Campus this Wednesday was beaming with happiness and sunlight. There was hardly a cloud in the sky and it was a balmy 64º outside, which, frankly, is hardly an anomaly for New England weather in November. For those of us who were on campus the day after the 2016 election, we know that this is the exact opposite of the weather that descended upon Foss Hill the day after President Trump was elected to office. I can’t be the only person thinking that the difference in the weather feels reflective of how different the outcomes of these two elections have been.
Along with the various electoral victories we saw on Tuesday, we have the additional fortune of welcoming two Wesleyan alumni to elected office: Matt Lesser ’10 to the Connecticut State Senate and Max Rose ’08 to the U.S. House of Representatives. Both races gained national prominence, and are worthy of celebration.
While Matt Lesser was at Wesleyan, he was president of the College Democrats of Connecticut. In the lead up to the 2006 election, Matt lead the largest student voter turnout drive in the country. The drive was state-wide and made a significant difference in a district where the vote was largely swung by college students. In 2008, Matt took time off from school and defeated the 3-term incumbent for the 100th District in the Connecticut House of Representatives.
In his time in the Connecticut legislature, Matt put his focus towards the environment and student loans. He was a part of the Planning and Zoning Commission, where he went after fracking. He proposed and passed a law that prevents fracking waste from being dumped in Connecticut. On the issue of student loans, Matt passed the nation’s first Student Loan Bill of Rights. The bill is designed to protect students by state regulating private student loan companies. This past spring, a lawsuit was filed in federal court by PHEAA, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, one of the nation’s leading student-loan providers, to prevent this bill from being enforced. In light of the lawsuit, Matt sharply criticized the federal government and the Trump administration, saying that “This lawsuit represents the latest in what increasingly appears to be collusion between Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the student loan industry.”
Matt’s 9th District State Senate seat represents five towns, Rocky Hill, Wethersfield, Newington, Cromwell, and Middletown. This race reached a critical point last week, when the Republican candidate, Ed Charamut, sent out a mailer that featured an anti-Semitic depiction of Matt. On election night, Matt addressed Charamut’s use of derogatory imagery, and said that Connecticut would be built up by “lifting everyone up not tearing everyone down.”
A few miles south in New York, Max Rose beat Republican incumbent Dan Donovan, a lifelong Staten Island resident. Historically, Staten Island has been a Republican stronghold, and 538 had predicted only a 23.7% chance that Max would win. Max’s win falls in this district in evocative of a pattern this midterm of suburbs coming out strong for Democrats. Max’s race started out at a disadvantage; there wasn’t a lot of media or pop culture focus on his race (compared to the Ocasio-Cortez and O’Rourke campaigns of this cycle), and he isn’t a Staten Island native. Staten Island isn’t the only city in this district, as it also covers a little bit of Brooklyn, where Max went to high school, but it does make up the majority of it.
While at Wes, Max majored in history. He went onto get a master’s degree in public policy and philosophy from the London School of Economics. After finishing his undergraduate and graduate degrees, Max enlisted in the US Army, where he served for five years in active duty in Afghanistan. For his service, Max was awarded a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and Combat Infantryman Badge. He is continuing to serve today as a member of the National Guard. This falls into a second trend of this election; there are a number of veterans who have been elected to the House this year.
Max campaigned on a platform of stopping gun violence and fixing the healthcare system. He had a message of protecting against special interests, helping the middle class, and strengthening unions and infrastructure. His experience in both the non-profit world as Chief of Staff of Brightpoint, a healthcare non-profit that serves New Yorkers, and as Director of Public Engagement in Brooklyn have informed his perspective on caring for underprivileged individuals and knitting communities back together. He wants to make unions stronger and infrastructure better. He wants to help the little guy and defeat the big guy.
2018 went exactly the way I hoped it would. The Democrats won the House, and it feels like we can make change again. The first Muslim women, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, were elected to Congress, a victory that is close to my heart. Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland were the first Native American Women elected to House. Ayanna Presley and Jahana Hayes are the first African-American women to be elected to the House (from Massachusetts and Connecticut respectively). Florida passed Amendment 4, finally restoring the right to vote to previously incarcerated citizens who have served their time.
But there were also some casualties, races that could have given the night the surge of endorphins it seemed to be missing. Kathleen Clyde ’01 lost her race for Secretary of State of Ohio. Stacey Abrams, running for Governor of Georgia, didn’t beat Brian Kemp, although as of right now she is still pushing for a re-count and will not concede the race, bless her heart. Beto O’Rourke, who ran for senate in Texas, lost to Ted Cruz. In Florida’s gubernatorial race, Andrew Gillum initially lost to Ron DeSantis by 0.4 points, but un-conceded the race due to votes still being counted. Votes are also still being counted for Florida’s senate race, where Bill Nelson is down to Rick Scott by a slim 0.25. This election was marred by malfunctioning voting machines and long lines.
Just like any other election, we had our wins and we had our losses. Maybe it wasn’t a blue wave across the country, but the effect that these individual races had in these states is bigger than we think. Record numbers of voters were registered and turned out to vote. We blew 2014 turnout out of the water. Now we have to face forward and turn our sights to the 2020 election. This is not the time to be brought down by our losses, but instead to take pride in our victories and surge forward.