Tuesday Was a Huge Night for Women of Color Candidates

Democratic congressional candidate Teresa Leger Fernandez, in the blue mask, cheers on supporters at a polling station Tuesday, June 2, 2020, in Santa Fe, N.M. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)

By Emiene Wright

June 4, 2020

Some activists cite the primary results as evidence that protests can spur political action, leading to important gains in electing candidates who are attuned to issues of race and inequity.

This week, voters showed up at the polls in Washington D.C., Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Montana, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Dakota to cast ballots for presidential primaries, after the coronavirus crisis delayed the contests since March. Results saw historic victories for women of color, in part due to the increased engagement of protest movements nationwide.

Citizens in Philadelphia had to navigate past National Guard troops, which had shut down all automotive traffic in Center City to quell protests. Others in Washington, D.C., defied the imposed curfew to wait in line for hours at polling locations—a day earlier, President Donald Trump authorized the tear-gassing of a peaceful crowd gathered in front of the White House. 

In all, the June 2 turnout surpassed 2016 levels in most of the nine states that held primaries. 

New Mexico’s Democratic primaries had 17 women emerge victorious for the state legislature. Northern New Mexico voters rejected a congressional bid by Valerie Plame, the former C.I.A. agent who was outed during the George W. Bush administration, in favor of Teresa Leger Fernandez, a local lawyer who emphasized her deep roots in the area and ability to speak fluent Spanish. With the support of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, she won the primary. Leger Fernandez is widely expected to triumph in November, raising the possibility of New Mexico having a House delegation comprised entirely of Hispanic and Native American women.

Claudette Williams, who was the first Black woman to serve as county chair in Monroe County, Pennsylvania, won her primary for a competitive state House district seat that Democrats are eyeing to flip. In Iowa, 11 women won seats in the statehouse. And in Washington, D.C., Janeese Lewis George beat a sitting city councilman by promising “to cut police in Ward 4.” She prevailed by 10 points.

Ferguson, Missouri, elected its first African-American mayor, former city councilwoman Ella Jones—a mere six years after the police killing of teenager Michael Brown sparked national protests and made Black Lives Matter a household phrase.

RELATED: Ferguson’s First Black Woman Mayor Ella Jones Knows She’s Got Work to Do

Democrats made up the lion’s share of winning candidates of color, and most are facing difficult battles in November. But some activists are citing Tuesday’s primary results as evidence that protests lead to real change, including the election of candidates who are attuned to issues of race and inequity.

According to data collected by BlackPAC, a progressive organization focused on Black voters, political crises increase intensity and engagement for that demographic, executive director Adrianne Shropshire told the New York Times. Whatever the contest on the ballot, Black voters are rejecting the candidate or policy more closely associated with President Trump. 

For too long, political power has been concentrated among white men, LaTosha Brown, who co-founded the nonprofit Black Voters Matter to increase civic engagement, told the Times. “We are the face of the future of America.”


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