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August 26, 2019

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Q+A: Cortez Masto, first Latina senator, on filling Harry Reid’s shoes, value of diversity

Cortez Masto

Al Drago / The New York Times

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., the first Latina senator in history, is shown at her office in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, Jan. 19, 2017. The granddaughter of a Mexican immigrant is a former criminal prosecutor who started her political career as Nevada’s attorney general, and is replacing Harry Reid, the longtime Democratic leader in the Senate.

WASHINGTON — For many Democrats, Catherine Cortez Masto’s victory in Nevada’s high-stakes Senate race was a bright spot on an otherwise grim Election Day.

The granddaughter of a Mexican immigrant, Cortez Masto is the first Latina senator in history.

A former criminal prosecutor and a Democrat, Cortez Masto, 52, started her political career as Nevada’s attorney general, a post she held for two terms. She is replacing Harry Reid, the longtime Democratic leader in the Senate.

Cortez Masto sat down with The New York Times to talk about what comes next. This interview has been condensed.

How does it feel to be the first Latina senator?

It’s incredible to have made history, but it’s more important to me to be able to bring that diversity to the United States Senate, because it’s about time. One, to bring that voice and a different perspective to the table and use it and have a seat at the table to weigh in on decision-making and laws that are being made.

The other part of it is, I have always been a big proponent of diversity. Government and the people who work in government should be just as diverse as the community we represent. That’s what we need now in Washington as well.

And third, it’s exciting to me when young Latinas come up to me and they find out who I am and know that I’m the first Latina, and they are excited because they know that if I did it, then they can do it.

Was there anything daunting about deciding to first run for office, for attorney general?

No, and thank goodness, because had I known what it was like to have run for a statewide office, I probably wouldn’t have done it. But it was one of those things, it was about the passion. I’ve always been working on domestic violence prevention, I’ve always been fighting for people that are either downtrodden or the most vulnerable, and juvenile justice issues.

Now, with that said, I do come from a family where my father served in local politics, so I grew up around this idea of giving back to your community in public service and always thought it was a positive thing to do.

What do you remember about your father being in politics?

That was at a time when you actually had telephone books, and we had to have our phone number in the telephone book so that his constituents could call at any time. And they did, middle of the night, any problem that they had, they would call.

I grew up in that and really appreciated giving back to the community and fighting and working on behalf of finding solutions to issues that people are dealing with. I think I get it from my parents.

What is it like to fill Harry Reid’s shoes?

We have always fought and will continue to fight for the best interests of Nevada and the people and the businesses that live there. I grew up there, was born and raised. He grew up there, was born and raised. There is no difference in our fight.

What can Democrats do to work with President Donald Trump and Republicans?

We already are, when it comes to immigration. Look what Sen. (Lindsey) Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen. (Richard J.) Durbin (D-Ill.) dropped, the Bridge Act, and that is to pass and protect those kids, those (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) kids, and that’s bipartisan.

But the potential solutions are not always bipartisan.

That’s where you start. We have a common goal here. And so then we start the discussion of how we do it and stop making it a political opportunity for an individual.

I’ve heard the new administration that’s coming in talk about investing in our crumbling infrastructure when it comes to transportation. If that’s the path they want to go down, they’ve got my support, because I think we definitely need to make those investments.

Do you feel like there’s a sense of camaraderie among the women in Congress?

Yes, and I felt it even on the campaign trail. I will tell you, the women have been incredible, both Republicans and Democrats. We’ve already met once, we had the opportunity to have dinner together, have lunch together, talk with one another, share support for one another on issues that we care about. That’s why we need more women in Congress.

What does success look like for your first term?

For me, making sure that I’m focused and committed to bringing back and fighting for people in Nevada. And whether it is passing legislation that benefits the issues that I talked about and the so many wonderful members of our community, or whether it is bringing resources or dollars or grant funding to the betterment of my community, that, for me, is going to be a success.

Along with being able to find my way to the Capitol and back without a staffer escorting me.

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