Democrats Got Their Groove Back. What Happens Now?

Maybe America needed a complete disaster to show us how Democracy works.

Manka Dhingra, whose election handed complete control of Washington state government to the Democrats.

How many of you knew 2017 was an election year? Exactly. Unless you lived in a city or state with local races up for grabs — or especially in NJ or VA, where there were governor’s races — most of you were unaware of the seismic boom about to happen. But it did. It did happen. After a year of magical thinking (I still think of what could have been), after days filled with anxiety and slack-jawed disgust, a big ray of electoral sunshine changed everything. Nationwide, White Republican men lost! Taking their place: a crowd of Democrats that was so diverse it could have made the old United Colors of Benetton ads look homogeneous.

Democrats swept governor’s races in NJ and VA, shocking the Republican establishment. In VA, especially, Ed Gillespie, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, was considered a shoo-in (by Republicans) over Ralph Northam, who went on to win by nearly 10 points. Turns out the “Trump effect” that was supposed to be Gillespie’s winning formula was toxic, proving — bigly — that Trumpism without Trump is just another shrill, racist bigot in a suit. (In NJ, Phil Murphy had the good luck to run against Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who desperately tried to rid herself of the stink of sweaty Chris Christie after a long day at the beach. Unfortunately for her, Christie’s stink of corruption was so strong that it followed Guadagno around like Pig Pen. She lost by 13 points.)

Danica Roem, who kicked Virginia’s “Chief Homophobe” in the electoral balls.

Elsewhere in VA, my new favorite state, Danica Roem literally fell to her knees as she realized that not only did she win her race for the House of Delegates, but totally kicked the ass of the “Bathroom Bill” guy, Robert G. Marshall, a 13-term Republican who has called himself “chief homophobe.” Roem was one of at least 11 seats wrested from GOP incumbents; the Democrats  flipped at least three seats held by Republicans who did not run for reelection. it remains to be seen if the last few contests will hand the Democrats control of the House of Delegates, but we know that with a Democratic governor, anti-woman legislation like VA’s Mandatory Ultrasound Bill will never happen again.

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Beyond the elite left coast, where we all eat avocado toast and sneer at tourists, Democrats in Washington state finally won full control of the government when Manka Dhingra, who was born in Bhopal, India, won her race for the state senate.

A refugee from Liberia becomes a major Montana mayor.

Like Dhingra, immigrants and refugees won virtually everywhere. Even though this was a year in which the words “immigrant” and “refugee” became filthy slurs, a Liberian refugee named Wilmot Collins was elected to become the new mayor of Helena, MT. Collins arrived in this scarlet-red Montana capital 23 years ago. Running on a progressive platform, he defeated four-term, 16-year Republican incumbent Jim Smith.

But back to Virginia: Kathy Tran and her family fled Vietnam as a baby. Her family lived the American Dream. Now Tran will be a member of the House of Delegates. She will join Mark Keam, a Korean-American Democrat, who won re-election to his seat and who explained that the wave of first-time minority candidates was a direct response to feeling snipped out of the American picture by Trump’s policies and divisive language.

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After a year of watching the pussy-grabber-in-chief dismantle everything built by the first Black President, after a year of watching an over-qualified public servant be treated like a criminal by an aggrieved-white-male GOP, after a year of watching the tsunami of sexual harassment charges against very powerful men going public, women had enough. They got themselves organized and a record number of women ran and won their elections. Clearly the election of a sexual assaulter, the self-satisfied misogyny of his supporters, the sexist and vulgar portrayal of a female presidential candidate spurred a backlash.

Here are a few women to watch:

  • Sheila Oliver, who won New Jersey’s lieutenant governorship.
  • Vi Lyles, who won the mayoralty of Charlotte, NC.
  • Jenny Durkan, who won the mayoralty of Seattle.
  • Michelle De La Isla, a single mom who won the mayoralty of Topeka, KS.
Ravi Bhalla, the incoming mayor of Hoboken, NJ.

