Aileen Rizo – the Fresno County educator who became the winning face of the equal pay movement – has her eyes set on a bigger target: The state Assembly.
The married mother of three daughters is challenging three-term, Republican incumbent Jim Patterson in the 23rd Assembly District. Rizo, a one-time Republican, is running as a Democrat.
Her equal pay for women battle intertwines with her debut as a candidate.
“I saw him (Patterson) vote no on some things. I wanted him to be my advocate,” said Rizo, who grew up in Arizona and moved to California in 2009 after landing a consulting job with the Fresno County Office of Education.
Rizo, an adjunct professor at Fresno Pacific University, is no longer with the Fresno County Office of Education.
“The more I learned, the more I was disappointed,” she said.
Rizo has left the campaign trail in the last three weeks for appearances on NBC’s ‘Today Show,’ CNN, NPR and other national media interviews after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in her favor last month in her 2012 lawsuit claiming she was being paid $13,000 less than a newly hired male colleague with the same job title but with less education and experience.
The 43-year-old Rizo, however, faces a steep challenge in her political race in a district that is 40.7 percent Republican and 33.9 percent Democrat. Latinos account for 23.9 percent of the voting age residents in a district that takes in Clovis, a portion of the city Fresno and stretches eastward to the Sierra Mountains.
Rizo wants to represent the voices of the district residents on the Assembly floor.
“I know first hand what it’s like not to be listened to,” said Rizo. “My equal pay took six years, so staying the course, be collaborative, listen to other people, and see what ideas we have to share.”
Rizo’s experience in Arizona with the immigration issue caused her to switch to the Democratic Party.
She was an Arizona middle school math teacher who saw a drastic drop in immigrant student enrollment due to former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s controversial profiling of Latino residents.
“They (students) were fearful. We need to treat people humanely,” said Rizo. “I do respect the leadership of those who have safe cities.”
Rizo isn’t relying on the notoriety gained since an 11-judge panel in San Francisco decided in her favor at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to fuel her campaign.
The county office based Rizo’s salary on her prior employment in Arizona. It did allow 5 percent from previous salaries added to all new hires. The court disagreed, calling the procedure discriminatory and defies the federal Equal Pay Act.
Rizo said she hopes the FCOE and superintendent Jim Yovino will not seek an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I don’t want to see more tax dollars put in to this fight,” she said.
If elected, Rizo said she wants to represent teachers’ and make sure their considerations are heard.
“All the teachers in my district; as an educator, I completely support them, I know that most teachers are women. Forty percent of households depend on women’s paychecks, education and economic security,” she said. “When I was a teacher, we even had to use sick leave (for time away from work).”
Rizo taught high school and middle school in Arizona. She graduated from Northern Arizona University and Fresno Pacific University.
She lives in Fresno with her husband, John Elias Acosta.
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: aileenrizo.com