Marsella Duarte: Making Room at the Table

By Jake Stern Powell

An ideal starting spot for the story of Marsella Duarte’s election as second Vice Chair for the Democratic Party of Bernalillo County may be an otherwise standard, though aptly laborious virtual legislative hearing of the House Labor, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee to discuss HB 20 and HB 37.

These two bills, one of which was later signed into law, mandated paid sick leave to private employees. Due to the importance of such bills, especially during a global pandemic, public comment was extensive.

Duarte, in her role as committee assistant and operating as something akin to a Zoom traffic coordinator, displayed patience, teamwork, and a devotion to helping people as she spent hour after hour, almost six in total, working through the now-too-common videoconferencing frustrations of muting those talking when they shouldn’t, asking silent speakers to unmute themselves, and otherwise keeping the hearing moving to ensure that every single voice among the nearly 200 public commenters was heard.

As anyone who has spent hours in a videoconference can attest, this type of work can be understandably numbing. “I remember after that committee meeting, I had to drive home and I was holding the steering wheel so tight,” Duarte recalled. “Because I was like: That just happened. That six hours just happened.”

It’s easy to see why DPBC Chair Flora Lucero, after watching the hearing in real-time, encouraged Duarte to run for Vice Chair. That encouragement, as well as the life-altering events of 2020 helped Duarte to realize she could be a force for positive change.

“It was the year of reckoning,” she said. “And I thought, ‘What am I going to do to get involved? To help my community?’”

When she explains her priorities as DPBC Vice Chair, it’s easy to connect the dots between Duarte’s work in that legislative hearing and the goal she’s aiming for in her new position: “There’s always something to do. There’s always someone to call,” Duarte says. “I just want everybody to feel like [the DPBC] is an open door. You are welcome because you bring something to the table.”

Of course, tackling the difficulties of virtual conferencing is not the only entry on Duarte’s political resume. To trace her connection to local politics, you’ll need to skip backwards several generations. Her great grandfather, E.D. Trujillo, served as New Mexico’s State Auditor in the 1940s. And her mom, Romaine Serna, made clear the importance of being involved by bringing along a young Duarte to pass out bumper stickers and plastic buttons in support of Bruce King’s 1990 gubernatorial run.

Marsella’s inherited predilection for political action served as the catalyst for years of work trying to bring more people to the Democratic table. Duarte joined the Democratic Women of Bernalillo County in 2005. She caucused in Iowa for Bill Richardson. She contributed to campaigns for local judges and district attorneys, as well as those running for Governor and Senator. This week, on top of her new duties as DPBC Vice Chair, she starts another new role as a field organizer for Melanie Stansbury’s Congressional run.

No matter the role, Duarte looks to build upon the foundation of community outreach created by past and current local Democratic Party leadership. Wherever she’s been, whether it’s on Zoom, in the field, or as a leader, her hope is to bring people together: “I want everyone to feel like they have a seat at the table,” Duarte says. “Everybody’s welcome. It doesn’t matter how old or what color or how you identify, everybody — everybody — has a seat at the table. Everybody can help.”