After the 2016 election, I not only felt defeated, but I felt raw and shocked and a bit stupid. I hadn’t done a damn thing to advocate for the causes I cared about, so it was no wonder they lost.
That was a bitter lesson.
After the 2018 election, I feel empowered. Winning certainly helps. But I was also involved in these races. We had major wins in our local races, which is where I spent most of my volunteer time. And I think that sense of empowerment is greater than any sense of victory. Because I also know what empowered loss feels like. We lost a hard primary, one where I thought I would regret all the effort wasted.
But you know what? A loss isn’t a wasted effort. All that energy, all that enthusiasm, all those connections—they can build something that lasts, even in defeat.
So let’s do a “quick” (ha!)
morning day after review of the 2018 election. (I laugh because I was awake until 3 a.m. last night, unable to sleep as all the storylines kept playing in my head.)
Blogging My Ballot
Not to brag (OK, I’m totally bragging), but every race I supported when I blogged my ballot won last night. Every. Single. One.
Now I wasn’t exactly making predictions, I was choosing who to vote for. And a lot of those races had a high likelihood of winning. I felt confident in most of them, some felt like toss ups, and I was sure one would lose (Ellison; I’m still amazed he won despite the lack of DFL enthusiasm).
I’m not sure I’ve ever had every single vote on my ballot go to a winner—I certainly can’t think of a time that’s happened before. And it seems unlikely to happen again.
So I’ll take it.
West St. Paul Wins
Because I did put so much effort into the local races, it was an incredibly proud night to watch Dave Napier, John Justen, and of course Wendy Berry all cruise to double-digit victories here in West St. Paul.
I’ll go into the West St. Paul races in more detail later, but in short: After this spring’s sexism controversy, the women of West St. Paul have spoken.
- The misogynist lost to West St. Paul’s first openly gay council member (and only the sixth women ever to serve on city council).
- The guy who sparked the sexism controversy lost.
- The guy who took four months to issue a public statement about the sexism controversy lost.
- The two sitting council members who backed the female mayor during the controversy both won. One ran unopposed and the other will be our new mayor.
Last Night’s Big Wins
There were also some big wins across the state and the nation last night.
First, the firsts:
- More Women: We don’t have the final totals yet, but there will be a record number of women serving in Congress. We’ll have at least 117 women in Congress, up from 107. That pushes the share of seats held by women from 20% to 22%. It will also be a record number of women of color serving in the House—so far at 38. Still a ways to go on both counts, but it’s progress.
- First Women: Iowa elected their first women to the House with Abby Finkenauer and Cindy Axne. Arizona’s Martha McSally or Kyrsten Sinemaand (the race is too close to call) and Tennessee’s Marsha Blackburn become their states’ first female senators. Iowa’s Kim Reynolds, South Dakota’s Kristi Noem, Maine’s Janet Mills, and Guam’s Lou Leon Guerrero all became their states’ first female governors. (OK, Guam isn’t a state, but you get it.) Here in Minnesota, Rochester’s Kim Norton and Mankato’s Najwa Massad became their cities’ first female mayors.
- First Muslim Women: Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib and Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar become the first Muslim women elected to Congress. Tlaib will also be the first Palestinian-American and Omar the first Somali-American to serve in Congress.
- Youngest Woman: New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez becomes the youngest woman elected to Congress at 29. Iowa’s Abby Finkenauer is also 29, but she’ll turn 30 in December.
- Youngest Legislator: Wisconsin’s Kalan Haywood, at 19, is likely the youngest state legislator in the nation.
- First Native Women: Kansas’ Sharice Davids and New Mexico’s Deb Haaland will be the first Native American women elected to Congress. New Mexico’s Yvette Herrell could join them, but the race is too close to call.
- First Black Women: A number of states elected their first black women to Congress, including Jahana Hayes in Connecticut, Ayanna Pressley in Massachusetts, and Ilhan Omar in Minnesota.
- First Latina Women: Texas elected their first Latina women to Congress with Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia.
- First Gay Governor: Colorado’s Jared Polis will become the nation’s first openly gay governor.
- First Black Rep.: Colorado elected their first black representative to Congress with Joe Neguse.
- New York Milestones: Letitia James won the attorney general race in New York, marking a number of firsts: first woman in New York to be elected as attorney general, first black woman elected to statewide office, and first black person to serve as attorney general.
- Openly Gay: Sharice Davids becomes the first openly LGBTQ representative from Kansas, and the first LGBTQ woman of color in Congress. Angie Craig becomes the first openly LGBTQ represenative from Minnesota, and the first lesbian mother in Congress. Chris Pappas becomes the first openly gay representative from New Hampshire.
- Minnesota Milestones: In addition to Ilhan Omar and Angie Craig firsts mentioned above, Keith Ellison and Peggy Flanagan become the first people of color elected to statewide office in Minnesota. Ellison also becomes the first Muslim elected to statewide office, which is a huge win against all the Islamophobia cropping up.
