To many, Melissa Hurtado is an energetic American politician serving in the California State Senate. While this is true, Senator Hurtado’s background and upbringing reveal how she came to be the determined, persevering female legislator representing California’s 14th Senate district.
Melissa Hurtado knows firsthand what it means to achieve the American dream. She was born to two immigrant parents just 13 miles from Fresno, California, in a city named Sanger. While many immigrants come to the United States in pursuit of the American Dream, Hurtado’s parents moved to Sanger specifically to achieve what she refers to as the “Central Valley Dream.” Although the nature of the two dreams are homogeneous, Hurtado’s parents saw more opportunity in California’s Central Valley, reassuring themselves that Sanger would be where they would officially start laying the foundation for their family’s economic and personal growth. Little did they know that not only would their decision to immigrate afford them the opportunity to take the first step on the American economic ladder, but their future daughter would grow up to make her mark in the California State Legislature, representing Sanger and surrounding areas.
After earning her degree from California State University, Sacramento, Hurtado returned to the Central Valley as the first in her family to graduate from college. Employing the tenacity her father instilled in her, her mother’s innate perseverance and her own passion for prosperity within her community, Hurtado worked as a community organizer for public employees fighting for fair wages, healthcare coverage and retirement security. With a flair for advocacy, she transitioned from a community organizer to a Sanger city councilmember in 2016. Championing some of the same issues as her previous role, Hurtado’s efforts intensified. As a councilmember, she assisted in the creation of high-wage jobs, balanced a budget and built a reserve—all without tax hikes.
Hurtado was a driving force in implementing change that improved the lives of the Sanger community, and she wanted to build on that momentum by taking her advocacy efforts to a state level. In 2018, she ran a campaign that advocated for access to healthcare, quality schools, good-paying jobs and the opportunity for a better life and was successfully elected to the California State Senate to represent the 14th Senate District.
Recently, Hurtado shared few takeaways from her experience thus far with Western Grower & Shipper. First, she quickly learned that it is virtually impossible to accomplish everything in your first year in office, especially alone. Her first year of work also highlighted the importance of agriculture and the agriculture economy to her district and the nation.
“Anytime there is any type of request or proposal, I always ask, ‘How does this impact my Senate district’,” she stated. Senator Hurtado recognizes and understands the needs of her constituents and relentlessly strives to accommodate those needs. “I want what my district wants. My district wants jobs, they want healthcare, and they want water.”
California’s 14th Senate District is heavily populated with key agricultural production areas, including parts of Fresno, Kern and Tulare counties and all of Kings County. As a product of her hometown, agriculture has had an undeniable impact on Hurtado since her childhood. Representing such a heavy ag district now, she has a special relationship and an evolving perspective of agriculture.
In light of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, issues surrounding agricultural essentials, such as water, are top priority now more than ever. Hurtado and her aides have been speaking with locals to address issues as they arise; collaborating with city officials to secure additional beds and resources; and working with Governor Gavin Newsom to secure funding to mitigate the spread of the virus.
More specifically, as the pandemic continues to plague the world, Hurtado is focused on catering to the needs of growers in her district so they can continue growing the safe and nutritious fruits, vegetables and nuts that feed the world. The senator maintains an open line of communication with growers and ranchers in the district, providing them with a way to address their grievances.
Prior to COVID-19, Senator Hurtado and some of her colleagues were spearheading awareness efforts regarding California’s water supply—as seen through California Senate Bill 559 (SB 559), a bipartisan bill seeking to address the failing infrastructure of the Friant-Kern Canal. Despite the pandemic, she continues to strategize ways to secure funding for SB 559 to ensure that growers have the water supply necessary to feed the world.
The virus has made it hard for anyone to find downtime, especially politicians. But when she does manage to find leisure time, Senator Hurtado prefers to spend it hiking or reading a book.
With her first term underway, Senator Hurtado has plenty of time in the California State Senate. However, when it ends and she has completed her service, the one thing she hopes people remember about her is her determination. She wants her legacy to reflect her caring spirit.
“I want to be remembered as someone who cares about everybody, from producers to workers. I want to be remembered as someone fair,” said Hurtado. “I want to make sure that when I leave office, our local economy is strong and that our families have access to good jobs and quality education and healthcare. I want our community to be well.”