Home-grown public servant advocates for the Central Valley
Last updated 7/3/2023 at 5pm | View PDF
In 2018, Melissa Hurtado, against all odds, became the youngest woman ever elected to the California State Senate. She is known as a thoughtful policymaker who works across party lines to improve residents' quality of life and ensure rural voices are heard at all levels of government.
Hurtado is the daughter of hard-working immigrants, born and raised in the Central Valley.
"This Valley is what I am. The struggles, my upbringing, all have played a role and continue to play a role in who I am and what my values are," she said in a recent interview
Her work focuses on rural community issues that often go unheard in the State Capital, mainly access to clean air and water, food insecurity, inequities in environmental policies, agriculture and access to health care in rural communities.
Hurtado said she entered politics because of poverty.
"It's a vicious cycle. In the Central Valley, we know that poverty does not discriminate. The economic recession of 2008 was felt across the nation, and it was especially difficult for our communities," she said.
"When communities across the nation began to recover, our communities were still struggling. I have always had a passion for public service and have wanted to approach positive change through policy and create opportunities for people."
Hurtado enjoys working as a senator.
"I love my job. The people of Senate District 16 have given me the honor of a lifetime, and every day I am thankful to have the opportunity to serve our communities."
She said being a state senator comes with some challenges -- "like in my first year, I ran a bill to help prevent teen suicides, and that bill was held in the Assembly Appropriations for no apparent reason. I was upset, to say the least."
"There was another time I carried a piece of legislation to extend restraining orders for victims of sexual assault - that bill died in the first hearing. I walked out of the hearing room and cried for about two hours."
Hurtado shared that there is, at times, an emotional toll behind her work.
"Because these bills represent the stories, the heartbreaks, the challenges that our neighbors, our loved ones, and community all have to overcome, and it should never have to be difficult to try and create positive change."
Those experiences have made her a stronger advocate for the region.
"They have taught me that when one door closes, another one opens. And sometimes, you just have to go open another door."
She represents close to a million people, which is more than what a member of Congress represents.
"Our district size is large enough to fit multiple states in it. While I may at times not remember every name or every face that lives in our district, I remember every story and every celebration of victory."
Hurtado added, "Every story and every victory reminds me of why I love my job, while giving me the courage and wisdom to continue the work on behalf of our region."
She said she is most proud of playing a key role in SB200.
"By securing millions of dollars every year for safe drinking water projects for our region and beyond. And for securing the funds to fix conveyance projects in the Valley like the Friant Kern Canal that is vitally important to communities in Kern County."
"Also, funding for public safety infrastructure for our region. These accomplishments I am most proud of because they represent the most challenging to secure."
Hurtado said her work is rewarding.
"Both personally and professionally, the opportunity to be of service and improve the quality of life through legislative victories that serve this state, the nation and the world through its agricultural work is one of the most rewarding aspects of this work."
She also said she loves to learn, and she learns something new every day. And she seems to make history almost every day.
"During my time in the Senate, with every committee I have chaired, I am the youngest person to serve in that capacity, meaning this year, I am the youngest chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture in state history. I am also the first Latina to chair this position in the Senate, too."
Among the issues she cares most about is the environment.
"Climate disasters are impacting us in ways we do not see or do not consider. That is why my niche or area of expertise in the California State Senate includes protecting our water, our farms, and overall our food system."
"Famine or food scarcity is not just an issue in some foreign far away country, we too risk this, and we first saw a glimpse during the pandemic when grocery stores had empty shelves."
She has bright hopes for the future.
"More and better economic opportunities for every walk of life in the food and energy sector in our region."
"This means, I want to secure the Central Valley's role as the breadbasket of California, and the US, by educating the rest of California, my peers in the legislature, and folks outside our state about the outsized role the Central Valley plays."