- First Black Lt. Gov.: With Tony Evers’ win over Scott Walker for Wisconsin’s governor, Mandela Barnes becomes the first black lieutenant governor in Wisconsin’s history.
- First in West St. Paul: Wendy Berry became the first openly gay city council person in city history. (Oh, did I say that already? Oops, guess I want to revel in it.)
(And there are probably a lot more of those. Often it’s hard to figure out the details of each milestone, so we’re probably missing some.)
I know some people inevitably bristle at celebrating all these diversity firsts, as if it’s some kind of identity politics game. But representation matters. It’s a big deal when kids can look to their leaders and see people who look like them.
And some wins worth celebrating:
- Familiar Face: You may vaguely remember seeing viral video of teenager Zach Wahls testifying before the Iowa legislature about same-sex marriage in support of his two moms. Last night he became an Iowa state senator. At 27, he’ll be one of the youngest Iowan senators ever.
- Paid Your Debt: Florida will be restoring voting rights to 1.5 million former felons. This is an incredible victory, especially if you’ve seen any of the video of former Governor Rick Scott denying restoration of rights.
- Voting Reform: Michigan enacted some major voting reform, including automatic registration, same-day registration, and no-excuse absentee voting. Anything we can do to make it easier to vote is a big, big win.
- No Voter Lies: Trump’s lie about 3 million illegal votes was trumpeted by Kansas’ Kris Kobach. Last night Kobach lost the governor’s race to Democrat Laura Kelly, a big win for sanity in a very red state.
- Immigrants: Not only did Minnesota send Somali immigrant Ilhan Omar to Congress, we elected Brazilian immigrant Alice Mann to the state house and Liberian immigrant Mike Elliott as Brooklyn Center’s mayor. (Yeah, Mann immigrated as a kid, but who doesn’t love a good immigrant story?)
- Denied: Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, lost. (But no, one of the people she denied a license to didn’t beat her, as I saw widely reported on Twitter last night. That guy, David Ermold, lost in the primary.)
- Transgender Lives Matter: Massachusetts voted to uphold transgender rights.
- Gun Safety: Voters in Washington state approved a measure to strengthen gun laws. It’s encouraging to see movement—any movement—on gun safety. There’s no—ug, forgive the pun—silver bullet on this issue, but every bit helps.
- Young Voters: Turnout among younger voters was a big question going into the midterms. We don’t know the full story yet, but it looks like early voting among 18- to 29-year-olds was up 188%. Some of the on-the-ground stories seem promising.
Hate Still Had Some Wins
Despite all that good news on the ballot, there were some downers.
- Despite continued racist comments and criticism from his own party, Iowa’s Steve King won reelection.
- Despite the racially-charged atmosphere (“I’m not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist, I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist.”), Andrew Gillum lost in Florida’s governor race.
- Despite being indicted and running “the most anti-Muslim campaign in the country,” California’s Duncan Hunter won reelection.
- Georgia’s governor’s race between Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams is awfully close, with Kemp in the lead and Abrams refusing to concede. There have been all kinds of voter suppression issues in Georgia and it would have been nice to see the anti-immigrant Kemp beat handily. But the fact that it’s close is progress, right?
- In Minnesota’s house district 37B, racist incumbent Nolan West narrowly beat Amir Malik by 153 votes.
- Fighter pilot Amy McGrath lost in Kentucky. That’s an easier one to swallow because it feels like it’s just politics. But a seeing a female fighter pilot in Congress would have been cool.
If it sounds like I’m a little too happy in all of this, yeah, I probably am. We’re still a deeply divided nation, and if anything it just got worse. Republican winners last night were the ones who embraced Trump and his brand of fear and hate. Where are the moderate voices?
But after 2016, I’m not going to apologize for looking for signs of hope. And I’ll celebrate them when I see them.
I mean, c’mon, my entire ballot won. I get to be happy about that.
I believe in welcoming, protecting, and loving people. With the fear-mongering, the name-calling, and the racism, Trump’s presidency has been the opposite of that. So I will absolutely celebrate any wins against that kind of hatred.
Doesn’t Change Anything
Finally, we come to the ultimate criticism in all this: Nothing will change. Some people like to dismiss all of this energy by saying nothing in my day-to-day life will change, so why all the fuss?
My day-to-day life changes because local politicians worked an uphill battle (and one lost reelection) to rebuild a major road in my town. I drive on it every day, and thanks to the work they did, I’m 23% safer and not going to break a shock anytime soon.
My day-to-day life changes because some of my friends can rest a little easier knowing there’s not an anti-LGBTQ attorney general in my state.
My day-to-day life changes because we have a governor who supports refugees and immigrants, and that’s good news to all the refugees and immigrants in my church.
Voting changes things. It matters.
It is true that a simple vote isn’t our only obligation. Yes, we need to vote. And thank you to the many, many people who turned out and voted.
But we also need to do the work. We need to hold our elected officials accountable. We need to push them to make the change we need. We can’t and won’t be content with party victories and election night rallies. Now it’s time to go to work. Now it’s time earn those votes.
Because Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 will be here before you know it.