Women shatter many barriers in US midterm elections
FIRST-TIME political candidate Jahana Hayes has a simple explanation for why she – and a record number of other women – ran for seats in the US Congress this year.
“Many women like me are just tired of waiting for someone else to do it,” said Hayes, who became the first black woman from New England to be elected to Congress on Tuesday.
In the Nov 6 elections, there were 237 women on ballots for the House of Representatives seats – nearly 80% of whom were Democrats – and at least 98 had won their races as of Wednesday afternoon, shattering the previous record and surpassing the 84 women currently in the House, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
In dozens of interviews ahead of the election, women candidates and voters said they felt Congress was not addressing issues important to them, including education, healthcare, gun control and immigration.
As catalysts for their political engagement, many of them also cited the MeToo movement against sexual assault, Trump’s 2016 election despite multiple sexual misconduct allegations, and the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh even after his sexual misconduct allegations.
As former state senator Jennifer Wexton, who unseated Republican congresswoman Barbara Comstock in a suburban Virginia House district, put it: “I
didn’t want to have to look at my kids five years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now, and say I didn’t do everything I could.”
Democratic pollster Celinda Lake agreed that women were clearly energised by the Trump presidency in “a negative way”.
Their lesson from the last election, said Lake, was that “if Donald Trump is president anybody can be president so I should run too, for at least Congress or state legislature.”
Hayes, who was named national Teacher of the Year in 2016, grew up in public housing and openly talked about her mother’s past substance abuse. At 17, she
became pregnant with her first child, but she persisted with her education, graduating from college, getting a master’s degree and becoming a teacher. She said she was galvanised to run after hearing Trump’s education secretary Betsy DeVos’ vision for schools.
The jury may still be out on whether things will change with more women in office, but the new class of women in the 116th Congress will undoubtedly add colourful voices to the Capitol Hill with their diverse stories, politics and reasons for seeking office.
Here are some of the firsts marked in the 2018 midterm elections:
Hayes: Everything about my experience, my background, the way I got here is different.