A year ago this week, U.S. voters elected to the presidency Donald Trump, a man who has trafficked in white nationalism and other forms of bigotry. And they did it with the help of an Electoral College that traces its roots back to the defense of slavery.
But a dramatic political swing like that — from the first African-American president to one who writer Ta-Nehisi Coates has called America’s “first white president” — often results in the pendulum swinging hard in the other direction.
And that’s what we witnessed in this week’s off-year election, with a wave of wins for progressives in state and local races across the nation. That wave also brought historic victories for people of color and LGBT candidates across the South.
Here are some of the candidates whose wins this week will go down in the history books:
Adams became the first out lesbian elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. A political newcomer from Richmond, the Democrat defeated five-term GOP incumbent George M. “Manoli” Loupassi and has pledged to prioritize the issues she heard about from voters while canvassing: economic growth, education, health care, and protecting the environment. Her win was part of a blue wave that’s put control of the chamber, which currently has a 66-44 GOP majority, up in the air.
Hala Ayala and Elizabeth Guzman
Ayala and Guzman, both Democrats from Virginia’s Prince William County, became the first Latinas ever elected to the state’s House of Delegates.
A women’s rights advocate, Ayala is the former president of the Prince William County chapter of the National Organization for Women and helped organize buses to the historic Women’s March in January. She has channeled her own experiences as a single mother and Medicaid beneficiary, vowing to protect the health care program for the poor and disabled. She beat four-term incumbent Republican Rick Anderson with 53 percent of the vote.
Guzman, who was backed by Bernie Sanders’ “Our Revolution,” supports expanding Medicaid and early childhood education programs and creating stronger support systems for veterans. She defeated eight-term incumbent Republican Lee Scott Lingamfelter.
Barber became the first African American elected to serve as mayor of Georgetown, South Carolina, a majority-Black city of 9,000 people and the state’s second-largest seaport. A Democrat who had served on city council for 20 years, Barber defeated fellow council member Ron Charlton, a Republican. Barber wants to find federal funding to clean up the land around the city’s idle steel mill and to address flooding problems.
Just 27 years old, Gainor was elected as the first African-American mayor of Cairo, Georgia, a majority-Black city of 9,600 people in the southwestern corner of the state. After getting his start in community service by hosting back-to-school events, he ran to serve as a voice for the underserved and described his election as “a victory for the city, not me.”
Koontz became Georgia’s first openly transgender elected official when she won a council seat in Doraville, a city of 8,300 people in DeKalb County northeast of Atlanta, beating opponent Lee Flier by just six votes. The recently retired owner and manager of several auto repair shops, Koontz serves as a director for the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta and as lieutenant governor for the North Atlanta Division of Kiwanis service clubs. Her campaign emphasized local issues like potholes and code enforcement.
Lyles was elected as the first African-American woman mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, this week. The current mayor pro tem, she defeated incumbent Mayor Jennifer Roberts in the Democratic primary earlier this year and went on to beat Republican city council member Kenny Smith by a margin of 59 to 41. Her campaign focused on building a “city of opportunity and inclusiveness,” and she has pledged to create good-paying jobs and more affordable housing.
McCollar became the first African American elected to serve as mayor of Statesboro, a city of 28,000 in southeastern Georgia. The Democrat defeated incumbent Jan Moore, the first woman elected to the position. With a platform of “People Over Politics,” McCollar wants to decrease poverty and crime in the city, which serves as a regional economic hub.
Parham-Copelan became the first African-American woman elected to serve as mayor of Milledgeville, Georgia, a city of 18,000 about 30 miles northeast of Macon. She defeated incumbent Mayor Gary Thrower by just five votes. A political newcomer, Parham-Copelan says she ran because residents wanted a change.
Elected this week to the Virginia House of Delegates, the Manassas resident is set to become the first openly transgender person elected to serve in a U.S. statehouse. A Democrat and former journalist, Roem defeated 25-year incumbent Republican Bob Marshall, who describes himself as “Virginia’s chief homophobe” and authored a trans-discriminatory bathroom bill. Though the key issue in the election was supposed to be transportation improvements, Roem’s gender identity took center stage when Marshall refused to debate her and referred to her using male pronouns.
Tran became the first Asian American elected to the Virginia House of Delegates and the first Vietnamese-American elected at any level in the state. The West Springfield resident defeated Republican Lolita Mancheno-Smoak in the race to represent Northern Virginia’s 42nd House District, capturing 61 percent of the vote.
Tran was an infant when she arrived in the U.S. as a refugee from Vietnam. She never thought she would seek political office, but she said the election of Trump and the birth of her fourth child, Ellis — named for Ellis Island — made her realize that the basic American values of hope, opportunity, and freedom were under attack. So she decided to run as a form of resistance.
Rebekah is a researcher and writer at Facing South/Institute for Southern Studies focusing on racial justice, democracy and Southern history. As a student activist she organized around issues including voting rights, the Fight for $15 and Medicaid expansion. She holds bachelor’s degrees in English and history from N.C. Central University in Durham, North Carolina.
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