Bay Area lawmaker won’t be bullied out of office
State Sen. Aisha Wahab on the California Senate floor. Photo courtesy of Aisha Wahab's office.

    In her first six months in office, state Sen. Aisha Wahab has faced critiques for pro-worker, anti-discrimination bills and even a recall committee—but said she still hasn’t hit her stride.

    Last November, Wahab became the first Muslim, Afghan American elected to the state Legislature and jumped right into the work, authoring 10 bills since her election—eight being bipartisan. She represents District 10, which includes Hayward, Union City, Newark, Fremont, Milpitas and parts of San Jose, Santa Clara and Sunnyvale. She previously served on the Hayward City Council and brought her personal experience in the foster care system to her work as a councilmember.

    “Our bill package is incredibly robust, it is meaningful, it is tackling so many different issues. It’s not fluff issues,” Wahab told San José Spotlight.

    In February, Wahab introduced Senate Bill 461, which allows employees to take paid days off for religious observance or cultural holidays. The bill passed unanimously in the state Senate and is now waiting on a vote in the Assembly.

    She authored Senate Bill 403, which bans discrimination based on caste status. That bill passed 39-1 and is now in the Assembly’s hands. Opponents of the bill said it’s based on unsubstantiated claims and promotes racist tropes.

    Wahab’s first few months in office haven’t come without backlash. In May, a Republican-led recall committee alleged Wahab wasn’t fit for her job. She said the most surprising moment was when her colleagues claimed she didn’t belong in the state Senate, and questioned what she ate and wore.

    While Wahab found that “jarring,” she won’t be bullied out of office, she told San José Spotlight.

    “When people are so strongly opposed to you, it’s because they are afraid of the work you’re doing,” she said. “They are afraid of the voice that you have to be able to elevate people’s issues.”

    Alicia Lawrence, Wahab’s communications director, said she first met the lawmaker while working on the housing crisis in Hayward. She followed Wahab to the Senate because Lawrence saw an authentic person.

    “I know a lot of people come to the Legislature because they want to have a life in the Legislature or they want to have a career in politics. I really came here to work for her because I see her commitment to people,” Lawrence told San José Spotlight. “There’s a thing that she likes to remind us of: that we have this opportunity in front of us that so many people would absolutely love to have. We should really take that opportunity and do something with it.”

    Since the election, Wahab and her team are learning each day and often joke that working for the state Senate is a “roller coaster ride.” She is often the first one in the office and the last one out, Wahab said, as she settles into her role.

    “I feel like I am a sponge right now,” she said. “I’m trying to absorb and learn as much as possible.”

    As her political career advances, Wahab, who heads the Public Safety Committee, wants to focus on substance use in California and the housing crisis.

    “We’re trying to talk to as many people, help as many people on so many different issues and this is exactly what I wanted,” she said.

    Contact Annalise Freimarck at [email protected] or follow @annalise_ellen on Twitter.

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