As It Happens

Meet the former refugee, 27, who beat a veteran incumbent in a Democratic primary

Safiya Wazir dealt a crushing defeat to veteran New Hampshire lawmaker Dick Patten, who complained she was "treated like a princess" because she's from Afghanistan.

Safiya Wazir, pregnant mother of 2, wallops N.H. state rep who railed against immigrants 'getting everything'

This Aug. 31, 2018, photo shows Safiya Wazir and her daughters Aaliyah, 2, and Mahwash outside their home in Concord, N.H. (Geoff Forester/the Concord Monitor via AP )

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Not only did 27-year-old Safiya Wazir beat veteran state representative Dick Patten in the Concord, N.H., Democratic primary race on Tuesday — she crushed him 329 to 143.

Wazir, a former Afghan refugee who fled with her parents to the U.S. as a teenager, beat out 66-year-old Patten, a four-term incumbent who has questioned his opponent's qualifications and complained about immigrants "getting everything."

In an interview with the Boston Globe about the election, Patten decried the changing demographics of the neighbourhood in which he was born and raised, saying: "She's from Afghanistan so she was treated like the princess."

He vowed to support Republican Dennis Soucy in the November election because he and his wife have lived in the neighbourhood "for over 50 years."

But Wazir — who has lived in Concord for 11 years since she was 16 — has dismissed Patten's comments, saying that New Hampshire is her home would govern for everyone.

She spoke with As It Happens guest host Helen Mann about about her unexpected victory. Here is part of their conversation. 

How did you first react when you found out that you had won this primary?

I was blinking and I said, "Is this really happening?"

Your opponent, a man named Dick Patten, he's held the seat for four terms. You know, pretty much a regular fixture in local politics. How do you think, given that, that you managed to beat him?

I believe in, you know, having the right message and being able to present the younger people and the working families and the seniors the message that I was giving out to the people. 

And that's how I believe I won the primary.

There must have been a lot of door knocking on your part.

Being pregnant with the first trimester and going out with the 90 degree heat, I have done a lot of door knocking with my volunteer, Paula.

We would go out for hours and knock on doors and talk to the voters and, you know, bringing the message out and asking the question: what they are concerned about? 

Wazir, a 27-year-old refugee from Afghanistan, reacts Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, from Concord, N.H., after learning she defeated four-term incumbent State Rep. Dick Patten in the Democratic primary for New Hampshire's District 17 state representative seat. (Caitlin Andrews/the Concord Monitor via AP)

What is the core of your message? 

It doesn't matter if you're native born [or] refugees. ... We are in a state that has democracy and freedom, and you should need to advocate and stand up for yourself.

Mr. Patten, your opponent, has not exactly taken his defeat graciously. He responded to your victory by saying that you were "treated like a princess" because you were from Afghanistan originally and because so many immigrants have moved into the district. What goes through your mind when you hear something like that?

On the day that you become a U.S. citizen, you have the responsibility to contribute and pitch in to the community and serve to make things better. And I believe in that.

This Patten, the opponent you had in this, he's also singled you out for having two children, being pregnant with another, throughout the whole campaign. What is it like for someone like you who is, you know, a newcomer to politics, to face these kinds of personal attacks?

I don't take him personally. I just want to say that women are capable of doing things.

It's OK that I have two young children. And I'm pregnant, but that does not hold me back from knocking doors and going out.

What message do you think other Afghan Americans will be thinking about your win?

Hopefully, the younger people will take advantage of the freedom and democracy that we have in the United States —  that they can join in if they feel that something needs to be changed.

When you first arrived in the U.S., did you envision a future in politics?

I have never thought about it, no. When I came to the United States, I was 16 and a half years old. And mainly I was focusing to do a better life and, you know, helping my parents and working and going to school. 

Wazir says being a pregnant mom does not hinder her ability to represent the people of New Hampshire. (Geoff Forester/the Concord Monitor via AP)

What do your parents think of where you are now?

They're proud of me. They always wish that we had more women and younger people to step up and run.

We're seeing a lot of sort of non-establishment Democrats winning primaries. Why do you think people are turning towards candidates like you?

America has this opportunity that's given to all the citizens that you can do things, that realistically you can be heard. That's the beauty of America. And I think everybody should take advantage of this. And I'm glad that people [are] actually stepping in and they are taking advantage of this.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Produced by Donya Ziaee. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.


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