The “New America?”
There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear . . .
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs . . .
Everybody look what's going down
While Democrats are cheering Tuesday’s election results around the country, we should consider who won and how they won to not only appreciate the victory but to carefully plan how to win in 2018 and 2020. If we survey the landscape of the winners, across the country, we may get some insight into what made Tuesday so successful for the Democrats.
Virginia was the big story, of course. Not only because of Ralph (could I be more Bland?) Northam’s substantial (9%) victory over Ed (I’ll do anything to win!) Gillespie. As in New Jersey, a Black lieutenant governor was elected (only the second time in Virginia history), and the Democrats won the Attorney General position as well. But it was the Virginia House of Delegates that became the big story. Entering Tuesday’s election, the Republicans held a 66-34 advantage in the Virginia House. As reported in the Huffinton Post (Daniel Marans, November 8, 2017):
But the more stunning news came down ballot in the Virginia House of Delegates, where Democrats flipped 16 Republican seats ― nearly seizing control of the chamber.
The final results are in flux. In five races, the victor won by a margin of 1 percentage point or less, which is the threshold for a candidate to request a recount. Democrats won two of those races, while Republicans won three.
If the current count of 16 Democratic pickups sticks ― an effective 32-seat swing ― the parties would be tied 50-50 in the House, prompting an unusual power-sharing arrangement in which they divide committee chairmanships and other key posts.
This was not only “stunning news” because of the number of “upsets” but also because of who was elected in Virginia. The “big” story, of course, was the election of Danica Roem, a transgender candidate, over Bob Marshall, a 26-year incumbent who self-identified as Virginia’s “Chief Homophobe,” introduced a “bathroom bill” last year, and insisted on using the pronoun “he” when referring to Ms. Roem. Fending off attacks from “Bigot Bob,” Roem pushed a program focusing on improving Route 28 and expanding Medicare to defeat her opponent. Elizabeth Guzman and Hala Ayala are the first Latinas elected to the Virginia House. Ayala, who quit her job in cybersecurity with the Coast Guard to run (after attending the Women’s March last January), is a single mother who was impressed by “lines at polls on Tuesday (that) were the most racially and ethnically diverse” (NY Times, Nov. 8, 2017) she had ever seen. And that was the case across the board. As the Huffington Post noted:
They were teachers, lawyers, techies, veterans, civil servants and at least one former TV news anchor; they were black, white, Latino and Asian; they were cisgender and transgender; and they hailed from all corners of the state, rural, suburban and urban alike.
In the end, 11 more Democratic women were elected to House seats, bringing the total number of House Democratic women to 23, or nearly half.
And that was the theme we saw across the country. Minneapolis saw a black transgender activist, Andrea Jenkins, elected to the City Council. Hoboken, New Jersey, right next to Jersey City, where “President” Trump claimed he saw “thousands of Muslims cheering” on 9/11, elected a Sikh mayor, Ravi Ballah, turban and all. In other mayoral elections, the citizens of Topeka, Kansas, elected Michelle De La Isla, a woman born in New York and raised in Puerto Rico who went to Wichita State University. De La Isla is a single mother who had been “homeless at 17 and pregnant at 19” (NY times, Nov. 8, 2017) and had worked for Habitat for Humanity in Topeka who won a City Council seat four years ago. Seattle elected its first openly lesbian mayor, Jenny Durkan, whose family has been involved in Washington State politics for decades (her father ran for Governor twice) is a former Obama appointed U.S. attorney and a specialist in cybercrime, who has promised two years of free community college for Seattle high school graduates (a la Bernie). And in Helena, Montana, the voters chose their first Black mayor since 1873. Wilmot Collins was inspired by the negative remarks about refugees being criminals & terrorists he saw on Facebook. Mr. Collins arrived from Liberia in 1994 and unseated 16-year incumbent, James E. Smith. According to the NY Times, Mr. Collins “said that some of his major platform planks included providing funding for essential services like the fire and police departments, and creating more affordable housing in part because of the large populations of homeless veterans and teenagers in Helena. Mr. Collins, who is married with two adult children, came to the United States after fleeing the civil war in Liberia. He works for the state as a child protection investigator and has been a member of the Navy Reserve for two decades."
Finally, closer to home here in the New York metropolitan area, two Republican bastions --- Westchester and Nassau Counties --- bounced their County Executives in favor of Democrats! As noted in the New York Times (Lisa W. Foderaro, Nov. 8, 2017):
Many Democrats said they decided to get involved at the local level as the best strategy of resisting the Trump presidency. That movement helped overcome decades of history: In each county, only two Democrats have held the office of county executive since the 1930s.
So, while much of Tuesday’s Democratic victory can be attributed to the resistance to the Trump presidency, it should be noted that mobilizing diverse groups of local people, particularly women, while promoting issues that are important --- roads, housing, funding police and fire departments --- issues that used to be called “kitchen table” issues --- are at the core of the successful Democratic campaigns.
And that’s the lesson that needs to be named if the Democrats hope to be successful with a New America agenda for 2018 and 2020.