Voters elect trailblazing,diverse new leaders

Published November 7 2018
Updated November 7 2018

WASHINGTON — In what is already the most diverse Congress is now even more so as Tuesday’s elections broke barriers of race and gender.

For the first time, a pair of Native American congresswomen are headed to the House, in addition to two Muslim congresswoman. Massachusetts and Connecticut will also send black women to Congress as firsts for their states, while Arizona and Tennessee are getting their first female senators. And the nation will see its first openly gay man elected governor, in Colorado.

The inclusive midterm victories bode well for future election cycles, said Kimberly Peeler-Allen, co-founder of Higher Heights for America, a national organization focused on galvanizing black women voters and electing black women as candidates.

Some of Tuesday’s black female pioneers, like Illinois nurse and Democrat Lauren Underwood and Connecticut teacher and Democrat Jahana Hayes, were first-time candidates. Others, like Massachusetts’ Ayanna Pressley, were political veterans. Most were considered longshots.

Also in the House, Democrats Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan will be the first Muslim women to serve in Congress. New Mexico Democrat Deb Haaland and Kansas Democrat Sharice Davids were elected the first two Native American women to serve in Congress.

Democrat Mike Espy, who will face Mississippi Republican Rep. Cindy Hyde-Smith in a December runoff, could become the state’s first black senator since Reconstruction.

New Hampshire sent its first openly gay member to Congress in Democrat Chris Pappas. And Angie Craig became the first openly queer person elected to Congress by Minnesota. Craig, a lesbian, unseated GOP Rep. Jason Lewis, who had compared gay people to rapists and pushed an anti-gay platform.

Tammy Baldwin, a lesbian who became the first out U.S. senator in 2013, kept her Wisconsin seat. Arizona Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, an out bisexual, was in a race that remains undecided. Regardless of who wins, the state will elect its first woman to serve in the Senate as Republican Martha McSally faces Sinema. Also in the Senate, Republican Marsha Blackburn will become Tennessee’s first woman senator.

For the first time, the Victory Fund said, four governor hopefuls represented the LGBT acronym: Democrat Lupe Valdez, a lesbian; Democrat Jared Polis, a gay man; Democrat Kate Brown, a bisexual woman; and Democrat Christine Hallquist, a trans woman. In Colorado, Polis becomes the first openly gay man elected governor in the United States. And Brown, who became the first openly queer U.S. governor in 2015, was re-elected in Oregon.

Congress will also have its youngest-ever female member: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 29, won in the heavily Democratic New York City district where she beat Rep. Joe Crowley — a member of House Democratic leadership — in a primary earlier this year, CNN reported.

Times staff contributed to this report.