Jamaica Plain resident Nika Elugardo is running as a Democratic challenger to state Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez for the 15th Suffolk/Norfolk District. She spoke about why she's running, how she helped people stay in their homes and avoid foreclosure, that there's too much progressive legislation sitting in the House Ways and Means Committee chaired by Sanchez and more.
Q: Why are you running to be the state representative for the 15th Suffolk/Norfolk District?
Elugardo: I want the values and policies of our district to be fiercely represented on Beacon Hill. To name some high priority examples:
- Fully and smartly funded education
- Health care for all -- this means single payer
- Affordable housing that benefits all and not just developers and high earners
- Fair wages for all workers, including a $15 per hour minimum wage
I will represent all four neighborhoods (Brookline, Jamaica Plain, Mission Hill, and Roslindale) leveraging the experience, intellect, talent and passion of our neighbors across our district. With my leadership, our district will lead the state in effective efforts to fully fund public education, implement single payer healthcare, ensure that we preserve and develop affordable housing, and create living wage jobs by both increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour and indexing it to inflation. The values and policies at the State House can and should reflect the true diversity and strong justice orientation of all the districts in Massachusetts.
I will fight for transparency and accountability of Representatives to their constituents. Currently, there’s too much progressive legislation sitting in Ways and Means. Every year essential, progressive legislation dies in committee. We need strong leaders to join the push to get legislation out of committee and good laws on the books. I will be that leader in the 15th.
Q: Why are you qualified to be the state representative for the 15th Suffolk/Norfolk District?
Elugardo: I have over 20 years of experience convening and empowering leaders from the non-profit, government, and corporate sectors to work together for social change and economic justice. I have a proven record in helping people take ideas from conception to action to sustainability. I thrive on working across issue areas and making connections between those issues. I have existing expertise in the areas of affordable housing, economic justice, youth development, criminal justice reform, and corruption.
I measure my success in quantifiable outcomes; for example, when I managed the National Consumer Law Center’s Foreclosure Prevention Project, we had an 88% success rate of keeping people in their homes. Since 2000, I’ve been training leaders to use this kind of outcomes assessment, for accountability as well as for collaboration. I attribute this success in my ability to bring together diverse stakeholders -- people who bring different ideas, cultural expectation, and political stances to the table. In our district, our diversity makes us stronger and our ideas smarter.
My work experience as a consultant, researcher, manager, and senior policy aid to state Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, is strengthened by my education. With a J.D. from Boston University, a Masters in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School, and a BS from MIT in urban planning, I have have formal training in political advocacy, leadership, and negotiation. My studies coupled with my experience in legislative drafting, systems thinking and outcomes evaluation bring a specialized skill set for advocating for and passing legislation that works
This race is our race -- in addition to my skills, education, and passion -- I will bring to Beacon Hill my experience as a facilitator of grassroots movements. I will not just bring to Beacon Hill my unique experiences, but listen to, act with, and leverage the skills of the residents of the 15th as a truly engaged and transparent Representative. My love runs deep for my district and all the people in it.
Q: Your campaign website is robust with your policies on numerous topics, including criminal justice, public education, immigration and more. What issue would you initially focus on if elected and why?
Elugardo: One of my initial focuses would be on public education. For our youngest community members, it means universal access to early education. For pre-K-12 students it means access to high-quality in-class instruction. It means ending racial disparities and replacing the so-called preschool to prison pipeline with a pre-school to career pipeline. In-school learning should include physical education, bilingual education and arts engagement. Students should have access to the supports that allow them to thrive -- nurses, mental health counselors, clinicians, and safe, affordable out-of-school time programs. Additionally, I support Planned Parenthood’s call for medically-accurate, age-appropriate, LGBTQ+ inclusive sex and health education. College and career counseling should prepare students for life after high school; vocational education should be funded and focused on pathways that meet the needs of our communities. And, it means, investing in higher education. Students in state colleges and universities are seeing some of the nation’s highest increases in tuition and fees while average student debt for public university students is growing. I will go to bat for funding pre-K to K-2 to higher education – education is the foundation of our economy and our civic life, and it is a marker of equitable justice. It is vital for a healthy district and Commonwealth.
Q: If elected, what legislation do you envision proposing in your first term?
Elugardo: The House and Senate did a great job passing the first round of criminal justice reforms [Editor's note: This interview was conducted before the governor signed a criminal justice reform bill]. However, there is more to be done. I would propose bold moves towards restorative justice. This includes reforms such as further raising the age of juvenile to 21, abolishing solitary confinement, repealing mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, fully-funding reentry services, and abolishing cash bail.
