Exactly one year ago today, Americans were heading to the polls to vote for the next president, and surprisingly, it was Donald Trump who emerged victorious. That kicked off what has felt like a year of continually demoralizing headlines — the immigration ban, the hugely-problematic health care plan, the revolving door of White House employees embroiled in scandal, the president's awful responses to Charlottesville, Hurricane Maria, the mass shootings in Las Vegas and Texas, etc., etc. But the results of Tuesday's state elections are a sign that, actually, voters care a lot more about diversity, inclusion, and progress than it might seem. Here are all the historic "firsts" from Tuesday's state election, in case you need your faith in humanity restored.
Across the country, Democrat and Republican candidates have been facing off in a variety of different races. According to CNN, both gubernatorial and legislative seats were up for grabs in New Jersey and Virginia, while in other states, the focus was on local elections, where residents voted for mayors, city council members, and other representatives. These elections don't always attract a ton of national attention, but this year, a number of victorious candidates are making headlines for proving that, despite what the president might think, diversity isn't actually something voters are afraid of.
Virginia's First Openly Transgender Elected Official
In Virginia, Democrat Ralph Northam won the governor's race, but it was actually the battle to represent the state's 13th district in the Virginia House of Delegates that really got people talking. With 54 percent of the vote, 33-year-old former journalist Danica Roem beat out the 13-term incumbent, 73-year-old Republican Robert G. Marshall, according to The Independent, and in doing so, Roem became Virginia's first openly transgender elected official.
At a time when the Trump administration is actively trying to ban transgender individuals from serving in the military, Roem's victory is a pretty big deal. But it's perhaps even more significant given the fact that her opponent is staunchly socially conservative and anti-LGBTQ. Not only did Marshall try to push for an anti-transgender "bathroom bill" in his state, according to The Independent, he's also fought against same-sex marriage rights, and once referred to himself as Virginia's "chief homophobe." During the election, Marshall also refused to actually debate Roem, according to The Washington Post, and continued to refer to her using male pronouns instead of female.
In her victory speech Tuesday night, Roem told her supporters that her win was for "every person who has ever been singled out, who has ever been stigmatized ... [and] who has ever needed someone to stand up for them when they didn't have a voice of their own."
The Country's First Elected Openly Transgender Person Of Color
While Roem's win was definitely historic, she wasn't actually the only transgender candidate to come out on top Tuesday. According to The Hill, former policy aide Andrea Jenkins won a seat on the Minneapolis City Council, making her the first openly transgender person of color to be elected to public office, as well as the first transgender person elected to a major city's governing body, according to The Advocate.
According to The Minneapolis Star Tribune, Jenkins beat out three other candidates to take the Eighth Ward seat, and easily won with more than 70 percent of the votes. Her main campaign priorities? Affordable housing, raising the minimum wage, and addressing the issue of youth violence "as a matter of public health," according to The Advocate.
New Jersey's First Sikh Mayor
Two-term Hoboken City Council member Ravindar Bhalla may have beat out five other candidates in the race for mayor, but it wasn't always easy. According to CBS News, Bhalla, a born-and-raised American citizen who wears a turban and has a beard in keeping with his Sikh faith, had to fight off racial slurs and allegations that he was a terrorist during his campaign. But his resilience paid off: now, Bhalla has become the first ever Sikh mayor in New Jersey, and is one of only a few Sikh individuals to become mayor of a major city in the United States, according to The Washington Post.
Bhalla's win has understandably been big for members of the Sikh community, both in New Jersey, and throughout the country. The Sikh Coalition's Simran Jeet Singh told the The Washington Post Bhalla's victory was a "huge development" for the Sikh community, which he says has "felt largely ignored and neglected." And on Twitter following the news of Bhalla's win, Singh wrote about how much the outcome meant to him personally, writing, "I can't tell you how much it means that my daughter will have civic heroes who look like her father. I'm crying right now."
Charlotte, N.C.'s First Female African-American Mayor
On Tuesday, Democrat Vi Lyles became the first African-American woman to be elected mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina. According to CBS News, the 30-year local government veteran began serving on the city council in 2013, and in October, Lyles beat out incumbent Jennifer Roberts in the Democratic primary to become the mayoral candidate. At the polls, she went up against City Council member Kenny Smith, and enjoyed a pretty impressive victory, winning 58 percent of the vote.
Following her win, Lyles told her supporters that their votes said a lot about the values of people in the city. According to The Charlotte Observer, Lyles said,
With this opportunity you’ve given me, you’ve proven that we are a city of opportunity and inclusiveness. You’ve proven that a woman whose father didn’t graduate from high school can become this city’s first female African-American mayor.
Seattle's First Openly Lesbian Mayor
Though the votes hadn't been officially counted by late Tuesday night, Jenny Durkan became the projected winner in the Seattle mayoral race, with 61 percent of the vote, according to The Seattle Times. The win makes Durkan Seattle's first openly lesbian mayor — in 2009, she also became the nation's first openly gay US Attorney, according to CNN. And, she also became the city's first female mayor in 92 years.
According to CBS News, the Seattle election also had the uncommon distinction of being a race between two female candidates. Durkan went up against urban planner Cary Moon in the polls, though Durkan's well-funded campaign, along with her endorsements from local politicians, business groups and labor unions are thought to have helped give her an edge. As mayor, Durkan has promised to focus on the issues of homelessness, transit, and police reform, according to The Seattle Times.
In addition to these notable wins, other cities held history-making elections, too. In Virginia, Kathy Tran became the first Asian-American woman to be elected to the House of Delegates, according to CNN, and in Provo, Utah, Michelle Kaufusi became the city's first-ever female mayor. Melvin Carter III will become St. Paul, Minnesota's first mayor of color, according to The Star-Tribune, and according to NBC News, Elizabeth Guzmán and Hala Ayala also made history in Virginia when they became the first Latinas to ever be elected to the House of Delegates. In other words, it was a pretty remarkable night — not just for the Democratic Party, but for all the minority candidates, many of whom not only won, but did so with impressive margins.
For many Americans, the results of the presidential election honestly made Nov. 9, 2016 a pretty difficult day. And while the repercussions of that election are still having a huge influence of government policy, hopefully Nov. 8, 2017 can be a reminder that the values of inclusion and respect and acceptance still matter to voters, and that there are still plenty of reasons to remain optimistic about the future.
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