BY THE HILL STAFF – 06/15/17 06:00 AM EDT
Rep. Nanette Barragán
There’s a sure way to light a fire under Rep. Nanette Barragán: Just tell her she can’t get what she’s after.
The freshman California Democrat has fought against the tide — not to mention her own party establishment — to squeak out long-shot victories in local elections and, most recently, November’s hard-fought contest to replace former Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.), who retired after last year.
Barragán’s opponent was a veteran state senator endorsed by Hahn, California’s governor and the Democratic Party. But the 40-year-old Barragán has embraced the role of underdog and taps it as a driving force. It’s a formula, she says, informed by her life.
“It was somebody always telling you, ‘You can’t do that because,’ she said. “ ‘You can’t do something because your parents are immigrants, or because they have no money, or because my mom had a third-grade education.’
“It was the story of my life, beating the odds.”
The youngest of 11 children, Barragán was raised in Los Angeles County by working-class parents who immigrated from Mexico and benefited from public assistance programs — a childhood experience that led her into public service.
Barragán put herself through law school at UCLA, and after stints with the Clinton White House, the NAACP — and then nearly a decade as “a big-firm lawyer,” in her words — she moved to Florida in 2012 to work on the Obama campaign.
“That was really the linchpin moment,” she said, “because when I got back I said, ‘What can I do locally to give back and to get involved?’ ”
The answer was to become the first Hispanic woman ever elected to the Hermosa Beach City Council. Last year, she was the only new Latina to join the House.
“I always tell young women, especially young Latinas, ‘Don’t let anybody tell you you can’t do something. Use it as a motivator to work harder,’ ” Barragán said.
— Mike Lillis