I would also work hard to co-sponsor existing bills, ensure that their progressive intent remains intact, and advocate for adequate funding for new legislation. I am excited to work on single payer healthcare legislation that is truly inclusive. Health care is a right. I’m ready to take on the large systems change work that means that every single one of us have healthcare regardless of how much money we have, who our employer is, or who we are married to. And when I say “healthcare” I include dental care, mental health care, care for those with pre-existing conditions, and care for those who have substance use disorders.
The cost of housing is the number one concern of many in our district. We must stop the displacement – I want the community members I talk to over the coming months to still be in their homes on September 4 to vote for me. I will work with community members and advocates to maintain their residences and provide new homeownership opportunities. We will pass a Homeless Bill of Rights.
I am also excited to co-sponsor bills that are already being sponsored in the House, healthy youth bill: medically accurate and age appropriate sex ed, voter registration reform including ranked choice voting and automatic voter registration, and the Act to Modernizing the Foundation Budget for the 21st Century.
I am eager to propose reforms that would diffuse the power of the speaker so that, like other states, committees elect their own leadership. This sounds mundane, but is an important provision to give more freedom to representatives to truly represent their constituents without fear of coercion, reprisal, or demotion from the Speaker. I would advocate for the recently passed public records reform to apply to the legislature; you should have the right to my records when I am your Representative.
Q: As a Democrat you would face incumbent Jeffrey Sanchez -- are there decisions he has made that you disagreed with and why?
Elugardo: I am very concerned about my opponent’s non-commitment to progressive legislation until the pressure is so intense he might lose his job. In 2010 at a JP Progressive Forum, he couldn’t commit to a $15 dollar minimum wage indexed to inflation. I am an advocate for this higher minimum wage indexed to inflation. We need strong leadership in the House that will stand up to the Speaker. Our Representatives must represent every person in the district, not just those special interest groups.
Q: Have you met Rep. Sanchez? If so, how would you describe your relationship and/or interactions?
Elugardo: We interacted minimally when I worked for Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz at the State House. I see Representative Sanchez at JP events, but he doesn’t usually say much, so I didn’t know him well. I mostly learned about him through concerned constituents who want to share their stories of inaction by the Representative.
I contacted his aide by email and phone to invite him to coffee when I filed last June. The aide was very polite, but the Representative was apparently uninterested in meeting.
Q: You support Ranked Choice Voting. What is that and why do you support it?
Elugardo: I support Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) because it is good for democracy. RCV allows voters to vote for multiple candidates in the order they prefer them. This allows candidates to be chosen based on a consensus of majority support. RCV also automates the process, reduces cost and still ensures that every vote counts. It encourages civic participation and gives candidates a chance who may be less well known but who do the work to recruit lots of support for their candidacy. Research shows that where RCV is used there is less negative campaigning and voters are more satisfied with elections. It is correlated with more women and people of color running and winning elected office -- it can be part of the solution of these groups being underrepresented on Beacon Hill. RCV is a good partner to automatic voter registration
Q: On your campaign website you are described as having "an early sense of the unfair impacts of poverty and injustice" in the community you grew up in. How would you address those issues as a state representative?
Elugardo: Advocates and researchers point out structural racism, anti-LGBTQ, anti-women, and anti-poverty provisions in policing, banking, education, health care, criminal justice and a wide range of policy areas that impact housing gap, health care gaps, and the wealth gap in general. The data is there. We need legislation that more clearly targets and addresses these problems.
We need more cross-district dialogues to help educate constituents about the problem. We need to bring the quality training on unconscious bias and privilege that exists in some municipal districts into the State House and to law enforcement departments statewide.
As a rep (and I’ve already started as a candidate), I will bring people together to promote shared understanding and training, so that we can address these issues together in a nonpartisan way.
Q: What else would you like people to know about yourself and your campaign?
Elugardo: I see enormous opportunity before us in Massachusetts to lead our nation on progressive justice issues from climate readiness to education. We don’t have to settle for mediocrity. Our constituents across the state haven’t been so hungry for change and true leadership in a generation. Thanks to groups like Mass Alliance and Progressive Mass, we have the data district-by-district on where our reps aren’t standing for district values.
We can take back the culture of the State House, district-by-district. I have the skills and experience to join and help lead this urgent cause. Massachusetts will no longer accept representatives who go along to get along. I’ll work with my constituents, advocates across the state, and my justice-oriented colleagues on the hill to elect people who will get the job done.