Ruby Resendez embraces the concept of community service and the many ways a person can give back to his or her neighborhood or hometown. For Resendez, that just happens to be running for what soon will be a vacant seat representing San Antonio in the Texas Legislature.
That District 116 seat is currently held by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, who is challenging fellow Democrat and former friend Sen. José Menéndez in the March 1 Democratic primary. It's an all or nothing bet for Martinez Fischer, who will lose his senior position in the Texas House in pursuit of the Senate seat once held by Leticia Van De Putte. Martinez Fischer lost to Menéndez in a special election earlier this year, which makes his second run against the incumbent a closely-watched grudge match.
Resendez, 40 years old, is making her first run for elected office. What makes her candidacy so interesting is that she and 20 other San Antonio women recently graduated from a young leadership program designed to produce candidates for public office.
Resendez was in the inaugural class of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's Latina Leadership Institute. The Carrizo Springs native and small business owner came out of the program so inspired by guest speakers, mentors and fellow participants that she became one of three announced candidates running for the vacant House seat. Resendez is the first Latina Leadership Institute graduate to run for public office.
She will face Diana Arevalo and Martin Golando in the March Democratic primary. Whoever wins the primary, or a runoff if no one prevails in the first round, will be unopposed in the November general election. Resendez's last bid for office was in grade school when she ran for student body treasury, but the Latina Leadership program gave her confidence and a belief she is ready for the challenge, and the work if elected.
Resendez, the managing partner with the Cilantro Creative graphic design agency, entered the program to become a more effective business leader and to deepen her community involvement. For three years, she had presided over the San Antonio LGBT Chamber of Commerce.
Before the opportunity to enroll in the Hispanic Chamber's new program came along, Resendez signed up for a women's leadership program at Yale University. The one-week course attracted 80 women, only five of whom were Latinas, and left a lot to be desired, Resendez said.
The Hispanic Chamber's more comprehensive six-month program is designed to build leadership skills, community knowledge and personal confidence. Resendez was one of 20 chosen out of an applicant pool twice that number.
"I was really excited about the concept of a Latina leadership program. I have always thought we should have more Latinas running for office," Resendez said.
Participants met for a full day once a month. The program featured a wide variety of professional Hispanic women, of different ages and educational experiences.While individuals were building networks and benefitting from regular access to proven leaders, the Hispanic Chamber's goalwas to start producing graduates ready to assume leadership positions themselves, including some who would pursue elected office.
There are 25 million Latinas in the United States, yet by 2014 only 109 had held any of the 8,200 seats in national and state political office. Women hold 79 of the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, but only nine of the women are Latinas.
"I met women from different backgrounds -- graphic design, communications, lawyers -- if it weren't for this, we all probably would've never met each other," Resendez said.
According to Chamber CEO & President Ramiro Cavazos, the idea for a Latina leadership training program came from three local Latinas notable in business and politics: former State Senator and ex-mayoral candidate Leticia Van de Putte, former Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade, and Sonya Medina-Williams, businesswoman and former adviser to President George W. Bush.
Those three women -- one Democrat and two Republicans -- helped to form a 10-member steering committee that assisted with the institute's organization, programming and applicant review. The steering committee included Rosie Castro, mother of U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro and Housing and Urban Affairs Secretary and former Mayor Julián Castro; H-E-B executive Erica Prosper (wife of District 8 City Councilman Ron Nirenberg); political consultant Norma Denham; and Maria Elena Torralva-Alonso, former director of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center.
The program itself is a nonprofit and non-partisan and does not endorse candidates. Cavazos said he was pleased with the caliber of program speakers who spent time with the class of 20 Latinas.
Advertising executive and political consultant Lionel Sosa, Councilmembers Shirley Gonzales (D5) and Rebecca Viagran (D3), State Rep. Ina Minjarez (District 124), and Irene Rios, former County court at law judge, were among those who met with the class.
"The idea was to bring in the best of the best to encourage and train these ladies to run for public office," Cavazos said. Participants learned the basics of organizing and running a campaign, and even volunteered political fundraisers.
"They learned how to win and how to lose, how to do canvassing, polling and research. They learned a lot that they now can apply," said Cavazos.
"It really activated me, teaching me all the ways I can serve my community," said Resendez. "I could then mentor younger Latinas, motivate them."
Martinez Fischer's announcement to challenge Menéndez for his Senate seat spark Resendez's decision to try to take his place in the Texas House.
"I knew he was leaving a vacuum of strong leadership in the Texas State House. I decided to run because I'm the best person to fill that void," she added.
Resendez will formally launch her campaign in early January, and start to share her positions on the issues.
The Hispanic Chamber will invite a second round of applications in January, with interviews and selections taking place in the Spring, and the new class meeting in late May or early June.
*Top Image: Ruby Resendez for TXHD116. Courtesy photo.