Catherine Cortez Masto, (JD, ’90), won the 2016 Nevada Senate race to replace Senator Harry Reid and became the first woman to serve Nevada as a U.S. Senator and the first Latina elected to the U.S. Senate. But before these two firsts, before she served as Nevada’s Attorney General from 2007-2015, before she served as chief of staff to Nevada Governor Bob Miller, and before she ever practiced law, she was a Gonzaga Law student.
In a new exclusive video for Gonzaga Law, she recalls her law student days fondly: “When you get there, you are part of a community. It’s not pitting one person against another.” Cortez Masto also recalls an environment of camaraderie at Gonzaga Law, “where you could get to know all of your colleagues, and to this day, still have relationships with them.”
“The support network that we provided to one another, not just at Gonzaga but still to this day is important,” she says.
When Cortez Masto graduated from Gonzaga Law, she took a job as an associate in a small law firm with four or five partners. She was the only associate and the only female attorney at the firm. She took a pro bono case for a couple who was trying to save their property. Cortez Masto won the case and attorney and clients parted ways at the courthouse. A few weeks later, the woman came to Cortez Masto’s office and gave her a box of chocolate-covered cherries. And it clicked. Cortez Masto realized that, “fighting for vulnerable people who were looking for somebody to stand up for them” was what was missing in her life.
Suddenly, law firm life seemed less interesting. So she took as job as chief of staff to Governor Bob Miller as his chief of staff. Then she decided to move from behind the scenes and into a visible leadership role and decided to run to Attorney General of Nevada. She won in 2007 and served through 2015. But making the decision to run for office was not an easy one. It required, according to Cortez Masto, an unflinchingly honest assessment of self and motivations. In an earlier interview in Elle, Cortez Masto stated that “[y]ou must do complete analysis of who you are and why you are running. People will ask you, and you need to be able to explain. It’s not easy.”
After her work as Nevada’s Attorney General, Cortez Masto could have found a soft landing in one of Nevada’s large law firms. Instead, she decided to enter the race for the Senate seat that Harry Reid left vacant when he declined to run in 2016. When she won, she became the first woman to serve as Senator from Nevada but she did not realize that she would be the first Latina in the Senate until someone mentioned that fact during the race itself.
As for why she decided to run, to serve her constituents throughout Nevada, Cortez Masto states that, “I know when my dad was discriminated against because he was a Hispanic, somebody opened doors for him, and that's why he opened doors for others. That's what we do as Americans. If we've succeeded then we help others who are still struggling.” Her Gonzaga Law education, and the Gonzaga Law community, taught her how to build relationships and find the common ground with the people around her. “It’s the best education you can get,” she says.