Now, Ayala wants to become the state’s first female lieutenant governor, while Del. Elizabeth R. Guzman (D-Prince William) — another member of that 2017 class — is also seriously considering a bid for the Democratic Party’s nomination for that post.
Meanwhile, Del. Jennifer D. Carroll Foy (D-Prince William), who also won her seat in 2017, is running for governor — so far against Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan (D-Richmond), but with former governor Terry McAuliffe, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, Attorney General Mark R. Herring and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney also potential candidates.
Former delegate Timothy D. Hugo (R-Fairfax) has said he is “seriously considering” seeking the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor.
Ayala, 47, says she wants to be a “bridge builder” during a tumultuous period when protests over police brutality and racial injustice have led to the toppling of Confederate monuments and inflamed passions in a state already divided over President Trump.
A Department of Homeland Security cybersecurity specialist whose family roots lie in El Salvador, North Africa, Lebanon and Ireland, she said she embodies Virginia’s increasing diversity.
“This is what Virginia families want: someone who understands their experiences and can bring people together to make progress in their day-to-day lives,” Ayala said in an interview.
Ayala entered politics after helping to organize Virginians to participate in the 2017 Women’s March. She defeated longtime Del. Rich Anderson (R) to win her seat, and won easily last year when the two faced off again.
In Richmond, Ayala has focused on cybersecurity and health care.
She sponsored a law earlier this year that requires state employees to be trained to detect information security threats. Last year, she helped push through the state’s Medicaid expansion law, which made those health benefits available to another 400,000 low-income Virginians.
Ayala said she would use the lieutenant governor’s office to push for Virginia to become better prepared for health emergencies like the coronavirus pandemic, arguing that investments in digital broadband access are vital in lower-income communities with limited health care access and schools ill-equipped for online instruction.
She also wants to further expand Medicaid, a desire she attributes to her experiences as the mother of a son on the autism spectrum who, shortly after he was born 22 years ago, relied on Medicaid reimbursements, or “waivers,” while she worked at a gas station without health insurance.
Guzman has been waging a soft campaign for the Democratic nomination without actually declaring her candidacy for the office. Last week, she laid out her qualifications for the job during an interview with the Blue Virginia political website.
“I will make my case to voters . . . that I have worked really hard to earn this promotion,” Guzman said, after criticizing Fairfax for not being a more active leader in the Senate.
Ayala declined to comment on Fairfax, who was hampered by sexual assault allegations lodged against him by two women last year — part of a trio of controversies that included admissions by Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and Herring that they wore blackface as young adults.
In the wake of those scandals, Ayala joined other Legislative Black Caucus leaders in calling for Northam and Fairfax to resign. They stayed in office, however, and the caucus leaders have continued to work with both men.
Ayala said she prefers to focus on the future, though she acknowledged the controversies are likely to be raised during the general election.
“We need to focus on what’s in front of us,” Ayala said, referring to the pandemic. “We’ve got bigger fish to fry.”