Midterms full of firsts for female, Black, LGBTQ candidates

A Massachusetts Democrat is the country’s first openly lesbian candidate to be elected to the office of governor. In Maryland, voters elected the state’s first Black governor. Vermont will finally send a woman to Congress, after being the only state never to have had female representation in the House.

Across the country, women, LGBTQ and Black candidates broke barriers Tuesday as part of a new generation of politicians elected to governor’s offices and seats in Congress.

The number of women serving as governors will hit double digits for the first time in 2023, with at least 12 women set to lead states. Ten had already won their races; two other races had not been decided but featured women candidates in both parties.

The U.S. has never had more than nine female governors in office at a time, a record set in 2004, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. The new record numbers mean nearly one fourth of the country’s states will be run by women. The party majority for female governors is still not clear.

One of the winners, Maura Healey, is the first woman to be elected to Massachusetts′ top post and also makes history by becoming the country’s first openly lesbian candidate to be elected governor.

“Tonight I want to say something to every little girl and every young LGBTQ person out there,” Healey said to supporters at a downtown Boston hotel after her victory Tuesday night. “I hope tonight shows you that you can be whatever, whoever you want to be and nothing and no one can ever get in your way except your own imagination and that’s not going to happen.”

If Democrat Tina Kotek wins Oregon’s gubernatorial race, where The Associated Press has not declared a winner, she may join Healey in making history as a lesbian candidate elected governor.

In Maryland, voters chose Democrat Wes Moore, who will be the state’s first Black governor. He is only the third Black candidate in the country to be elected governor.

Moore, a combat veteran, led one of the nation’s largest anti-poverty organizations and campaigned on creating equal opportunity for his state residents. He flips a governor’s office from Republican to Democratic. The current Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is term limited.

Florida, meanwhile, is sending the first member of Gen Z to Congress, with the comfortable victory of Democrat Maxwell Frost, a 25-year-old Black man with Cuban heritage.

Frost said that Gen Zers, those born from 1997 to 2012, are voting at higher levels, even though roughly half of the generation isn’t yet old enough. In an Associated Press interview, he praised President Biden’s focus on climate change and student debt cancelation.

Frost campaigned on gun control and Medicare for all and secured high-profile endorsements from progressive U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. The seat had been left open when Val Demings decided to run for Senate, but Florida’s 10th District, which includes the Orlando area, is reliably Democratic.

“I’m just excited to work in Congress and advocate for these broad universal programs and things that will really, Number 1., help peoples’ day-to-day life, but also, Number 2, from a political standpoint, these things excite people because it shows folks that government can work,” he told The Associated Press.

Also marking a first, Vermont, which elected its first female governor in the 1980s, had been the only state that had never sent a woman to Congress. Democrat Becca Balint, president of the Vermont Senate, will reach that milestone and also become the first openly gay person to fill the state’s single seat in the U.S. House.

Details on some other notable firsts:

— ARKANSAS’ 1ST FEMALE GOVERNOR

Sarah Huckabee Sanders will become the first woman governor of Arkansas. Sanders, a Republican, rose to prominence when she served as White House press secretary for former President Donald Trump between 2017 and 2019. Her victory also makes her the first daughter of a former governor to fill the position held by her father. Mike Huckabee was governor of Arkansas from 1996 to 2007.

Sanders faced Democrat Chris Jones, a nuclear engineer who would have become Arkansas’ first Black governor and who acknowledged the importance of Sanders’ milestone.

“History was made. Sarah’s election has shown women, including my little girls, that being a woman is no longer a barrier to becoming governor in our state,” Jones said in a statement.

– Pennsylvania elects its first Black congresswoman

Democratic state representative Summer Lee’s victory in the state’s 12th District makes her Pennsylvania ’s first Black congresswoman. The Pittsburgh-based House seat was open after Mike Doyle announced his retirement.

— ILLINOIS’ 1ST LATINA CONGRESSWOMAN

Delia Ramirez, a Democrat, defeated Republican Justin Burau to represent Illinois’ 3rd District, in Chicago. Ramirez, 39, was the first Guatemalan American to serve in the Illinois General Assembly.

— 1ST TRANS MAN ELECTED TO A STATE LEGISLATURE; OTHER TRANSGENDER LAWMAKERS

Democrat James Roesener was elected as a state representative to New Hampshire’s 400-member House, becoming the first trans man elected to a state legislature, according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund.

Roesener, 26, said he wanted to run after a “parental rights” bill was introduced in the House that would have required schools to notify parents of children developments, including with their gender identity and expression.

The bill didn’t pass, but it was by a slim margin. “I don’t really see that as a fight that’s over,” he said.

In Minnesota, Leigh Finke became the first openly transgender person elected to the state’s Legislature. She told the AP on Wednesday that she decided to run after seeing growing anti-transgender sentiment across the country, saying she felt “we have to have trans people in these rooms. If we are going to lose our rights, at least they have to look us in the eye when they do it.”

Minnesota’s Legislature was divided at the time and she felt like she might be entering a “pressure cooker” — but after Democrats took control on Tuesday, she now sees opportunity to pass laws to help the LGBTQ community.

Voters in western Montana elected the state’s first out transgender lawmaker, Zooey Zephyr, and SJ Howell, the first out nonbinary candidate to the state legislature, according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund. Both are Democrats and were elected in state House districts in Missoula County.

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Associated Press writers Steve Peoples in Washington, Kathy McCormack in Concord, N.H., Amy Forliti in Minneapolis and Amy Hanson in Helena, Mont., contributed to this report.

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