Under-represented populations and minority groups see state leaders sworn in following 2022 midterms
By Trey Delida
The 2022 midterm election was historic on many fronts. From newly elected officials to landmark rulings, states across the country experienced many milestones last year.
Midterm elections are often a temperature check for how the public feels about the presiding administration. This midterm came at a culmination of special circumstances: every seat in the U.S. House of Representatives was contested, the nation endured a divisive presidential election and the world emerged from a debilitating pandemic.
Ahead of the 2022 midterms, an estimated 60% of U.S. voters believed health care, inflation, jobs and the economy, and national security were the most important issues, according to Statista.
Statista also reported a historically high voter turnout for midterm elections. An estimated 46.9% of the eligible voter population took part, but that figure did not top 2018’s record-holding midterm turnout of 49.4%.
The 2022 midterms also proved successful for underrepresented populations. People of color, LGBTQ+, women and other minority groups won many key races, expanding representation in public office.
Newly elected Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, once a press secretary for former President Donald Trump, became the first female elected to the role in state history. Florida Rep. Maxwell Frost became the first Afro-Cuban and first born member of Generation Z elected to serve in Congress. Maryland Gov. Wes Moore made history as his state’s first Black governor. His running mate, Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller, became the first immigrant and first Asian-American elected to statewide office in Maryland.
Among the other historic outcomes of the midterm elections were victories by two political newcomers. Rhode Island Sens. Victoria Gu and Linda Ujifusa made history as the first Asian Americans elected to their state Legislature.
Gu is a first-generation American, while her parents were raised in an island community outside of Shanghai. They came to the states for education and stayed after taking jobs at the University of Rhode Island. Gu now represents her hometown, South Kingstown, as a senator.
Before her election, Gu studied at Harvard University, obtaining a degree in economics and computer science. Although she originally had no plans to run for office, Gu’s work as a citizen lobbyist expanded her involvement with campaigns and political organizations.
“I think I’m similar to a lot of younger folks who are concerned about climate change and environmental issues,” Gu said. “Outside of my day job I was citizen lobbying, working with and managing a lot of volunteers. I found that I really enjoyed working with people who were very passionate about any kind of issue.”
Anti-Asian hate crime spiked 339% nationwide from 2020 to 2021, according to NBC News. That was a pivotal point for Gu, who, like those around her, saw the need for more representation of their community.
“When I first started talking to family friends about running, they were very enthusiastic because they saw the need for more representation, especially after everything that was happening at the beginning of COVID with the resurgence of anti-Asian sentiments and bias,” Gu said. “I guess — stereotypically — we’re the scientists, engineers or office workers but not often looked to for leadership roles. When it comes to running for office, it’s often the local parties that recruit candidates, and that pipeline has historically not included many minorities.”
It wasn’t long after Gu announced her campaign that she received an outpouring of support and encouragement from her family and community. Her campaign was also an inspiration for some. After Gu’s campaign announcement, an Asian American high school student from a town just north of South Kingston reached out to volunteer.
“She reached out on her own. She said she was really inspired and wanted to work on the campaign or volunteer,” Gu said. “She started coming out about once a week for canvassing, and that was very early on during the primary when we were essentially going door to door.”
Gu’s victory also aligns with a successful election for women across the country. Data from the CSG Center of Innovation shows that women won 34.1% of all projected state-level races and 71.5% of all projected state-level races with at least one woman on the ballot. In total, 46.1% of women incumbent candidates won reelection.
The expansion of LGBTQ+ representation in public office was furthered by the victories of Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek, Massachusetts Gov. Maura
Healey and New Hampshire Rep. James Roesener. Govs. Kotek and Healey made dual history as the first openly gay women elected in their respective states, while Rep. Roesener became the first openly transgender man to be elected to a state legislature.
The U.S. needed to elect 35,854 more LGBTQ+ individuals across local, state and national offices prior to the 2022 midterms to reach equitable representation, according to the Victory Institute, a branch of the Victory Fund organization, which is dedicated to aiding LGBTQ+ candidates get elected.
