Everything Good That Happened in America Tonight

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We can be reasonably certain that Mayor London Breed will cruise to re-election over a gaggle of nobodies, but while we await the District 5 and District Attorney results, it’s important to note that in this off-year election, a lot of good things happened out there in the rest of America. Sean Spicer hasn’t been voted off Dancing With the Stars yet, but tonight has largely been positive for Democrats. Here are some of the most important victories, and why they could matter next year.

Democrats Take Full Control in Virginia
The Old Dominion made headlines in 2017 when Democrats made huge gains in both chambers of what had been a reliably Republican legislature. But although they increased the number of seats they held, they were a vote shy of flipping both the State Senate and the House of Delegates. In the House of Delegates, Democrats lost one of their races by a single vote. But in 2019, they look to have won majorities in both chambers. Also, the cyclist who got fired for flipping off Trump’s motorcade in 2017 won herself a seat on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, and Danica Roem, the first openly transgender American to hold elective office, got re-elected.

Why This Matters for 2020: Fueled by high population growth in the D.C. suburbs since 2000, Virginia has basically shed any pretense of being a purple state. Obama won it twice, Clinton won it as well, and with Dems winning the legislature tonight as well as holding the governor’s mansion and both Senate seats, it’s totally blue now. As the most populous state to hold off-year elections in both legislative chambers — got that? — this may be a strong indicator that 2018’s Blue Wave was not a one-off. America’s suburbs may have moved decisively against Republicans. Virginia is for (democracy) lovers!

Democrat Wins the Governorship in Extremely Red Kentucky
WOW. In an upset, Democrat Andy Beshear has unseated Republican Gov. Matt Bevin in Kentucky by less than half of one percent. The Trump-like Bevin is almost colossally horrible, picking fights with striking teachers, gutting the state’s pension system, bragging about exposing his nine kids to chicken pox to grandstand against vaccines, and generally being a detestable jerk. But Kentucky is a conservative place, and off-year elections as a rule tend to favor Republicans, so this is big.

Why This Matters for 2020: Kentucky is red as fuck. As in, Trump swamped Clinton by 63-33, and the only two counties she carried were those home to the commonwealth’s most populous cities, Louisville and Lexington. Beshear carried approximately 20 counties, indicating a significant leftward shift in rural areas and even coal country. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, America’s least popular senator, is also up for re-election next year, and he might be in for a tough race, especially now that Dems smell blood. While reading the famously inscrutable McConnell is never easy, he’s a wily survivor — and if he concludes that Trump has become electoral poison, he might not be inclined to back him in an impeachment trial. This could get weird.

New Yorkers approve instant run-offs
Joining San Francisco — as well as the state of Maine — in allowing ranked-choice voting, the most populous city in the U.S. voted 74 percent in favor of instant runoffs for local elections. This builds on big voting-rights legislation that New York State passed this year, allowing early voting, preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds, and holding state and federal primaries on the same day.

Jersey City Takes on Airbnb
Concerns about short-term rentals pushing up apartment prices — hmm, sound familiar? — led voters in New Jersey’s second-largest city to approve regulations of Airbnb and other house-sharing companies. Airbnb, which is eyeing an IPO sometime in the near term, spent $4.2 million to defeat the measure, but 70 percent of Jersey City voters were unpersuaded. As The New York Times puts it, this effectively makes J.C. the sixth borough now that people have realized many hosts on the platform aren’t regular folks trying to make an extra buck but de facto hotel chains.

Philadelphia Gets Progressive
Philly’s 17-member City Council is very different from S.F.’s Board of Supervisors. It has some district seats and some at-large seats that everyone in the city votes on. And a few of those at-large seats had somehow been held by Republicans for decades in this otherwise extremely blue city, because they’re essentially reserved for parties other than the Democrats. The Working Families Party, a progressive organization with electoral strength in the urban Northeast, had to fight off some shenanigans from local Democratic power brokers but managed to elect Kendra Brooks, an African-American woman who is the first person outside the two major parties to win a seat there in 100 years. Democrats also took control of Delaware County — basically Philadelphia’s equivalent of San Mateo County — for the first time since the Civil War.

Oklahoma lets prisoners go free
Well, this isn’t 2019 electoral politics per se, but it’s a wonderful story in a very red state. Following a 2016 ballot referendum, law-and-order Oklahoma released 462 prisoners in the largest such commutation in U.S. history. Freeing low-level, nonviolent offenders in a state with one of the highest incarceration rates shows that the sea change in criminal justice is real, and it can deliver results anywhere.

Wichita Elects a Democratic Mayor
This one sounds like a total snoozer, but Democrat Brandon Whipple has defeated incumbent Republican Jeff Longwell to become the mayor of the biggest city in Kansas.

Why This Matters for 2020: Kansas is another extremely Republican state. No Democrat has won its electoral votes since LBJ in 1964, and no Democrat has been elected to the Senate since 1932 (no state has a longer Republican streak). While Trump will likely win here, there’s a real fracas brewing in the Senate race. Insanely xenophobic Republican Kris Kobach might end up facing ex-Republican Barbara Bollier, a moderate who left that party in part because of its hostility to trans people, and she’s destroying him in fundraising a year out. Since Democrats need to win at least three or four Senate seats to wrest power away from Mitch McConnell, putting the GOP on defense in a state as reliably Republican as Kansas would be very helpful. And that’s not going to happen without racking up large margins in places like Wichita. You read it here first!

Democrats Take Over Mike Pence’s Hometown
This barely means anything, but it’s symbolically satisfying. Columbus, Ind., is known for two things: modernist architecture, and being the home of Vice President Mike Pence and his brother, Rep. Greg Pence. Democrats just won a majority on the City Council for the first time since 1981.

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Peter-Astrid Kane

Peter-Astrid Kane

Peter-Astrid Kane (they/them) is the Communications Manager for San Francisco Pride and a former editor of SF Weekly.