Electing a Reflection of America

By John O. Harney

With votes still being counted and recounted and candidates already pondering their next campaigns, the 2018 midterm elections have left an indelible mark on New England and its representation in Washington, D.C.

New Hampshire voters elected at least 42 state representatives under age 40 to the state’s 400-member House of Representatives—the third largest legislative body in the English-speaking world. They include Cassie Levesque. In 2017, as a senior at Dover High School, she began her push to raise the marriage age—then 13 for girls and 14 for boys—as part of a Girl Scouts project. Safiya Wazir, a former Afghani refugee, won a House seat representing part of Concord. A former Nigerian refugee was re-elected to represented part of Manchester. Former state Rep. Melanie Levesque became New Hampshire’s first black state senator.

In an election that saw record numbers of women and people of color win seats, Massachusetts and Connecticut elected their first black women to Congress—former Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley in Massachusetts and former National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes in Connecticut.

New England also has new power in Washington, D.C., with the Democratic takeover of the U.S. House. U.S. Rep. Richard Neal of Springfield, Mass. is poised to chair the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, where he is likely to push East-West rail between Boston and Springfield. Another fan of the route is U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern of Worcester, Mass., who is likely to chair the House Rules Committee. Rep. Katherine Clark of Melrose, Mass., and Rep. David Cicilline of Providence, R.I. are likely to be part of the House Democratic Leadership team should Rep. Nancy Pelosi be chosen as speaker.

Maine introduced the nation’s first “ranked-choice” voting system, which lets voters rank candidates from first to last on the ballot. It provides for eliminations of last-place candidates and reallocations of votes to ensure a majority winner. On Election Day, Nov. 6, incumbent U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican, beat Democratic challenger Jared Golden. But Poliquin received only 46.2% of the vote—important because Maine’s ranked-choice voting law means a candidate must be the first choice of at least 50% of voters to win automatically. Otherwise, the votes of the candidate with the least support are reallocated to whoever those voters picked as their second choice. Nine days after Election Day, Nov. 15, the victory was called for Golden. And New England’s House delegation seemed to lose its last Republican member. But on Monday, Nov. 26, Poliquin called for a hand recount of ballots.

Nationally, a record 272 women ran as general election nominees for U.S. Congress or governor this year, at least 124 elected. An also record 219 people of color ran, with at least 115 elected. Nine STEM-related professionals are entering the U.S. Congress next year, including engineers, health professionals and a computer programmer.

New England—and the nation—have long suffered from an underrepresentation of women and people of color in higher elected offices. In the 2018 midterms, that began to change.

Editor’s Note: We are pleased to work with three 2018 NEBHE policy interns whose youthful smarts have energized NEBHE, as their generation is enriching American political life (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University estimated 31% turnout among 18- to 29-year-olds voting in the recent midterm elections—the highest youth vote in the past quarter century). The NEBHE interns—Katheryne Martinez, Haya Bacharouch and Stephanie Suarez—are all graduate students at Harvard University. Watch NEJHE for their personal thoughts on the midterm elections and New England’s edu-political future.



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