We’re really living in a country that is just as — if not more — divided than in the 1960s. And it’s about time we realize that the people creating and fueling those flames have an alternate agenda that has nothing to do with morality, justice, or our well being. It’s been reported that most Americans regardless of which way they vote want things like: universal healthcare, common sense gun control, affordable housing, access to dignified jobs/wages, and quality public school education.
With super Tuesday on the horizon, we’re witnessing the slow process of elimination where corporate-owned politicians are finally being ousted by activists and organizers. Slowly but surely Congress is starting to look like and represent the people. Michelle De La Isla is one such candidate running to represent Kansas’ 2nd Congressional district. Although she was born in New York and raised in Puerto Rico, her chosen home is Topeka, Kansas. A place far from home where she decided to stay after she graduated from Wichita State University.
Los Que Saben, Saben (Those Who Know, Know)
The most persistent factor in De La Isla’s campaign is that she knows what bad policy feels like and what could have been done to make it better. She’s experienced many of the same issues as her constituents. At age 17 she became homeless and by 19 she was pregnant not knowing what to do next. She fought a rare form of breast cancer, escaped an abusive marriage, raised a son and two daughters on her own, and continues to battle chronic illness.
“Sometimes I wonder why I’ve seen all the negative things that I have and why I have survived all these crazy things and I think that what it [has] granted me as a leader is compassion and empathy. It’s really easy if you have gone through difficulties in your life to think that people are in the situation that they’re in because they want to be in it… there is this gross misunderstanding of people’s circumstances that brings about judgment and I don’t carry that with me,” she tells HipLatina.
Through her community work, De La Isla met many people who had the same experiences she did. Seeing so many people going through hard times inspired her to run for City Council and to eventually becoming the first Latina Mayor of Topeka, a city with big problems in need of even bigger solutions.
“Southeast Kansas has a lot of rural communities that are challenged because of population decrease,” she says. “We’ve had two hospitals close in our district. We keep hearing that healthcare is the number one issue, [as well as] infrastructure, and support for our farmers. We’ve actually built a 1-800 line for suicide prevention for our farmers and that’s a big deal. Those are the issues we keep hearing over and over again.”
Give The People What They Want
By fostering bipartisan cooperation along with her lasered focus on the needs of her community, De La Isla already has a proven track record of getting things done in her district. “As a community, we started talking about how we build quality of life and quality of place so that our community can attract people so that we can have the workforce so that individuals are able to stay and want to be in our community,” she says. One of her many accomplishments as a public servant is opening a tech school in one of the most underserved areas of Topeka. They’re also piloting a taxi program that transports people 24/7 for only five dollars a ride. Plus these are 16-17 dollar an hour jobs in a state where the minimum wage is still only $7.25.
“You can’t make that happen unilaterally, no leader can step up and say hey ‘this is what I ‘m going to do.’ It’s been a lot of conversations and creating a shared understanding of what is needed in our community that we’ve been able to do these creative things to move our community forward,” De La Isla said.
But one of the main issues that De La Isla sees impacting her community is a healthcare crisis. So rather unsurprisingly her campaign cornerstone is expanding Medicaid and making sure underinsured people have support throughout the state of Kansas.
“Kansas is one of the states that has not expanded Medicaid and it’s extremely concerning to me that the United States being one of the richest countries of the world, we still are having individuals that are either under or not insured. To me this issue is very personal,” she says,
Reaching Across the Isle
Given the state of political division in the US, the real feat of De La Isla’s political career is that she’s a Democrat running in a conservative state and district. She hopes to unseat Republican incumbent Steve Watkins and her Republican opponent State Treasurer Jake LaTurner. But De La Isla says her strength has been focusing on giving her community what it needs by focusing on the issues instead of digging her heels into divisive party rhetoric.
“I think that we couldn’t be as successful as we are in the city of Topeka if everybody decided that we were going to stick to our silos and stick to our corners. And even though the mayor race and the council race are non-partisan, there are races in which people know how you lean and one of the things that we’ve been very successful at has been to really focus on the issues,” she says. “Bring people together on the things that matter most to them. And that is exactly what I intend to do when I get to Washington…I think that what we have to start doing is starting to talk about the issues and figuring out who are the people who believe in those things and moving those things forward.”
You can check out Michelle’s platform here.