A race for the North Carolina State House of Representatives two counties away from Sanford that was decided by a handful of votes is reverberating in Lee County.

On Election Day, Democrat Ricky Hurtado became the next representative for Alamance County’s 63rd House District by a margin of just 395 votes. Hurtado, a 31 year old instructor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, defeated a four-term incumbent to become the first Latino Democrat to serve in the North Carolina General Assembly.

Hurtado’s story resonates locally because, while he was born in Los Angeles to parents who’d recently fled a civil war in El Salvador, he moved to Sanford at age 7 and graduated from Lee County High School in 2007. He will join Rep. John Sauls (R), whose district includes all of Lee County, and Rep. Robert Reives II (D), a Sanford native who represents Chatham and a portion of Durham County, as state House members with ties to Sanford.

“Together, we spent 16 months building this campaign from the ground up. Together, we knocked on doors, made phone calls, and created a community that believed we could build a better future for North Carolina,” Hurtado wrote on his campaign Facebook page on Election night. “Thank you for your support, your time, your energy, and your vote. I look forward to representing our community as we work towards a future where we all have our voice heard and our needs met.”

Hurtado couldn’t be reached to comment for this story, but Lee County Schools’ digital digest Inspired featured his work as the director of UNC’s Scholars Latino Initiative in 2016.

“Sanford and Lee County have very much influenced me and who I am,” Hurtado said at the time. “Coming from an immigrant family, a low income family, I didn’t have all of the information and didn’t realize what my opportunities were as far as college. And my family maybe didn’t have the answers on how to pay for college, but my neighbors and the community certainly did, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.”

In the same story, one of Hurtado’s teachers at Lee Senior recalled Hurtado being one of a group of “really special kids.”

“In fact, those of us that are still at LCHS that were also here during Ricky’s time still fondly recall the class of 2007,” math instructor Matt DeCerbo said at the time. “I have told Ricky this story, but it is one that I tell often because I think it speaks to his humble nature. When a group of teachers were called together to discuss which students should be nominated for the Morehead and Park scholarships, Ricky’s name was not originally mentioned. Finally, I very quietly suggested Ricky, and the entire room was almost embarrassed at the thought of not including him in the conversation.”

Hurtado went on to win that scholarship, likely an event that played a large part in paving the way to his 2020 election victory. And while he’s got a big job ahead of him representing residents of northeast Alamance County, comments he’s made subsequent to the election show he’s already looking to be a leader for people across the whole state.

“It’s way past time when we think about the million-plus Latino residents in North Carolina. I think it speaks to the need for greater representation in North Carolina,” he told ABC11 TV on Nov. 18.