Teresa Leger Fernandez, a public interest attorney from New Mexico, has won the race to represent the state’s Third Congressional District. In her campaign, she vowed to use the knowledge she’s acquired working on behalf of Native tribes and rural New Mexicans to Washington, D.C.
“To represent my district you need to know not only its beauty but also its poverty and its promise,” Leger Fernandez told The Appeal. “I’ve done this work for the last 30 years and know its promise and know that federal policy has a great impact. Everything we love is under attack, and I’m wanting to protect what we love.”
As COVID-19 continues to ravage the U.S., Leger Fernandez is committed to passing legislation that would help communities protect themselves against the disease and eventually rebuild. COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Natives: They, along with Alaskan Natives, have been diagnosed with the diseases at 3.5 times the rate of non-Hispanic white people, according to a report released in August.
Leger Fernandez, whose district includes Navajo Nation and several Pueblo reservations, wants to pass universal healthcare so that people don’t have to have copayments and high deductibles for doctor visits. She also wants to decrease the prices of prescription drugs.
”The community is suffering because we don’t have an adequate healthcare system,” she said. Improving healthcare is personal to Leger Fernandez—she is a breast cancer survivor and has lost family members to cancer. “I’m the only one alive right now because I had insurance and had it diagnosed early,” she said.
Along with healthcare, she wants to improve infrastructure in tribal and rural communities so there’s access to health clinics, broadband internet, and childcare. The dearth of these services has long been a problem and was further highlighted by the pandemic, she said. “We don’t want to build it back to what we were before because that was unequal. We need to imagine where we want to be and start funding towards that.”
After a convincing victory against seven candidates in the primary, Leger Fernandez handedly won the race for Ben Ray Luján’s open seat against Republican Alexis Johnson in the strongly Democratic district. She won endorsements from a long list of politicians and organizations including Joe Biden, the Sierra Club, and Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which champions her platform for reproductive freedom.
In Congress, Leger Fernandez said she wants to abolish the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits using federal funds to pay for abortions unless it is to save the life of a woman or the pregnancy is the result of incest or rape, and increase funding for reproductive healthcare organizations such as Planned Parenthood. “I want to make sure every woman has access … regardless of how much money you have” she said. Her platform also includes support for a Green New Deal and extending the DREAM Act to immigrants’ families so they can stay together.
In January, Leger Fernandez will be part of New Mexico’s all-female House of Representatives delegation. She said her experience living and working in the community she hopes to represent will equip her with the tools to be effective in the Capitol. “When you build something you understand where the roadblocks are, where the difficulties are. We want a politics of opportunity, we want to protect what we love, and we want our beloved community to thrive.”