Women Making History: Councilwoman Tessa Abeyta Stuve
Tessa Abeyta Stuve hasn’t had the most traditional path to elected office. The Las Cruces, New Mexico councilwoman is the first person in her family to receive a college degree. She had to pause her education at New Mexico State University (NMSU) when she and her husband found out that they were having twins — Elliot and Luca, who were born prematurely when Abeyta Stuve was 23 years old — but was able to finish her degree about a year and a half later.
Now, 12 years later, Abeyta Stuve is about 60 days into her work as the first female member of this city council to ever serve with school-aged children. The mom of three says her priorities are informed by her life as a parent and the challenges she’s had since becoming a mom.
At the time of her pregnancy, Abeyta Stuve was a waitress, but she had a high-risk pregnancy, coupled with a preexisting congenital heart disease, and had to quit. When Elliot and Luca were born, the new mom looked for entry-level clerical work, but nothing paid enough to support childcare. The new mother and her husband, who worked nights as a nurse, decided that she would stay home with the babies.
“It was really disheartening to not find a job right away,” Abeyta Stuve told Supermajority News. “Becoming a parent is a heavy responsibility, and I wanted to make sure that I was providing for [my kids]. What I did learn during this process is that value is a subjective term, and my initial bias was that my value to them depended on that earning potential.”
Still, as a full-time caretaker, Abeyta Stuve continued to do advocacy work in her community, mostly in her church. In 2017, one of Abeyta Stuve’s friends, Rachel Courtney, a local artist who was involved in local politics, called her up after learning about her political drive and asked her to run for council.
When Abeyta Stuve got that call, she said she didn’t know the first thing about running a political campaign. At NMSU, she studied government and was a member of the Associated Students of the New Mexico State University, but she felt professional politics were outside of her skill set.
“Before I asked the community to invest in me, I needed to make sure I was invested in the community,” she told Supermajority News.
Six months later, she applied for EMERGE New Mexico, an organization that helps women prepare to run for office. She started putting in hours lobbying for a child advocacy center and the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs.
“Our advocacy centers provide a hub center to allow our children to not be traumatized further by retelling their abuse to separate agencies,” she said of her work then. “These centers can also refer children to mental health services if needed so that we can help mitigate the adverse childhood experiences that they have faced. We need to believe survivors, and make sure that our communities feel safe to report abuse.”
While doing this work, she heard the city councilor in her district was stepping down to run for mayor.
“There’s never a perfect time to run, a perfect time to have kids or a perfect time for anything. I said, ‘The worst I can do is lose, and that’s not a problem,’” Abeyta Stuve said.
The campaign became a family effort. Elliot and Luca, now 11, joined their mom on canvassing trips, as did their little sister, Persephone (Penny), now six. While much of this experience was positive and educational for her kids, Abeyta Stuve said there were some challenges, too. One time while canvassing, one of Abeyta Stuve’s sons talked to a man, “and the conversation quickly turned to something very sexist, racist,” she recalls. Afterward, he asked to go home. “I said, ‘No, what happens if we go home? [We can] end with that type of conversation, or we can go talk to other people and have other types of conversations,’” said Abeyta Stuve.
After these tense interactions, Abeyta Stuve says she always tried to debrief with her kids about the kind of behavior they should exhibit. Her sons, who are going into middle school next year, will no doubt encounter some language and behavior that is not acceptable at home, but as long as they know how they should conduct themselves, she said, she’s a proud mom.
With two kids in the throes of tweenhood, the New Mexico native has a lot of work cut out for her at home, but she also has some ambitious plans for her work on city council — work in many ways informed by her experience as a mother. One major goal is to have more community members in attendance at community city council meetings by changing their timing. Right now, the meetings are at 1 p.m. on Mondays, which is when parents like her have to start thinking about elementary school pick-up at 2:30. On top of that, she added, most employers aren’t going to let their employees off to attend a city council meeting. Abeyta Stuve, one of four women on the council, wants to see families engaged in the issues that affect them.
“Part of the question is what happens during summertime,” she said. “I’d love to get a city council meeting this summer that is geared toward kids and families. I’d love for it to be interactive so kids can participate, and I want it to be a real meeting.”
She also remembers her twin sister giving birth to her now 14-year-old niece and having to go back to work as a server two weeks later. Abeyta Stuve sat in her sister’s section at the restaurant where she worked, because the baby was too young to be away from her mother. She said New Mexico families come up against challenges like her sister did all of the time.
“Our subsidies, reimbursements for child care providers have not adjusted with the wage increase, so now some families that used to qualify, now do not,” she said. “Even with the increases in the minimum wage, childcare still costs more than some families can afford.”
As a mother who is still the primary caregiver for her children—her father moved to Las Cruces to help out—Abeyta Stuve thinks about the resources that parents of young children need. She told Supermajority News that she’d like to see some sort of childcare facility for the city that allows parents to obtain affordable, quality care.
The mother of three is also aware that she lives in a multi-ethnic area that is vulnerable to GOP messaging, especially when it comes to women’s health legislation in the state, which upheld its “dormant criminal ban” on abortion last year.
With this in mind, now more than ever, Abeyta Stuve said she recognizes the importance of not only voting but of “voting your conscience.” Her own election last year was decided by a little more than 200 votes, a margin, the city councilor said, that, in the context of the city’s voter turnout, was actually quite big — in some rural areas, margins can be as small as five or ten votes — but was still crucial.
When it comes to winning votes and working toward the issues she cares about, Abeyta Stuve relies on the motto she uses at home with her kids: “Be a good human and make the world a better place.” She added, “When I make decisions on the council, I’ll be treating everybody with respect, and I’ll make sure I’ll be inclusive of communities that aren’t normally represented and look at those experiences, because they’re valid, and they’re necessary.”