Democratic diversity: Making America great again

Vermont Democratic gubernatorial candidate Christine Hallquis

Vermont Democratic gubernatorial candidate Christine Hallquist, holding clipboard, a transgender woman and former electric company executive, shakes hands with her supporters during her election night party in Burlington, Vt., Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Let’s begin with a biographical sketch, a very 21st-century American dream.

When David Hallquist was a child attending Catholic schools in Syracuse, New York, he always felt female. He knew he was “different,” but he couldn’t find a word for it. He hid his impulses and played men’s sports at school. He pursued a career in energy technology, got married, raised a family, and finally, in 2004, he began the long process of coming out. Six years later, he confided his secret side to his family. And in 2015, his son made a movie, entitled “Denial,” that publicly tracked his transition to who she is today, Christine Hallquist.

She was still known as David, in 1998, when she joined the Vermont Electrical Cooperative as an engineering and technology consultant, rising to the post of CEO in 2005. She became a prominent community activist – town meeting moderator, economic development board member, mental health board chair, school board member. Then, at a women’s march in Montpelier this past January, she had an epiphany. She later said, “One of the things the Me Too movement has been pushing is that we need to get involved in politics.” So she did. She filed as a candidate for governor of Vermont – and last Tuesday night, in the state Democratic primary, she became the first transgender woman in America to win a major party nomination.

Christine epitomizes the 2018 Democratic zeitgeist. Perhaps the timing was sheer coincidence, but on the same day that Donald Trump referred to a black woman as a “dog,” white women and women of color scored historic victories in the latest round of party primaries. On the cusp of the autumn general elections, grassroots Democrats have sharpened their message that diversity will make America great again; and that despite the Trumpist Republicans’ relentless attempts to turn back the clock, the inexorable future awaits confirmation in November.

With virtually all the primaries completed (only four states remain), Democratic voters (whose enthusiasm and turnout stats have dwarfed the GOP’s) have made it abundantly clear that they want more women in elective office. At this point, 198 women – 154 of them Democrats – have won their House primaries in 2018. That’s a record, trumping all previous records. Viewed from another angle, 41 percent of all Democratic nominees – and 48 percent of all non-incumbents — are women. That too is a milestone. (Women are only 13 percent of the GOP’s nominees.)

This surge of women candidates, with heavy support from Democratic women voters, may be historic, but it’s not a huge surprise – given how fervently most women (with the probable exception of blue-collar white women) have come to detest Trump. If his goal this year was to talk and behave in ways designed to guarantee a female backlash against the party he purports to lead, he can probably chalk that up as one of his few tangible achievements.

Let’s scan the updated national map. In last week’s primaries, Connecticut Democrats chose, as one of their House candidates, a black woman – the first to carry the party banner in a Connecticut congressional race. Minnesota Democrats chose, as one of their House candidates, a Somali-American woman – who’s likely to join a Muslim woman from Michigan in the next Congress. Jehana Hayes in Connecticut and Ilhan Omar in Michigan are the latest additions to the female ranks. Even though Trump “has absolutely no respect for women” (at least according to Omarosa Manigault Newman), the ‘18 primary electorate apparently does. Let’s not forget that a lesbian recently won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Texas, that a bisexual woman, the sitting governor of Oregon, recently won her Democratic primary, and that a black woman recently won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Georgia.

Last Tuesday in Minnesota, a lesbian mother won an uncontested House primary; in a swing district, she’ll face a freshman Republican who once complained that it’s no longer politically correct to call women “sluts.” Last night in Wisconsin, military vet Margaret Engebretson won her House Democratic primary, a defender of Obamacare, she’ll face a male Republican who voted to repeal it.

But, gender news aside, male Republicans still behaved last week like male Republicans. Tim Pawlenty, a former Minnesota governor and short-lived 2012 Republican presidential candidate, was defeated in his primary bid to recapture his old gubernatorial seat. Pawlenty had plenty of money, higher name ID than his opponent, former state legislator Jeff Johnson, and robust poll numbers. But the Republican primary electorate – loyal to Trump – apparently remembered that on the eve of the 2016 election, Pawlenty had denounced Trump as “unhinged and unfit,” and had urged Minnesotans to vote against him. Granted, Pawlenty’s primary opponent had called Trump a “jackass” back in 2016, but Johnson says he wound up voting for Trump. Apparently, that was good enough for the Trumpist primary voters; Pawlenty, in defeat last week, said: “It is the era of Trump, and I’m just not a Trump-like politician.”

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, party leaders are pinning their hopes on one particular midwestern male. They’re jonesing to snatch the Wisconsin House seat that’s being vacated by Speaker Paul Ryan, and in last week’s primary, ironworker and union activist Randy “Ironstache” Bryce defeated a female for the right to contest the Ryan-endorsed Republican, businessman Bryan Steil. Bryce has been buoyed by a sizeable war chest, an endorsement from Bernie Sanders and a grassroots Democratic hunger to occupy the seat held by one of Trump’s most spineless enablers. It’s not an impossible quest; Barack Obama even won the district’s presidential balloting by one point in 2008. If Bryce can pull off a win in November, despite some personal baggage (arrests for driving under the influence, late payments for child support), it would truly signal that a blue wave was cresting.

And a working-stiff white guy nicknamed “Ironstache,” joining the swelling ranks of women, would be another victory for Democratic diversity.

Jennifer Rubin, the center-right columnist, took it even further yesterday, declaring that a “demographically diverse repudiation of Trump up and down the ballot will have obvious consequences for the remainder of his term. It may also be the final opportunity for Republicans to get off the sinking ship, push Trump aside and try to regain their sanity.”

I wince at her confident certitude, but those are indeed the stakes in November.

Webster’s Dictionary, defining the word truth: “(1) the body of real things, events, and facts: actuality (2) the state of being the case: fact.”

Rudy Giuliani, on NBC News yesterday: “Truth isn’t truth.”

Take your pick, folks!

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