one seeking unity.
“We are currently living in one of the most polarizing and divided moments I think in this nation’s history,” he said. “I think it’s really time for us to think about what a path forward together looks like. I truly believe – and I heard this on the campaign trail as I spoke to people across our community – there is more that unites us than divides us and I hope we can find that common ground to think about what it looks like to really make our politics focus on solutions and not just the bitter bickering we’ve seen so often at the state and federal level.”
“I really want to push a path forward for healing for our community as we [handle] economic and public health crises as well as a racial injustice crisis. I hope that we can find a way to build bridges and not walls as we move forward together,” Hurtado said.