Saudi-born Woman's 3rd Run For California Assembly
Saudi-Born Woman Prepares Third Run for California Assembly
In a heavily Republican district, Democrat Ferial Masry has lost her race for the California 37th Assembly district seat twice. Yet, "I never feel like a loser," Masry told USINFO. "I'm always a winner."
Masry, a Saudi-born woman who immigrated to the United States in 1979, believes her races always have been about more than winning the votes of those living in her Ventura district, northwest of Los Angeles.
"Democracy is about the process," Masry said, "it is not about the seat."
Masry became involved in politics when her son was deployed to Iraq in the beginning of the war. In 2004, she became more involved in the Democratic Party, and one month before that year's primary election, the party recruited her to run.
Running as a Democrat in a heavily Republican district with only $147 in her campaign budget was challenging. But if that was not enough, Masry had to win a write-in campaign to represent the party because it missed a deadline for getting her name on the ballot. She needed 1,200 write-in votes to get on the general election ballot. She succeeded, getting about 3,700 votes. Rarely do write-in candidates win in California.
With the Republican candidate strongly favored to win, few in Masry's district paid close attention to her primary victory. But surprising to Masry, many overseas were watching the race. After the primary, media came from all over the world to learn more about Masry, who believes she is the first Saudi woman to run for political office.
Many of the reporters to whom Masry talked were skeptical that Americans would vote for a relatively unknown Saudi woman with an accent. As she campaigned door to door, Masry invited the media to follow her and witness American democracy.
The international attention made Masry realize that her campaign was an opportunity to spread a message about American democracy. On the campaign trail, she told people that "voting for me shows the diversity, the acceptance of America."
And though she did not win the 2004 race, Masry made what was supposed to be an easy Republican victory a race worth watching. Afterward, she visited Saudi Arabia and discussed her experience. She was surprised when a group of Saudi men told her, "You're a hero to all of us. ... You changed our perception of America."
Masry faced the same Republican candidate in 2006, again with little financial support, and, despite earning some major newspaper endorsements, she lost by 8 percent.
Masry now is trying for a third time to win the seat. A high school history and government teacher, Masry said she feels that her candidacy sends a message. Her campaigns "teach people that, really, democracy is hard work."
"To me losing is when you don't do the right thing," Masry said. "What I wanted to do, what I achieved and what I learned ... is so wonderful. I am satisfied with it."
"I can run and run because I feel like you teach people that you have to really fight for democracy," she said, "we have to fight for the process."