Groundbreaking Midterms Usher in Diversity

By, Ellisya L. ’19 and Katie T. ’19

These past midterm elections have been a hot-button issue since candidates were initially announced. Many people anticipated these midterms as they wanted to see which of the two main political parties, Democrat or Republican, would have the majority in the Senate and the House of Representatives. In the end, the Republicans maintained control of the Senate while the Democrats secured the House. The election results highlight not only the clear divide between Democrats and Republicans but also America’s desire to increase diversity in its government. Last week, we saw many “firsts” in the representation of racial and religious minorities, women, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. After these previous elections, there will be more representation of marginalized groups in the government than ever before.

The past midterm election results demonstrate that the people want a diverse set of representatives. Deb Haaland, representative for New Mexico, and Sharice Davids, representative for Kansas, will both serve in the House as the first Native American congresswomen. As a lesbian, Davids will also be the first openly LGBTQ congressperson to represent her state. Additionally, Ayanna Pressley and Jahana Hayes will the first black women to represent Massachusetts and Connecticut, respectively, in Congress. Similarly, Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia will be Texas’s first Latina congresswomen. Also groundbreaking are Ilhan Omar, representing Minnesota, and Rashida Tlaib, representing Michigan, who are the first Muslim women to have been elected to Congress. Omar will also be the first Somali American congressperson.

Last week’s elections also had impressive results for women. For the first time in history, more than 100 women will have seats in the House. At age 29, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, representing New York, is the youngest woman to have been elected to Congress. Marsha Blackburn will be Tennessee’s first female senator. On the state level, both Maine and South Dakota elected their first female governors, Janet Mills and Kristi Noem, respectively. Additionally, Lourdes “Lou” Leon Guerrero will serve as Guam’s first female governor.

Clare Westerman ’19, one of the heads of SAGE (Students Advocating Gender Equality), shared her opinion on the importance of these recently-elected women: “I think the past few months have been a difficult time for many groups in the U.S., women included … While the results of this election cannot erase recent events, any shift toward equal representation is a win for women in America. Furthermore, I’m especially thrilled to see the success of women of varying cultural identities! It’s a huge step forward for intersectional feminism, and though we still have plenty of room to develop, I hope that this result will be a catalyst for female political empowerment—and, ultimately, for a better reflection in our government of the diverse people and views that make up the United States.”  

Members of the LGBTQ community celebrated many victories regarding increased representation in the government as well. As Ariela Rosenzweig ’19, one of the heads of Spectrum, commented, “In this election we have definitely seen a ‘rainbow wave’ with record number of LGBT candidates being elected. Representation in government is definitely important for queer people, especially on a state level because the majority of anti-LGBTQ legislation originates in state legislatures.” As for those who are part of the “rainbow wave,” Angie Craig and Chris Pappas, representing Minnesota and New Hampshire, respectively, will be their states’ first openly gay congresspeople. Teri Johnston will be Florida’s first lesbian mayor, while Jared Polis, of Colorado, will be the U.S.’s first gay man to be governor. Brandon Woodard and Susan Ruiz will be Kansas’s state legislature’s first LGBTQ members, and Malcolm Kenyatta will be Pennsylvania’s state legislature’s first LGBTQ member of color. Representing New Hampshire in the House, Gerri Cannon and Lisa Bunker, both transgender women, will now be two of only three openly trans people to hold positions in any U.S. state legislature.

The importance of this increased representation is clear. Having more diverse representation on all levels of government will add different opinions and ideas on how to run our communities. In addition, as Rosenzweig stated, “This election has done a lot with challenging ideas of who traditionally is a politician and who should be in government… It’s really exposing flaws in our system; for example, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez… cannot afford an apartment in Washington before she starts receiving her salary as a member of Congress. Since most members of our government are wealthy, it’s expected that congresspeople can purchase a second home in DC. As Ms. Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, ‘There are many little ways in which our electoral system isn’t even designed (nor prepared) for working-class people to lead. This is one of them (don’t worry btw [by the way] – we’re working it out!).’” Gaining representation of marginalized groups proves that politicians do not have to be wealthy, straight, white males. Karen Torres ’19, who wants to pursue a career in politics, added, “Representation is key right now, for our country is [at] this current moment shutting down the voices of so many groups of people. To see Latina women in our government gives me hope for the future. It is important to have people representing us because it also gives us hope for a future where I, as a Latina woman, can take an active role in my government.”

However, just because we have increased representation doesn’t mean we should be satisfied. “I’m very glad about the way the midterms turned out; however, I’m really disappointed that it took our country this long to get to this point,” said Ifeanyi Umunna ’20. “I’m glad that people voted, but it’s about more than just voting. Don’t you think it’s crazy that in AMERICA we’re just now having the first [women] Native AMERICANS [in Congress]? That boggles my mind, but at least it finally happened.” While it is certainly important to celebrate the successes of all of the elected candidates above, it’s also necessary to continue to work toward getting more representation in the government. We don’t want to wait several years before another Native American or Muslim congresswoman, for example, is elected. We should aim for a time when electing a person of color, a female, or an LGBTQ candidate isn’t a grand feat.

Ultimately, this issue of representation isn’t about which party you support. Increasing diversity of races, religions, genders, and sexual identities to represent all Americans accurately is something everyone should want and strive to obtain. These past midterm elections are the start of a movement toward equality that we, the next generation of voters, must continue. It’s up to the people to ensure that every American feels adequately represented within the government.