In 1989, when Lisa Sanchez was a student at Boise State University, she walked into a conference room at the Student Union Building to attend a planning meeting for an upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration. When she stepped inside the room, she saw she was surrounded by a group of white men in suits, and that triggered what she calls a "never-ending stream of political activism." In November 2017, Sanchez was elected to the Boise City Council, defeating four challengers and becoming the first Latina elected to city government in Boise.
Did you feel any different when you were officially sworn in earlier this month?
I can honestly say that I felt wrapped up in the arms of Boise in 2017. I'm a single person and we tend not to want to impose on those around us.
The very nature of running for public office wouldn't allow you to do that.
You're right. It was the total opposite. It requires that you engage in your community in a way that can be quite humbling. My own story was very painful. I lost my home at the height of the recession. I had to file for bankruptcy. I sold my blood for cash at the plasma bank. I remember looking around and thinking, "It's not just me." I saw people dressed professionally, on their way to work, but they needed cash, too. I couldn't pay for food or my mortgage. I even had to dumpster-dive. The idea of the "working poor" is a very real thing. We're not the people you see on the street. Luckily for me, I had a group of friends who didn't care if I was someone sleeping under a bridge or a city councilwoman. They saw that I was worth investing in. What I learned from all of that was to cultivate compassion and empathy.
I want to ask about a piece of wood I saw you carry around during your campaign and when you were sworn into office. Is that a rolling pin?
It's what my grandmother would call a palote. It began as the handle of a garden hoe, but when the handle broke, my grandfather cut it down and smoothed it out [into] a rolling pin. I bring it with me everywhere. This stick is the reason why I'm here. It symbolizes so much for me: the humility and blessings that continue to overwhelm me.
One of the biggest issues the council will be dealing with this year is transportation—particularly, the growing need for a thriving public transit system.
I bought my first car in 1997. I drove it into the ground—194,000 miles—and it died last summer. I thought I could do without a car, but I could barely make it one week without a vehicle. I can't tell you how many people I spoke to during the campaign who said they had tried to rely on the bus, but they couldn't. It was an eye-opening experience. We're going to have to see some improvements sooner than later, and I don't think the city is ignoring the issue. Plus, we have to see improvements because of how fast our city is developing.
Speaking of which, there's a debate right now in Boise about what constitutes so-called "affordable" housing.
I love the fact that our citizens are not quiet people. I truly believe they're going to be a big part of helping to shape what our community will look like. Look, I was once arrested at an Add the Words protest at the Statehouse. Protest has its place. Yes, throwing bricks is sometimes important, but then you also have to build with those bricks, and I think members of our community are passionate about making a difference. Once you know how the system works, perhaps you can start changing the system.