One year ago, Donald J. Trump defeated Hillary Clinton with a slim Electoral College victory in the 2016 presidential election. That in and of itself was devastating for progressives, but to make matters worse, Democrats failed to reclaim either chamber of Congress, lost two governorships – three if you include West Virginia Governor Jim Justice’s eventual switch to the GOP – and witnessed the Republicans pick up four trifectas, bringing their total up to 26. Having experienced six years of losses at every level of government, it was an astoundingly demoralizing day for Democrats.
But just one year later, with the Republican Party more powerful than ever, progressives pulled off an electoral success of shocking proportions, even for those who went into election day hopeful.
After eight years of Chris Christie, Democrats finally retook the New Jersey governorship, with Democrat Phil Murphy crushing Christie’s Lieutenant Governor, Kim Guadagno, by almost 13 points. For reference, Christie won his first gubernatorial term with only 48.5% of the vote.
Murphy’s win is particularly significant because it brings Democrats another trifecta, likely ending the gridlock that has occurred between the Republican governor and Democratic state legislature. Come Christie’s departure in January, Democrats should finally be able to pass a slew of progressive reforms that have been rejected by Christie, including raising the minimum wage to $15, legalizing marijuana, and instituting strong gun control laws.
Democrats gained another trifecta in Washington, with Manka Dhingra giving them a one-seat edge in the State Senate. This victory is essential, as it means that Democrats now have a chance to move forward on their ambitious legislative agenda, which aims to address voting rights, campaign finance law, reproductive rights, climate change, and gun control. It also means that the entire Pacific coast is now in the hands of Democrats, signaling a shift in the location of the so-called blue wall. There’s still a lot of work to do to wrestle state legislatures from the hands of the GOP, a feat made all the more difficult by intensely effective partisan gerrymandering, but this is quite a good start.
But the most impressive Democratic wave by far occurred in Virginia. With the help of gerrymandering, Republicans had a solid 66-34 supermajority in the House of Delegates, a hold so strong that even Activate Virginia Executive Director Josh Stanfield predicted that Democrats would only pick up a handful of seats. Yet pending a few recounts, Democrats picked up 16 seats, shrinking the GOP’s supermajority down to a 50-50 tie. With Democrat Ralph Northam unexpectedly winning the gubernatorial race by nine points, Democrats will, for the first time in three decades, have veto power over the redistricting process. This is absolutely essential, especially in light of the fact that, having statewide defeated Republicans by over nine points, Democrats should have gained a majority in the House of Delegates. Hopefully, they can reverse the gerrymandering that held them back yesterday and restore democracy to Virginia legislative elections.
Of the 16 Democratic pickups (pending several recounts) in Virginia, 12 were won by women, and several made history. Danica Roem, a transgender woman, defeated incumbent Republican Bob Marshall, one of the most anti-LGBTQ legislators in the country. Marshall proudly proclaimed himself “homophobe in chief,” introduced an anti-trans bathroom bill to the Virginia legislature, and focused his campaign on attacking Roem’s gender. Despite the intensely transphobic assault from the right, Roem pulled through to become the first willingly out transgender person ever to be elected to a state legislature in U.S. history.
Kathy Tran, a Vietnamese refugee, will be the Virginia House of Delegates’ first Asian American woman, Elizabeth Guzman and Hala Ayala will be the first Latinas, Dawn Adams will be the first out lesbian, and Justin Fairfax, Virginia’s lieutenant governor-elect, is the second black person elected to statewide office in Virginia history.
But Virginia wasn’t the only place where we saw incredible victories for diversity.
Alongside Phil Murphy, New Jersey elected Sheila Oliver as lieutenant governor. Oliver will be the first black lieutenant governor and lieutenant governor of color in New Jersey history. Three Asian American New Jersey candidates overcame racist attacks to The city of Hoboken elected New Jersey’s first Sikh mayor, 44-year-old progressive Ravi Bhalla, while Jerry Shi and Falguni Patel were elected to the Edison school board despite Republican calls for their deportation.
Six cities – Statesboro, Georgia; Cairo, Georgia; Milledgeville, Georgia; Georgetown, South Carolina; Helena, Montana; and St. Paul, Minnesota – elected their first black mayor, while Charlotte elected Vi Lyles, the city’s first black female mayor.
Helena’s mayor-elect, Wilmot Collins, is a Liberian refugee and unseated a 16-year incumbent, while Milledgeville’s mayor-elect, Mary Parham-Copelan, will be the city’s first female mayor.
Charlotte also elected Black Lives Matter activist Braxton Winston to its city council. Winston was the subject of a viral photo from a Black Lives Matter protest of the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott.
Including Danica Roem, seven transgender candidates rode the wave to victory. In Minneapolis, Andrea Jenkins, a black transgender woman, and Phillipe Cunningham, a black transgender man, will serve together on the city council. They will be the first openly transgender black people ever elected to public office in the United States. Tyler Titus, who won election to the Erie Public School Board, will be Pennsylvania’s first out transgender person to hold elected office. Lisa Middleton, a transgender woman elected to Palm Springs City Council, is California’s first transgender person elected to a non-judicial office. City Councilwoman-elect Stephe Koontz will be Doraville City’s first openly transgender elected official, while transgender woman Gerri Cannon won election to the Somersworth School Board.
In Seattle, Jenny Durkan will be the city’s first openly lesbian mayor and Zachary DeWolf will be the city’s first openly gay school board member. In Santa Barbara, Cathy Murillo was elected the first Latina mayor, while in Nashua, Shoshanna Kelly will be the city’s first woman of color elected to public office. In Philadelphia, Larry Krasner, a progressive attorney who represented Black Lives Matter and Occupy Philly, won the district attorney’s race by over 40 points. In Durham, Vernetta Alston, a queer black progressive death penalty attorney, was elected to city council with over 60% of the vote.
I’m sure there are still several impressive victories that I’m missing, which speaks to just how damn good a night it was for Democrats. We got this.
Listen to the most recent episode of the Millennial Politics podcast, where we discuss last night’s election results with Virginia DNC member and former President of the Young Democrats of America Atima Omara.