Making History: A List of 2020 Political Firsts

There were many first this election season, one of them being Kamala Harris—the first female, first Black, and first South Asian Vice President-elect. Beyond this  barrier-breaking triple threat on the presidential ticket, we can’t overlook the many firsts down the ballot throughout the country. We want to celebrate all of the wins for womxn in politics, highlight a few, and acknowledge how far there is to go.

Cori Bush

Cori Bush is the first Black woman to represent Missouri in Congress. Bush was elected  to the House of Representatives in District 1, winning 79% of the vote in an area encompassing St. Louis and part of St. Louis County. In Bush’s victory speech, she acknowledges that she is also the first single mother and the first nurse to represent Missouri in Congress. Prior to her election, Bush has served her community as a nurse, a pastor, an organizer, and a protest leader. After the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, a community that Bush now represents in Congress, she became an active leader of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Bush ran on progressive policies that included the Green New Deal and Medicare-For-All. Her win marks the end of a St. Louis political dynasty, unseating incumbent Black lawmaker Lacy Clay in the Democratic primary. Clay had held the seat since 2001, and his father had held the seat before him, initially elected in 1968. Read an essay by Bush on why we need activists and organizers in Congress here.

Stephanie Byers

Stephanie Byers, a trans woman and a member of Chickasaw Nation, is the first openly trans state legislator of color elected in the country. Prior to winning the District 86 Kansas House seat, Byers worked as an educator at a Wichita public high school for thirty years. In 2018, she was awarded  “Educator of the Year” from the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network. Byers won her race with 54% of the vote, defeating Republican candidate Cyndi Howerton. During the campaign, Howerton made a point of saying that Byers’s gender identity should not be an issue in the race and told The Wichita Eagle that “we are running on ideas.” Byers’s platform prioritized health care and the unemployment system in Kansas. This sentiment of running on ideas is reflected in the election results; Byers told NPR that many voters expressed that they did not care about her gender, but  “how she will decide things that will help me and family.” The south-central area of Wichita that Byers represents typically leans left, but it makes up a small portion of a very conservative state. Nationwide, the 2020 election increased the number of transgender legislators from four to seven. Byers’s election in a deeply red state, as well as the clean campaign itself, offers hope for a trending openness and acceptance of trans people.

Mauree Turner

Mauree Turner was elected to Oklahoma’s state House for District 88. They are queer, Black, Muslim, and nonbinary. Turner is the first openly nonbinary person to be elected to a state legislature and prioritizes criminal justice reform. At the intersection of many marginalized identities, Turner emphasizes that their victory shows that anyone who wants to get involved in politics and make changes in their communities can. Read more about them here.

Sarah McBride

Sarah McBride was elected to the Delaware Senate, making her the first openly trans state senator. She holds the highest office of any trans elected official in the country. Read more about McBride here.

Marilyn Strickland and Michelle Steel

Marilyn Strickland and Michelle Steel are the first Korean-American women to be elected to Congress, representing Washington and California, respectively.

Deb Haaland, Yvette Herrell, and  Teresa Leger Fernandez

Deb Haaland, Yvette Herrell, and  Teresa Leger Fernandez

make up an entirely women of color House delegation in New Mexico. This is the first time this has happened in this state’s history.

This is not an exhaustive list of firsts of the 2020 election, but merely a survey of some groundbreaking victories. According to the Center for American Women and Politics, 138 women will serve in the 117th Congress, breaking the previous record of 127, but still only occupying 25.8% of Congress seats. There are now 49 women of color in Congress; only four are senators, and only three represent the Republican party. By reading and sharing the narratives of elected officials like Harris, Bush, Byers, or Turner, we hopefully can inspire new and current  generations of womxn to become involved in politics and to understand that gender, race, or sexual identity should not be a barrier to creating change in the political arena.

Sophia Marusic, Content Creator

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