On election night, hours after we learned we had lost our race for Senate in Texas, I tucked my 12-year-old son, Ulysses, into bed. He asked me a tough question: Had the past two years, which he described as the hardest of his life, all been for nothing?
In 2016, as Beto and I watched Donald Trump win the election, it was abundantly clear that we could not sit on the sidelines and accept the trajectory of our country, allowing fear, incivility, and lies to prevail. We wanted to be a part of something bold, aspirational, and inclusive. With only the guidance of close friends and family, we seized the moment, and Beto jumped into the race for the U.S. Senate in Texas.
The next two years were tough. With Beto in D.C. or driving to all corners of Texas, I would be a single parent for most of that time. The solitude was draining. Apart from the logistical headache of our children’s busy schedules, I felt overwhelmed by the emotional roller coaster they went through — the sadness of not seeing their dad, questioning why he would rather be campaigning than at home with his family, and the fear of how the election’s outcome would impact their lives. I felt constantly torn between being there for our kids at home and wanting to be with Beto on the road, meeting the people I had heard so much about, and experiencing this moment with him.
Over the course of the campaign, there were moments so surreal that we had to pinch ourselves, some that I feared would become fleeting memories. But there were many more moments that proved to me it was all worthwhile.
During one swing through West Texas, we had an event at the Concho Pearl Ice House in San Angelo. Midcentury, a great band that I still listen to, played before Beto took the stage. As I helped to sell T-shirts, a woman approached me, saying that she had ordered a Beto shirt six months prior but was afraid to wear it outside her house. She assumed she was the only Beto supporter in San Angelo. When she came out that night and saw the line outside the door and hundreds of people crammed inside, she was nearly in tears. She realized she was not alone. That was a turning point for me in the campaign.
After each event, a line would form of people who wanted to meet Beto and take their picture with him. I am not one who enjoys being at the center of things and would often hang to the side. Nonetheless, there were always those who would seek me out to thank me for supporting Beto. They would thank us for showing up, often sharing that before us, no statewide candidates ever came to town. I met countless people who said it was the first political event they had ever attended, the first political contribution they had ever made. I met people who had finally decided to become U.S. citizens so that they could vote for Beto. I met many newly engaged citizens, including new voters and many new political candidates, especially women, who had decided to run for office. I could feel that something was resonating. People could feel the power in the way we were running the campaign — throwing the traditional playbook out the window, as Beto says. I could feel that together we were all redefining politics in Texas.
In Houston, I met a young woman named Monique at a Texas Organizing Project event. She was a working mother of three whose husband had just been sent to jail for 45 years. As she described the case, it sounded like so many other cases we hear about in our broken criminal justice system. Rather than sit back and accept the injustice, she knew that ultimately the fate of her husband, and others like him, lay in the hands of her elected officials. She had been knocking on doors for months, hoping not just to change her family’s circumstances but also to prevent similar injustices for other families. Soon after the election, Monique reached out to me, thanking me for the hard-fought race and for the help it provided in local elections. Nineteen African-American women had won judicial races in Harris County. Hopefully, Monique’s example is just the start of Texans reclaiming their voice and power in their own communities.
Closer to the end of the campaign, at an event in Dallas, I saw one our “Beto Ambassadors” who had been a champion for us since the beginning. She pulled me aside and said she wanted to share her story. She had postpartum depression following the birth of her last child 10 years before, something from which she had never fully recovered. Through the encouragement of her therapist to get involved in the community, she found herself at a Beto event, and she said it changed her life. She started volunteering, formed friendships, and found a new sense of purpose. On election night, she joined us in El Paso. I feared that our loss would cause those who invested so much to lose hope. But as we greeted our supporters, she hugged me, crying, and said that for her it was the start to so much more. She was one of the many women who had made the campaign their life. They wanted to do more, be leaders and innovators in their own communities. And even though for Beto and me, our race is run, they will continue to charge ahead — organizing and inspiring others in their own right.
In the days that followed the campaign, as we tried to lay low in El Paso, people stopped us everywhere we went, still wanting pictures and thanking us for putting El Paso on the map. People said they were proud to be from El Paso. Proud that we all ran such a positive campaign. El Paso has given us so much, so if there is even a sliver of truth in those statements, the strain of the past two years was more than worth it for us.
While Ulysses, Molly, and Henry may not yet appreciate all of this, I have a treasure chest full of personal testimonies and pictures from people across Texas that are beautiful accounts of how the campaign touched all of our lives. My hope is that as I continue to share these moments with our kids, they will see that even though we lost the election, this was the best possible way we could have spent the past two years.