Trump’s style of bigotry against brown-skinned, turban-wearing men was loser: a Sikh won in New Jersey! Despite his opponent mailing out race-baiting mailers equating Ravi Bhalla with Muslim terrorists (“Don’t let TERRORISM take over our town!”), Bhalla won. Hoboken residents know something Bhalla’s opponent did not — that Sikhs and Muslims practice different religions and that neither are terrorists. Well, unless they were part of that crowd that Trump falsely claimed to see celebrating on Sept. 11, 2001.

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The 2017 elections may well be a bellwether for Democrats in the 2018 midterms. What we saw was grassroots campaigning at its best. All politics is local and Democrats, during the last 20 years, forgot that basic truth as Republicans invested in local races and installed right-wing conservatives all over city and state governments. Now the battle is joined.

Speaking of which, let’s not overlook the slow-motion, still-evolving debacle of the Steve Bannon-vetted candidate for the US Senate from Alabama, a man who thinks 18-year-old girls are past their prime, a man straight out of the 1930s, or maybe 1830s, Roy Moore. Bannon handpicked him to run against Alabama’s GOP establishment — the “South’s South,” as HBOs John Oliver recently put it. Bannon, who supposedly has his pulse on the Trumpiest Trumpeters of Trumpism, saw Moore as a fit: a man twice removed as Chief Justice of Alabama for breaking the law; a man who believes homosexual activity should be illegal; a man who believes Muslim Americans should not have a right to run for elected office, a man who finds 14-year-olds ripe for the picking. Here’s a man who, after he won the Republican primary, was belatedly embraced by Trump and, until recently, was given millions of dollars in campaign help and feted as the anti-establishment star that Bannon and Trump believe is the best this country has to offer.

Roy Moore
“Listen, you. Enough of this fake news. It was just one 14-year-old. The rest were all 15, 16, 17 or 18!”

Booze-bloated Bannon and ego-bloated Trump still think their method of politicking works: have the most right-wing, anti-establishment, unqualified windbags mimic Trump’s bombastic, blathering, boorish behavior and count the wins on Election Day.

Well, the wins by Democrats on Nov. 7, 2017 look like what former GOP vice presidential candidate and half-term Alaska governor Sarah Palin would call a “refudiation” of this method. The outrage caused by Trump’s election, the horror of his first 10 months in office — clearly we can see its power now. We’re moving this revolution forward.

This revolution began with the Women’s March last Jan. 21 — not as an impotent whine of angst, but as a full-throttled war cry. I know these 2017 electoral wins are relatively few compared to the volume of races coming in 2018, but we’ve made a crack in the Good Old White Boys Club. Gillespie took a chapter out of Trump’s playbook and became yet another deplorable. And this time the deplorable was clobbered by nine points. Moore may yet be clobbered, too. Time will tell. There’s a chance.

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What gives me hope is what I see when I look at these victories. The Democratic candidates rode to victory by campaigning on real issues: fixing roads, middle-class tax cuts, jobs and expanding healthcare (take that Paul Le Page). Issues that directly impact people. The GOP campaigned on Trumpism: them against us. It backfired. Bigly.

I still have concerns for 2018. Taking control of the House and Senate seems like a long shot. But maybe we have a chance so long as candidates don’t get their marching orders from Donna Brazile and the strife-ridden DNC, so long as they embrace progressivism and the notion that all politics is local. We’ll have a chance so long as candidates stand up for their communities and have really smart platforms to discuss with voters. It is what candidates were for, not what candidates were against, that worked.

I’m going into 2018 with the idea that maybe America needed a complete disaster to show us how Democracy works. Maybe we needed the Trumps, Pences and Moores to get the progressives off of their complacent asses. Maybe we needed to stop sitting on the sidelines, smugly saying ““A reality star with a fourth grade vocabulary who sexually assaults women could never get elected” to energize Sikhs, single moms, refugees and transgendered women to run and win. (Groups like Emily’s List, She Should Run and the Women’s Campaign Fund are actively soliciting qualified female candidates for 2018. For additional lists of organizations helping get more women into elected office, please click here.)