Ricky Hurtado will be the first to tell you that his historic bid for a seat in the North Carolina legislature has stakes not just for the future of that swing state but for the nation.
A first-generation immigrant and a teacher, the 31-year-old Hurtado would be the first-ever Latino Democrat elected to the North Carolina state house. He’s running to represent a toss-up district in Alamance County, in the rapidly growing Triad region of North Carolina. While Donald Trump handily won Alamance in 2016, Hurtado’s opponent, GOP State Rep. Stephen Ross, won by a few hundred votes in 2018. Hurtado’s race is critical piece of North Carolina Democrats’ plan to wrest back control of at least one chamber in the state legislature, which in turn would have ramifications for the upcoming once-in-a-decade redistricting process.
For the past decade, North Carolina has been ground zero for extreme Republican gerrymandering and the use of untraceable dark money to dilute the power of voters of color while tilting the state’s policies in the direction of deregulation and free-market economics. The last round of redistricting in 2011, led by the GOP, resulted in half of North Carolina’s black population being packed into just one-fifth of the newly drawn state and congressional districts. “The districts here take us back to a day of segregation that most of us thought we’d moved away from,” State Sen. Dan Blue Jr., who was North Carolina’s first black House speaker, told the Nation in 2012.
Last year, the North Carolina Supreme Court tossed out the existing political maps as illegal gerrymanders. The redrawn district that Hurtado is running in is more competitive than it’s been in more than a decade, and Hurtado says drawing fair political maps in 2021 is a top issue for his campaign, and one that comes up in his conversations with voters. “People understand what this practice (of gerrymandering) means: It means that we do not have a voice in these elections, which means that the issues that people in our district care about aren’t being addressed,” he says. If Democrats retake at least chamber in the North Carolina legislature, he continues, “We will be able to implement maps that will have impact not just the two years but the next 10 years, which means greater representation in each community and it means fairer congressional districts. One race here in North Carolina, a group of 50,000-plus voters, could have a huge effect on what the make up of Congress looks like.”
While Hurtado’s race is just one of thousands of state legislative races nationwide this year, he has secured endorsements from Barack Obama, the Biden-Harris campaign, and the Latino Victory Fund, one of the largest national political groups focused entirely on electing Latinos and Latinas to elected office. Hurtado says he believes his campaign has not only the potential change the course of policy and politics in one of the nation’s most important swing states; he also hopes to create a pipeline for young Latinos and Latinas to work in politics and run for office themselves one day. “I want to make sure we are not just opening that door,” he says, “but breaking it down.”
Hurtado spoke with Rolling Stone for “The Next Wave”, a new video series spotlighting the politicians and activists shaping the future of America.