Women shat­ter many bar­ri­ers in US midterm elec­tions

The Star Malaysia - - Focus -

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.

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