Nika Elugardo is an attorney, a former aide to local state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, and a former director of a nonprofit that provides financial education and other resources to those wanting to achieve financial stability and build wealth. She is looking to unseat longtime state Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez. The two candidates will face-off in the Democratic primary on Sept. 4 and the winner will effectively be the next representative as there will be no challengers in the general election in November. The Gazette recently conducted a question-and-answer session with Elugardo about the campaign and about the issues facing Jamaica Plain and the state. For more information about her, visit electnika.com. (The session has been edited.)
Q.: Why are you running for the 15th Suffolk District seat?
A.: I am running to help build a progressive coalition for lasting change in the Massachusetts House. Our current federal administration began on inauguration day to dismantle every advance in justice made in this generation. I looked to my state for an answer and found none.
While California stood up on climate and Vermont held ground on immigration, the Massachusetts legislature (specifically the MA House of Representatives) has responded with no more than generalized rhetoric, “killed” bills, and tiny baby steps on progressive issues where serious reform is needed, even on issues on which our constituents agree, such as climate change and restorative justice. I was encouraged by several state and city elected officials, as well as by justice advocates from all four neighborhoods in my district, to consider running for state representative to help address the leadership void in our state House of Representatives.
I learned that our current rep has consistently disappointed the progressive constituents and advocates of the 15th Suffolk. For far too long the progressive values of social change in my diverse district have not been reflected in our representation at the State House, despite strong leadership on the Senate side.
I am a proven progressive leader with experience in legislative drafting, coalition building, and negotiating. I value the genius, passion, and experience of our constituents, and I will not wait for permission from House leadership to fight for what our constituents know is right, including fully funded public education, affordable housing justly defined, affordable and equitable health care for all, climate readiness, and the rights of all to thrive, especially our black, immigrant, and LGBTQ+ communities.
To ensure that our public policy is bold, smart, fair, and equitable, I will rely on our community residents—with special outreach to the most marginalized—to share their insights and views to inform my advocacy.
My training and experience in systems thinking and in organizing movements uniquely equips me to work with representatives from other districts to push the needle toward justice. This is especially true now, when the Senate has created windows of opportunity on so many progressive legislative priorities.
Q.: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing Jamaica Plain and Mission Hill and how do you plan to address them if elected?
A.: The top five district priorities of my campaign are:
- Single-payer healthcare, eliminating disparities and controlling costs
- Quality and fully funded education for all, from pre-K through higher education, including trade apprenticeships and boot camps
- Safe, affordable housing for all, including reducing displacement, protecting tenants, and empowering cooperative ownership
- Criminal justice reform, including increased funding for restorative justice
- Environmental justice, including climate preparedness and getting to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.
I plan to address them in collaboration with local community partners and residents, side by side.
Q.: What do you view as the most pressing issues for the state and what will you do to help fix them?
A.: The three issues I view as most pressing are quality and relevant education for all, accessible and comprehensive health care for all, and safe, affordable housing for all. These priorities stem from my commitment to permanently closing the race- and gender-based wealth gaps. Each of these areas are impacted by structural racism, intergenerational poverty, and persistent sexism. On the other hand, each of these areas can benefit from tested policy that has been shown to reduce long-term disparities.
A comprehensive legislative plan for social justice must include these three policy issues at its core to sustain a long-term effect. I have a policy agenda that makes connections between and among issues. I know that we can provide access to educational opportunities that fulfill students’ potential and provide opportunities to rewarding, economically sustaining career paths. Without quality health care and adequate housing, even the best education and workforce development efforts will fall flat. Social justice in other essential issue areas, such as immigration, issues of public transportation and mobility, and the environment, are leveraged by progress in our top three.
As a champion of single-payer, Medicare for All healthcare reform, I am proud that Mass-Care (Massachusetts Campaign for Single-Payer Health Care) and their board—composed of leaders from organizations including Mass Alliance, Mass Nurses Association, AFL-CIO, SEIU and others—recently voted to endorse my candidacy.
We need a change on Beacon Hill. We need to change what we do, how we do it, and how we measure our results. We require comprehensive legislative solutions with ongoing monitoring and assessment. At BU Law I trained on this type of legislative development under renowned thinkers on evidence-based legislation. It is my work with them as a student and as a faculty fellow that ultimately brought me to work at the State House as Senior Policy Advisor to Sonia Chang-Díaz. My work experience; my training as a lawyer and policy leader, including formal education (B.S. from MIT in Urban Planning, MPP from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and J.D. from Boston University Law School with externships in tax law, human rights, and corporate social responsibility); my progressive values; and my passion for our District position me to be an effective leader on Beacon Hill.
