Women’s rights were on the ballot across the nation Tuesday—and the results were a resounding endorsement of feminist policies and women’s political leadership.
In Virginia, Democrats flipped the House of Delegates and Senate to win control of both houses of the state legislature for the first time in 25 years. As Ms. reported in October, Virginia’s off-year elections make it a bellwether of national trends, and election experts were closely watching to see if Democrats could sustain their 2017 momentum. Despite strong Republican turnout, Democrats maintained and extended their 2017 victories.
All of the freshwomen Delegates who ran for re-election in Virginia won. Shelly Simonds, who tied in 2017 only to lose in a random drawing, trounced the incumbent in a rematch. Ghazala Hashmi defeated a male Republican incumbent, becoming the first Muslim American woman elected to the Virginia Senate.
Across the board, Virginia Democrats ran on a strong feminist agenda, promising to ratify the ERA, expand healthcare access, protect reproductive freedom, pass gun control laws, protect LGBTQ rights and raise the minimum wage. With unified Democratic control of the legislative and executive branches, the path is cleared for all to move forward, with passage likely. In addition, Democrats will have control over drawing legislative districts after the 2020 census.
From a feminist perspective, the two most significant items on the agenda are the ERA and redistricting. Virginia is poised to become the 38th and final state needed for ERA ratification nationally. For sustaining and advancing women’s rights over the long term, the importance of redistricting cannot be overstated. Under the gerrymandered maps drawn by the GOP after the 2010 census, Republicans used their majority to block votes on the ERA, gun control, LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws.
Virginia was the marquee race of the night, but women and people of color made big gains in local elections across the states, and the climb in women’s representation since the 2016 election continued. Boston’s City Council will be majority women and majority people of color for the first time, and Regina Romero became the first woman and Latina to be elected mayor of Tuscon, Arizona.
According to Run for Something’s founder Amanda Littman, half of their candidates won—58 percent of whom are women, 36 percent of whom are people of color and 18 percent of whom are LGBTQ. More than 120 Emerge alumnae won nationwide, including 13 of 16 women in contested races in Pennsylvania.
Kentucky provided the most surprising results of the night, with the Democrat Andy Beshear defeating the Republican incumbent governor, Matt Bevin, in a state Trump won by nearly 30 points. In his victory speech, Beshear pledged to extend voting rights to felons, protect public education and pensions and expand healthcare access.
The Kentucky results have enormous national implications for protecting the right to legal abortion. Bevin’s first act in office was to sign a law restricting abortion access; he championed and signed a draconian abortion ban. Beshear ran instead as a pro-choice candidate, explicitly supporting Roe v. Wade, and won endorsements from NARAL and Planned Parenthood.
Conventional wisdom has it that public support for reproductive rights is a sure loser in red states, but Beshear’s victory tells us that the conventional wisdom is wrong. With Roe hanging in the balance, that’s perhaps the most important message that came out of last night’s elections.