CONCORD, N.H. — A woman who moved to the US from Afghanistan has been elected to New Hampshire’s 400-member House of Representatives, making her the first former refugee to win a seat in the state Legislature.
Safiya Wazir, a Democrat from Concord, beat Republican Dennis Soucy on Tuesday. She defeated a four-term incumbent in September’s Democratic primary.
Wazir was 6 when her family fled the Taliban in 1997, and she spent 10 years in Uzbekistan before moving to Concord. She started high school at age 16, studying the dictionary at night and working jobs at Walmart and Goodwill.
She became a U.S. citizen in 2013, and earned a business degree from Concord’s community college. She and her husband have two daughters and another baby due in January.
Wazir serves on the board of a social services agency and volunteers with Head Start.
Ray Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said after Wazir defeated incumbent Democrat Dick Patten in the September primary that she represented an important generational, gender, and ethnic shift in the district.
Buckley said Wazir’s voice would be particularly significant for the state’s growing refugee community, who can now turn to someone with “experiences and challenges like them.”
He called her win “very exciting news” and said she ran a “real campaign” while Patten “misunderstood the mood of the electorate this year and believed he could win without making a significant effort.”
Wazir said she never considered running for office until earlier this year, when a friend who works for the New Hampshire Children’s Trust suggested she consider challenging Patten.
The Children’s Trust had given Wazir an “Unsung Hero Award” in February, in recognition of her involvement with Head Start, where she has served on the policy council, parent committee, and State Parent Advisory Committee. But Wazir said she didn’t immediately see herself as a candidate.
“When she said that, I was blown away,” Wazir said. “I was like, can I really do that?”
Wazir launched her candidacy in June, after a crucial endorsement from her mother, who promised to watch her children while she campaigned, and told her: “You’ve got this. Go for it.”
Despite nausea during the first trimester of her pregnancy, and 90-degree heat, she knocked on doors across the Heights neighborhood of Concord, returning home so heat-stricken she said she “looked like a tomato.”
“I had no negative things said about me,” Wazir said. “People would open their doors and welcome me, and talk to me for 10, 15 minutes. That was warming for me.”
She campaigned on a promise to fight for expanded Medicaid coverage, increased funding for early childhood education, and paid parental leave, issues that resonate with her own life story as a young mother raising a growing family.