In the year since progressives suffered an electoral nightmare, we’ve have had to do a whole lot of resisting. We’ve had to resist a backward agenda, from cruel health care proposals to discriminatory immigration policies. We’ve had to resist attacks on our institutional norms and divisive rhetoric. But most importantly, we’ve had to stubbornly resist cynicism.
The progressive movement has done all this valiantly, organizing and mobilizing and making our voices heard. And the energy on our side at the grassroots level has been palpable. But to be frank, we were in desperate need of some some clear-cut victories. Last night, we got them.
The sweeping wins progressives notched Tuesday were a validation of the resistance — the strength of the movement, the values at its core, and the policies we are fighting for.
Going into the night, all eyes were on the Virginia gubernatorial race, where the conventional wisdom was that Ralph Northam [D] had stumbled and was neck-and-neck with Ed Gillespie [R]. Gillespie ran a reprehensible campaign rooted in division and fear. It was a trial balloon for the nationalist playbook, and had it been successful, it would’ve spelled doom — not only for progressives, but for the direction of our nation’s politics. But his shameful tactics backfired; Northam cruised to a resounding win, declaring toward the end of his victory speech, “We live in a very diverse society. It is getting more diverse every day. It is that diverse society that makes this country great.”
Across the country, voters rejected the cynical politics of resentment and proved Northam’s point in dramatic fashion — they affirmed that we derive our strength from our diversity and greatness from our goodness
The stories couldn’t have been better scripted. Danica Roem became the first openly transgender American elected to a statehouse by unseated a 13-term incumbent who’d introduced Virginia’s anti-trans bathroom bill. Asked about the vitriolic opponent she’d just defeated, Danica simply said, “I don’t attack my constituents. Bob is my constituent now.”
Danica wasn’t the only trailblazer to make history in Virginia — the state also elected its first openly lesbian delegate (Dawn Adams), its first two Latina delegates (Elizabeth Guzman and Hala Ayala), and its first female Asian-American delegate (Kathy Tran). Democrats flipped more at least 15 House seats, 11 of which were women unseating Republican men.
Ravi Bhalla was elected Hoboken’s first Sikh mayor — just days after racist flyers were circulated around town. Melvin Carter of St. Paul was the victim of racist mailer too, but that didn’t stop him from being elected the city’s first Black mayor. Vi Lyles was elected Charlotte’s first Black female mayor, sailing to a 16-point victory despite being heavily outspent. Seattle elected their first female mayor in over 90 years, Jenny Durkan, who was also the nation’s first openly gay U.S. Attorney. Andrea Jenkins will be on the Minneapolis City Council, making her the nation’s first openly transgender woman of color elected to public office. Wilmot Collins, a former refugee from Liberia and now mayor-elect of Helena, will be Montana’s first Black mayor. Sheila Oliver will be New Jersey’s first Black Lt. Governor. Michelle Kafusi will be Provo’s first female mayor.
Tuesday’s results truly highlighted the best of America. They also represented major wins, both long-term and immediate, for progressive policy.
For starters, let’s talk about health care. In Maine, where Gov. Paul LePage had vetoed Medicaid expansion five times, voters took matters into their own hands, passing a ballot initiative by an 18-point margin that will give approximately 80,000 Mainers access to health care. I’m proud to say that OFA worked on this ballot initiative, knocking on doors, making phone calls, and supporting partner organizations to help make this a reality. This landslide victory was a reflection on Americans’ desire to continue moving toward universal health care. And as the first state to expand Medicaid by popular vote, it paves the way for similar initiatives in other states to do the same, like Utah and Idaho.
Virginia, too, moved closer to expanding Medicaid for roughly 400,000 residents thanks to the triumph of governor-elect Northam and massive gains in the statehouse. Moreover, exit poll data revealed that health care was overwhelmingly voters’ top issue, and that nearly 8 in 10 of those voters went to Northam. That should terrify anyone who backed Obamacare repeal, and they’d be wise to finally support bipartisan efforts funding the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and stabilizing the marketplace.
One more crucial impact of the Virginia election results is that they dramatically shifted the balance of power for the 2021 redistricting process, increasing the likelihood that the commonwealth will finally have fair maps. Virginia has been plagued by some of the most shameful gerrymandering in the country: despite going blue in three straight presidential elections, 7 of Virginia’s 11 U.S. Congressmembers are Republicans, as was two-thirds of its state House until last night’s improbable wave. Redrawing district lines to eliminate this sort of unequal representation is critical for our democracy, and I couldn’t be more excited about OFA’s new partnership with the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, who helped deliver these wins in Virginia.
On other issues, too, there were wins for progressive policy stances. Anti-immigrant messaging proved a colossal failure in both Virginia and New Jersey. Criminal justice reform got a major boost as Philadelphia overwhelmingly elected a civil rights attorney who vows to end mass incarceration to be their next DA. And the gun lobby was dealt a blow: In pro-gun Virginia, Northam won half of voters who cited guns as their top issue after boasting about his ‘F’ rating from the NRA, while Chris Hurst — the local news anchor whose girlfriend was tragically shot dead on air — ran for the state House in her honor and unseated an NRA-backed incumbent.
Nov. 8, 2016, was a dark night for progressives. Nov. 8, 2017, will go down as a bright day. It’s not a day to rest on our laurels — we can’t grow complacent or take anything for granted. But it’s a day to recognize that if we keep working tirelessly, standing up for our values, making our argument to people of every stripe, and motivating voters to get to the polls, America’s greatest days are still ahead of us.