Of those LGBTQ+ candidates, Michigan Rep. Jason Hoskins made history as the first LGBTQ+ person of color elected to his state Legislature — a responsibility he does not take lightly.
“I’ve gone into a lot of spaces where I’m usually the first or the only. It can be a lot because sometimes you are speaking for all the people you represent,” Hoskins said. “If I’m going into a room, I might be the only Black person; I might be the only gay person; and certainly, I’m going into the Michigan House as being the only Black gay person. So, there are going to be times when things come up and I — and only I — might be able to speak on it. That could be a great opportunity to educate and be a voice for those who are not here or don’t see themselves here.”
Hoskins never intended to run for office despite garnering a wealth of experience in local government as a member of city council in Southfield, Michigan, and even by establishing and running the University of Detroit Mercy Law chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Throughout his rise in the political ranks, he didn’t believe public office was for people like him. Being both Black and gay, Hoskins never believed he could win an election. That was until he started working with Michigan’s first openly gay Senator, Jeremy Moss.
“I could see what he dealt with, and how he navigated being gay and being an elected official,” Hoskins said. “Seeing how he was able to navigate that space showed me you can be an LGBTQ elected official and be effective, respected and be able to do great work for your community. I think seeing it be possible is the main thing and then getting the support to do it.”
Running for office is challenging, especially for those who do not have connections and funds like more seasoned politicians. Now that offices across the nation have elected many officials who are a recorded first for their respective roles, the focus has shifted toward maintaining diverse representation.
Organizations like the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) help elected officials maintain a sustainable model of equity that accurately represents the population served by the official. This is achieved by aiding minority candidates with funds, volunteers and other essential resources needed to run a campaign — all of which are crucial to mobilizing and empowering minority communities.
Georgia Rep. Ruwa Romman, a political newcomer, understood the importance of these organizations as their work entails much of her background. She co-founded the CAIR Georgia chapter Georgia chapter in 2020, and also helped create the Georgia Volunteer Hub to connect volunteers nationwide to available organizational opportunities.
This year, Romman made history as the first Muslim woman elected to the Georgia House and the first Palestinian to serve in any of the state’s public offices, a feat she believed could not have occurred without a community behind her.
“I didn’t magically become a successful candidate. It took having an entire community behind me and, for the record, it wasn’t just the Muslim community,” Romman said. “The majority of people that stood with me, voted for me and helped me are not Muslim. The reason I had the confidence, tools and vocabulary to explain my unique experience is because of other Muslims who have come before me and built an infrastructure to help me.”
According to CAIR, 146 Muslim-American candidates ran for local, state and federal office positions in this past election. Of those candidates, 82 were victorious, up from 71 in 2020. With the percentage of Muslim-American elected officials rising, the pressure on people like Romman can be heavy.
“I am incredibly honored and proud to be making history,” Romman said. “It’s also a huge sense of responsibility. In addition to representing my district, I’m now representing a group of people who for a long time have not had representation at the table.”
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Being part of a marginalized or notoriously underrepresented group, these candidates know what it’s like to walk in that identity and what changes will be beneficial, or detrimental, to their communities.
Winning an election is just the start. Those who run for public office do so for a multitude of reasons, but at the core they want to help others. Helping others for Rep. Hoskins means making Michigan a more welcoming place to all.
“I hope what comes out of this is me making policies that really impact change here in Michigan,” Hoskins said. “I do want to make it a more open and welcoming place for everyone. I also want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can in the state to make it more economically vibrant.”
As for Rep. Romman, she hopes that in using her platform to share her experiences that she can incite the change she wanted growing up.
“I can share my experience; I can talk about — for example — the impact that public education had on me. I can talk about the importance that teachers have had in my life and how they saved my life. I can talk about the fear I had growing up because I didn’t have consistent access to health insurance,” Romman said. “I think, as a state lawmaker, people now listen to that a little bit more than they did if it was just a random millennial tweeting or posting on Instagram, Facebook or Tik Tok.”
Undeniably, the 2022 midterm elections will go down in the history books. Historic firsts swept the nation, even in unsuspecting states. Post-election results reveal that this midterm was historically close, and neither party totally dominated, leaving us all to wonder what awaits in 2024.