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Bianca Martinez

Diana Maldonado: Leading in politics, finance, and business

Updated: Jun 21, 2024

Diana Maldonado has worn many hats throughout her career. Starting with her bid in politics as a school board trustee and all the way to the Texas House of Representatives, she’s held office over two decades in the public sector, served many nonprofits, worked in the finance industry and is now a best-selling author, speaker and entrepreneur.  At the center of all her endeavors is her commitment to advancing others.

Diana was born in Lubbock,Texas and moved to Guymon, Oklahoma as a young girl for her father’s job in the meatpacking industry. Her earliest memories of issues surrounding politics and justice was in Oklahoma where her father was involved in union organizing. Despite this, Diana explains that her family did not have many talks about politics in their home. In the family’s short time in Oklahoma, Diana and her family relocated to Eagle Pass, Texas. Her first role model she remembers having was a teacher of hers, Ms. Fowlkes. She remembers the excitement Ms.Fowlkes had when teaching and describes it being at a caliber she never saw before in a teacher. Instead of the traditional setting, she introduced creativity and innovative ways to learn.  She recalls one day in which Ms. Fowlkes was discussing the flaws within the education system with a college and stating that the system did not allow students like Diana to excel. She remembers thinking something was missing from the education system. While she did not know exactly what it was that she and her peers were missing, Diana knew that there was something more for her.  It was in her formative years growing up in a border town that as a teenager, she would conceptualize the gaps in representation and how it affected people.

As an adult Diana moved to Austin, Texas where she would spend 23 years working at the State Comptroller’s office, giving her front row to policy and the political world. It was in Austin where Diana became involved in volunteer work with nonprofits focusing on education. “Education is an agnostic topic where equity can be a level playing field and have led with this as a mutual and inclusive priority”, she says.  In 2002 Diana first ran for office for the Round Rock ISD School Board. A few years later Diana was at a gala when a colleague of hers insisted she should run for office for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives. She was later contacted by Annie’s list, an organization committed to training women to run for office, which helped her kick start her campaign in 2008.  She cites the network she created in Austin through the nonprofit sector as a major support in running for office. Diana ran for the Texas House of Representatives as a Democrat to represent Williamson County which at that time was a historically conservative district. In this win, she made history by being the first person of color and female elected to this seat.  She describes her campaign for the Texas House as being in a whole new league of asking for money when it came to campaign fundraising with the stakes so high and was billed as a combined $ 1 million dollar race.  Diana went on to raise $950,000.00.  “I was not going to nickel and dime this campaign,” she stated.

When she decided to run for a seat in the Texas House, she was the president of Round Rock ISD Board of Trustees and working at the Comptroller’s office. In the midst of running for office, she was questioned at her job about her intention of seeking higher office.  Maldonado describes this time as being stressful and shares the intimidation and bullying tactics she fell victim to while at the Comptroller’s office because it was still in the exploratory phase and as a single parent with a single income, she had to weigh the options very carefully . Soon enough, Diana was subjected to several conversations with executive leadership where her employment status, if she continued to run for office, was questioned. However, Diana had previously ran for office and was serving on the school board, an elected position. So, why was the race for the Texas House an issue? A tenured employee running as a Democrat for the Texas House while working under a Republican comptroller may not have been to the liking of the elected Comptroller but,  Diana was well within her rights to campaign under any party of her choosing. Nevertheless, her campaign would continue and her time at the Controller’s office came to an end shortly after. In the grit of those eighteen months, and with a strong team, Diana cinched a victory to validate the possibilities of having everyday people elected to office. She encourages those running  for office to ask the hard questions up front about money and not to be afraid to ask for it. As a Latina, she was familiar with discussions about money being taboo in the Latino community and believes this was a challenge and an opportunity to break off from the scarcity mindset that influenced her campaign. 

Her time in office came with hardships and tribulations as any job does. Through these times Diana reminded herself she may not win all the time, but that is okay because she does strategize for the long game. Remembering this work was not about her, but rather her community and constituents made the work all worth the while. Diana believes asking for help is a gift and opportunity we do not use enough and advises coming generations to do so. “People do want to help, say thank you and reciprocate,” she says.  After running for office, Diana transitioned into the financial sector where she was a financial advisor at Morgan Stanley. At the time, only 3% of advisors at Morgan Stanley were persons of color. She explains she always gravitated towards fields and endeavors where there was less representation and wanted to be a part of changing this. Diana would then combine her expertise in business with her political experience to create Maldonado Strategies, LLC, a consulting firm advising women across the United States on leading successful campaigns. 

Diana Maldonado is currently the Executive Director of Jolt, a political non profit building the political power of Latinos to ensure our elected officials are working for the interests of everyday people. Diana shares her wisdom in her blog at Home | Maldonado Strategies, is launching an online course to help women to public office and writing her next full book due to release in the Spring of 2025. She shared an anecdote with me behind the story of her blog post, The Next 10 Steps, in which a trip to Patagonia, Chile helped her learn to be comfortable with not having all the answers and to take it slowly – just take the next ten steps. “It really is about taking risks, you have to trust in something higher than you, whether it is God, the universe, there is something bigger than us, you need to trust that to really let it grow, ” says Maldonado.

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