Midterms 2018: Historic Firsts for Women, POC, and LGBT People
Moving into the the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats aimed to take back the House from Republican control. Though Democrats did manage to take back the House, grab 16 governorships, and flip several conservative districts and states blue, the results ultimately fell short of the “blue wave” that many hoped for, as progressive candidates like Beto O’Rourke of Texas and Andrew Gillum of Florida lost against their Trump-endorsed, Republican opponents.
In some instances where Democrats lost, the races were remarkably close. O’Rourke ran against incumbent Ted Cruz in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat on a statewide-ticket in more than 20-years and lost by a mere margin. Similarly, Gillum lost to Ron DeSantis, a man who attached himself to Donald Trump, by less than 60,000 votes. Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is currently within two-percent of her opponent, Brian Kemp. Abrams has not conceded to Kemp, stating that there are still votes to be counted in Democratic majority areas of Georgia. “There's voices that are waiting to be heard,” she said during her results party on Tuesday.
These major races may have been the most visible for Democrats in the midterms, but there were many other Democratic races and initiatives across the US that centered marginalized Americans—and which made history Tuesday night. Over 100 women were sent to Congress this election season—the most congressional seats held by women ever, the Washington Post reports. And most of them are Democrats.
People of color made significant gains as well, including Jahana Hayes, a nationally-recognized teacher who became the first Black woman to represent Connecticut, and Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, who has become the country’s first Latina Democratic Governor. LGBTQ people also made strides in the midterms. Angie Craig became both the first lesbian mom to serve in Congress as well as the first out LGBTQ person to be elected to Congress from Minnesota; and Chris Pappas became New Hampshire’s first openly gay man to be elected to Congress.
Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland Become First Native American Women in Congress
Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland made history in Kansas and New Mexico on Tuesday when they became the first ever Native American women elected to Congress. Davids will serve as US representative for Kansas’ third congressional district, and Haaland as US representative for New Mexico’s first congressional district. Davids, a lesbian woman and member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, is also the first openly LGBTQ person elected to Congress in Kansas.
Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib Become First Muslim Women Elected to Congress
Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib will become the first-ever Muslim women in Congress. Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar won her race for US Representative in Minnesota's 5th congressional district last night, while former Michigan House Representative Rashida Tlaib ran uncontested in her race for US Representative in Michigan's 13th congressional district. Their wins come after two years of increased Islamophobic hate crimes following Donald Trump's election.
The two have made history beyond their religion as well. Omar, a former refugee, will also be the first Somali-American in Congress. Tlaib will be the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress. There have only been two other Muslims in Congress, both men: Rep. Keith Ellison and Rep. André Carson.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Abby Finkenauer Become Youngest Women Elected to Congress
New York’s Democratic Socialist star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Iowan champion of working class families Abby Finkenauer were elected to the US House last night, making them both the youngest women elected to Congress in US history. Ocasio-Cortez and Finkenauer, both 29, ran on progressive platforms and grassroots campaigning. Before their victories, US Representative Elise Stefanik was the youngest woman ever elected to congress at age 30 in 2015.
Ayanna Presley Becomes Massachusetts' First Black Woman Elected to Congress
“I didn’t come here to deliver a victory speech tonight,” said Ayanna Presley last night after she won the US House seat for Massachusetts's 7th congressional district. “When we realize equity, justice, and equality, these rights for everyone, then and only then will I deliver a victory speech.” Presley is the first Black woman elected to Congress in Massachusetts. Endorsed by President Barack Obama, Presley ran a progressive campaign with the support of other politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Jared Polis Becomes the First Openly Gay Governor in US History
Colorado elected Jared Polis last night as the first openly gay governor in the country. During Polis’ acceptance speech, his partner Marlon Reis, who Polis introduced as the state's "first, first man,” was met with applause and cheers. In 2008, seven years before gay marriage was legalized by the Supreme Court, Polis became the first openly gay man to be elected to the House. Polis, who has two young children with Reis, has long been vocal about the struggles he and Reis have faced together as a gay couple in politics. He is also Colorado’s first Jewish governor.
While in college, Polis co-founded American Information Systems (AIS). From there, he founded a number of startups, which he went on to sell for hundreds of millions of dollars. During his time in the US House, Polis was among the 10 richest members of Congress. Today, his networth stands at $387.9 million. His wealth, and subsequent philanthropy, have been noted throughout his campaign.
The First Attempt to Repeal Trans Rights Failed
A Massachusetts ballot initiative called Question 3 asked voters whether they wanted to uphold transgender protections that prohibit discrimination against trans people in public spaces such as restrooms. The ballot initiative is the first legal effort to take away rights that already exist for trans people.
Advocates, like ACLU attorney Chase Strangio, warned that the referendum was “cruel and dangerous,” explaining that a loss would “send a signal to opponents across the country that we are easy, undefended targets.” A significant majority of Massachusetts voters refused to strip trans citizens of their rights—despite a similarly large majority of the vote electing a republican governor.
The fact that Massachusetts voters shot down Question 3 with a lead of more than one million votes, indicates that measures to strip away equality may not be politically viable.
Women Elected as Governors of Maine, South Dakota, and Iowa for the First Time
Former State Attorney General Janet Mills became the first woman to be elected governor in Maine’s history, taking the position from Paul LePage, a man known for “racist remarks” who once sued Mills “after she refused to represent him in various federal cases,” according to Vox. Mills is expected to be a positive change for healthcare in Maine, and “promised to move quickly to expand Medicaid,” according to the Boston Globe.
Republican Kristi Noem, a strong Trump supporter, won against Democrat Billie Sutton in a close race in South Dakota; and Republican Kim Reynolds was elected in Iowa—becoming the first elected women governors in both states. Reynolds has called abortion “murder,” and signed “the most restrictive abortion ban in the US.”
Letitia James Becomes First Black Woman Attorney General in NY
Lawyer, activist, and politician Letitia James will be New York State’s first Black woman attorney general after she won her race in Tuesday’s election. She defeated Rep. Sean Maloney, Zephyr Teachout, and Leecia Eve, and is New York’s first Black attorney general of any gender. At the top of her platform were issues like eliminating cash bail, investigating E-cigarette companies, litigating opioid companies, and protecting New York’s water resources.
Texas Elects its First Latina Congresswomen
Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia became the first Latina women to be elected to Congress in Texas. Escobar, of El Paso, is a former judge who was elected to the former seat of Beto O’Rourke following his departure from the House to run for Texas Senate. When she began her run in 2017, Escobar told the Huffington Post about her love of El Paso, adding “I love our position on the U.S.-Mexico border,” as she explained her desire to fight for immigrants if elected. Escobar is Mexican-American, and as one of the first Latina women to be elected to the House from Texas, she represents a voice for Mexican Americans and other Latinx people are being vilified by the Trump administration.
Garcia, of Houston, previously served in the state legislature. According to the Houston Chronicle, Garcia is a seasoned politician in Houston, and is known for supporting some of the most “vulnerable” Houstonians. In an interview with the Texas Tribune in March, Garcia played down the significance of being a first in Congress, stating, “I never really wanted to be the first. I wanted to be the best." At a victory party on Tuesday, Garcia told the crowd, “We are ready to take the most difficult challenge of our life, which is to go to Washington and stand out against Donald Trump.”