Veronia Carbajal: Virtually running for office
Although she never imagined she’d follow her great-grandfather’s footsteps (he was a mayor of a rural Mexican town), Veronica Carbajal is running for Mayor of El Paso. And, even in the face of a pandemic, Veronica has not slowed down. She is running her campaign virtually, continuing to develop policy and taking interviews online. In a way, Veronica is somewhat relieved. She is taking this time to physically recoup while still keeping herself busy with 10+ hour virtual days as a Texas RioGrande Legal Aid attorney and mayoral candidate. Alongside other candidates across the nation, Veronica is virtually running for office.
Veronica was born in El Paso but lived in Ciudad Juarez, El Paso’s sister city in Mexico. She was raised in a multigenerational family, her household including her mother and grandparents. As the only child to a single mother, Veronica knew her family struggled every day to maintain stability. However, Veronica vividly remembers the poverty that surrounded her in Juarez—evidenced by children who didn’t attend school but instead sold newspapers or trinkets on the roadside. Her grandparents spoke openly with Veronica about poverty, among many other issues.
In fact, Veronica’s first role model was her grandmother because of her ability to listen and provide unfettered advice to others. Veronica remembers speaking with her grandmother about tough topics like poverty or suicide. People sought out her grandmother for advice because of the safe space she created. This influenced Veronica to become a sounding board for her community, leading to a life dedicated to social justice. Her family supported her this decision.
Veronica recalled a story about a girl in El Paso who sent shockwaves through the community in the early 1990s. This girl was accepted into Ivy League programs but, at her parent ’s wishes, decided to stay in El Paso. Veronica’s mother never wanted to clip Veronica’s wings. When Veronica finished high school, she decided to attend (and eventually graduate from) Brown University. She went on to graduate from the University of Texas Law School. Though she dreamt of a career that did not pay much, her family never discouraged her from achieving her goals.
She wanted to directly serve her community “in the trenches,” so to speak. So, Veronica quickly accepted a position with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, a legal service provider in Texas that provides attorneys to clients free of charge. After receiving a promotion last Spring, Veronica transitioned back into more community development cases. She soon realized that many of the issues she focused on—like environmental justice and discrimination—were hard-fought before a court but could be won in the political arena with the right leadership. This was the moment Veronica realized she was going to run for office.
This is the first election for 4 city council seats and the Mayor that will be held in November instead of May, due to a charter amendment. Veronica held her launch party in December of 2019, on a Sunday in a family-friend setting because she wanted to reach people who typically do not attend political events. The event came after a difficult season for El Pasoans including the mass shooting in August 2019 and the death of Veronica’s first campaign treasurer and mentor, Enrique Moreno, a renowned trial lawyer.
Veronica describes herself as a fronteriza (a term used to describe people living near the border), abogada (“lawyer” in Spanish), and ambientalista (“environmentalist” in Spanish). Her largest platform issues include, but are not limited to, climate change, affordable housing, and measured development. When discussing climate change, Veronica honmed in on the fact that El Paso is a desert community with diminishing drinkable water. “We are one of the sunniest and hottest cities in Texas, and the country,” she said. Her platform plans to institute safe climate reform practices to limit water scarcity and air pollution in the city. With regard to affordable housing, she noted that El Paso has the second highest property tax rate in the country—folks are going into debt, like tax loans, just so they can pay their taxes. Finally, with regard to measured development, Veronica hopes to curb massive urban sprawl. She notes that development into the dessert is harming the community.
Additionally, Veronica hopes to increase transparency in El Paso’s local government. She notes that El Paso has gone over the city’s set budget on frivolous projects. Specifically, El Paso received statewide notice after the city government voted to build a sports arena on top of the Durangito neighborhood, a historic Chicano community with low income and elderly residents facing eminent domain issues. Activists in El Paso have stood in solidarity against the demolition of Durangito, including our recent feature Anahí Ponce. Veronica believes that the city government should be transparent about the interests instead of trying to build the sports arena under the guise of an “arts” project. Transparency is critical to Veronica’s campaign because of the massive financial burden these projects place on community members. “People are being pushed into predatory financing products to pay the property taxes that are being used to finance these projects,” she said.
With an expansive platform fit for El Paso, Veronica continues to develop policy from home in the face of COVID-19. Though people are becoming restless in quarantine, Veronica is somewhat relieved to have a break from running from one event to another after a full day of work. Many people running for office have shared their passion to create policy without the exhausting experience that is being a candidate. Being a candidate pushes folks—like Veronica—out of their comfort zone if they are not extroverted by nature. There are incredible policymakers who never win elections because they may be more introverted than others, struggling with the demands of social events and social media on the campaign trail. Veronica is facing her discomfort head on and transforming what it means to be a candidate in a virtual era. Veronica find support and guidance in her faith and her campaign staff. She leans in on others to guide her. In fact, Veronica heavily relies on the support of other women. While there is a societal misconception that women do not support other women, Veronica is always able to count on them. Importantly, Veronica reminds herself that running for office is not for her but rather for her community. To learn more about Veronica’s campaign, please visit www.veroformayor.com/.