Q.: What makes you a better candidate to serve as the representative for the 15th Suffolk District than your opponent?
A.: First, I will take the lead on helping legislation pass, while my opponent will wait and see. I am a bold leader who will champion legislation even if it is unpopular with power players. My opponent will not champion the current justice-oriented legislation. He will wait until it has a ton of support and then jump on the bandwagon. My opponent did not proactively support these bills before he was in leadership, and he isn’t supporting them now as a member of House leadership. I will push for change now. My opponent is comfortable waiting for the winds to blow in his favor.
Second, I want to lobby other reps and their districts to support progressive legislation, mobilizing my constituents and supporters to help. There is a need for progressive organizing from inside the House, not just outside. My opponent believes that progressive change is out of his hands and that it is up to the constituents alone to rally the troops. For instance, one of our constituents, having to track down my opponent on the State House stairs, asked my opponent to get behind a common-sense climate change issue. His response was typical of him and of other pretend progressives: “There’s nothing I can do. You have to call your friends in Trump-voting districts and ask them to lobby their legislators.” It shouldn’t only be the constituents’ job to lobby for and champion change. It should be the job of every legislator. My opponent doesn’t agree with me on this.
Third, as I have done in every job I’ve had, I will stand up to leadership and to anyone else who is in the way of justice for our constituents. My opponent goes along to get along. He takes his cues from the Speaker, who takes his cues from moderate and conservative reps and corporate interests. He will not oppose the Speaker. Furthermore, I believe it is broadly known in the State House that my opponent was among the first Democrats to throw his vote and influence behind conservative Representative Mariano’s soon-to-be winning bid for Speaker. This means that our district’s progressive losses promise to be greater next session than in this one if my opponent remains in leadership. By contrast, I take my cues from my district and the progressive values we share. I will not sway based on the Speaker’s interests, especially where those are out of line with justice.
Finally, I am accessible and eager to set up infrastructure to respond to all my constituents. I work for them. I covet their critiques as well as their creative solutions. My opponent is inaccessible to most constituents, refusing to meet with people and even becoming hostile when challenged. He doesn’t seem to want to be held accountable, even for his votes or lack thereof. My constituents will never have to accost me on the stairway to get a meeting or lobby me to do justice. We will spend our time not deciding whether to do just policy but rather lobbying the best ideas and smartest systemic approaches to get it done and to make change that lasts. As I have always worked and helped others to work, we will do this collaboratively, engaging all stakeholders who want a place at the proverbial table. I will also continue to work hard with groups including MassEquality, Mass Alliance, and Our Revolution to organize other districts to replace moderate legislators with systems-minded champions who love, respect the leadership of, and fight for all our communities.
Q.: What is your favorite aspect of Jamaica Plain? Mission Hill?
My favorite aspect of Jamaica Plain and Mission Hill, and all four neighborhoods in my district really, is my neighbors. Along with our close neighboring communities, we have the one of the most progressive and impressive districts in the Commonwealth when it comes to issues of justice and to leading change movements. This is a place where I can truly speak out on issues ranging from racism to transparency to integrity to environmental justice, and my neighbors of every creed and background will forcefully have my back. And I have theirs too. I am inspired every day by the genius, passion, generosity, and experiences of my neighbors; it’s what inspired me to run in the first place. From Buy Nothing Jamaica Plain to Wake Up the Earth to City Life/Vida Urbana, my neighbors are giving more than they take. They’re fighting for justice and standing up for others. I’ve lived in various parts of the district for 15 years, including Mission Hill for about 5 years before we got priced out of our rent and moved back to JP, which was cheaper then. For more than 15 years, my neighbors and friends here have taught me every step of the way how to create a more just society and live out justice, not just talk about it—and how we do it together.
Q.: Anything else you would like to add?
A.: I am running to champion the progressive justice values of our district in the House of Representatives. The Senate has made major gains passing progressive legislation in education, immigration, and public health, but these have not been reflected in the House.
Last session, Progressive Mass Scorecard rated seven representatives out of 160 at an A or A-. The current 15th Suffolk Representative got a B-. Since getting a promotion he’s now at a C+.
We need progressive champions in the House. You’ll have my vote, and my cosponsorship, on every progressive bill.
We’ll start with education for all. Health care for all. Housing for all. There is active Senate legislation on all these issues that requires a champion in the House. I will be that champion. I will represent our values with the fearsomeness and data-driven experience I have learned from community leaders and advocates. You will never have to lobby me.