Democrat Maria Elena Durazo, long considered among the most influential political figures in Los Angeles, said Thursday that she will campaign for the seat of Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León when his term ends next year.
A child of migrant farm workers from Mexico, Durazo rose to lead the powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor following the death of her husband, political kingmaker Miguel Contreras in 2005.
She left the position more than two years ago and became general vice president for immigration, civil rights and diversity at UNITE HERE International Union, which represents more than 265,000 hotel and hospitality workers across North America.
While Durazo serves as vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, her decision to run for the California Legislature, where she’s advocated behind the scenes for decades, signals a dramatic shift in her advocacy months after President Donald Trump took office.
Word of her announcement, first reported by La Opinión, sent a jolt of adrenaline through the political establishment in Sacramento.
“I think that was a big part of it,” Durazo said of Trump’s election, in an interview with The Sacramento Bee on Thursday. “We’re at another very critical time in this state, and I feel like, ‘OK, I’ve been a labor leader … since the late 70s …I know what it’s like to press elected officials’ … We have to have great courage.”
Durazo’s political acumen, personal connections and record of pursuing liberal causes for workers, often aggressively, could help her clear the field of challengers in the overwhelmingly Democratic district, which covers a swath of diverse communities in downtown L.A.
She also would vault to the top of the list of potential caucus leadership, something she sought to downplay in the interview.
“I feel good. I feel strong,” Durazo said. “But I have to do what everybody else does to earn the vote,” she added.
Her family’s immigrant story has become part of political lore: Durazo’s parents followed the harvest before settling in Fresno.
She worked her way through the People’s College of Law in Los Angeles, and as a single mother, was hired as an organizer by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. She took a job with the hotel workers union six years later, climbing the ranks of labor.