Vanna Howard, the First Khmer Woman Elected to the U.S. State Representative

By Soben Pin | Facebook/Twitter@SobenPin

Lowell, MA — September 1st, 2020, a storm occurred in the Facebook community after the primary victory of the first ever Khmer woman, Vanna Howard, for U.S. State Representative. Flooded with congratulations, many believe she will represent the 17th district of the Massachusetts at “an epic level”.

Vanna Howard poses infront of Cambodian Refugee Monument at Lowell City Hall, which she chaired the fundraising campaign in 2017. Photo by Soben Pin.

Jennifer Myers: “Woo hoo! Congratulation to my friend and Public Matters classmate (PM ’13 the BEST class) Vanna Howard on her win in the 17th Middlesex State Rep race. Can’t wait to see and work with you on Beacon Hill in January! She’s an incredible woman who will represent the district an an epic level”.

The Community Teamwork posted “Vanna has always worked hard to serve her community and is a great role model representing strength, integrity, honor and respect. We are so happy for you and for Lowell”

Mill City Grows shared “Congratulations to our inspiring new State Representative, Vanna Howard! Vanna brings her passion and dedication to our Mill City Grows Board, and she will no doubt do the same in her new capacity as State Rep for the 17th Middlesex District. Thank you, Vanna, for all you bring to Lowell and for your commitment to justice, diversity, and equality in our community!”

“I am very proud of our team. We ran a very positive campaign”, said Vanna. Her campaign never attacked her opponent despite the incumbent facing 28-counts of federal indictments. In her thank you note the day after her victory, Vanna released a statement saying “I also want to recognize my opponents in this race and the many residents who worked so hard to support them. David Nangle has served this district for 22 years and I want to thank him for his years of pubic service. Lisa Arnold was also a first time candidate and brought fresh ideas and energy to the race. I respect and appreciate both of their contributions and look forward to working together as we head towards November’s general election.”

Many political observers said “this is a classy act, it showed her years in politics Vanna knows how to get things done and do it best in a way that we have never seen it before. We’re proud of her”.

Vanna added in the statement “in the middle of a pandemic, we gained support. We gained volunteers – with over a hundred amazing supporters from all over the district pounding the pavement, making phone calls, and collaborating with me on strategy and policy over video calls and email. We built amazing momentum right up to and through election day. This is a hard fought victory, and I am so glad to share it with you.”

Vanna also extended her thanks to individuals who had publicly endorsed her candidacy, including former Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, Councilor Vesna Nuon, Councilor Jon Drinkwater, Lura Smith, Brian Martin, Jim Wilde, Cathy Mercado, Francey Slater, Zelma Khadar, Bobby Tugbiyele, in addition to various unions and community organizations.

Vanna came to the United States in early 1980s as a child refugee. As for her Khmer, Vanna said during an interview that “unfortunately as we tried to learn English and adapt our new life, we lost our language in the process”.  Vanna lost 4 family members to the Khmer Rouge Regime, a past that still brings terrible memories. However, becoming part of American fabric of life by working and serving the community gave her motivation. Serving the people’s social, economic needs as well as learning how to work with the justice system early in her career at the District Attorney’s office gave her inspiration to continue. She later learned the art of politics and how to be innovative by working collaboratively with state and local governments, such as with Congresswoman Niki Tsongas for over 10 years.

Heading into November 3rd general election, Vanna is challenged by a write-in candidate, Martin Burke. It is unlikely for any write-in candidate to win over a party nominee who won the primary election. Vanna Howard will be swearing in as first Khmer woman in the United States to serve as State Representative.