A new box of Crayolas and a revised dictionary are early Christmas presents states sent to Washington D.C. after Tuesday’s November 6 midterm elections.
With final results still in flux, the gist of what the country is sending to the 116th Congress is pretty clear. The old box of 64 crayons has been replaced with a new and improved box of expanded colors. A completely new extension has been added to the originals with a spate of fresh, new tones all different and all labeled “flesh.” In addition, some of the old, worn, duller colors like “macho”, “chauvinist”, and “stubborn” have been shrunk substantially in size and supplemented with new, brighter, sharper colors like “lioness”, “senora”, and “compromise.”
The revised dictionary includes the addition of plural forms of words like Muslim, Native American, Latina, LGBTQ, and others that currently list definitions as either null or singular. There is also an expanded definition of a term coming from state houses that has only recently become commonplace: first gentleman. Women governors have made that term ring true to define their spouses and partners, but now must be expanded to include Colorado’s new governor, a man who has a first gentleman partner.
The new box of crayons and the revised dictionary have been made necessary with the formation of a new Congress. They are on track to arrive in Washington before the refugee caravan arrives at our southern border. There are a ton of firsts and superlatives in the group. Two 29-year-olds won election as the youngest. Iowa is sending its first two women to the House, and Tennessee and Arizona each voted in their first female Senators. Nevada will send two women to the Senate for the first time. There are many more ethnic firsts and minorities in record numbers to consider. Many of the new Representatives are first-time candidates.
The new Congress is also being partially staffed from the usual places. Pilots and soldiers who have finished their military duties are often motivated to run for Congress. This year is no exception. Military heroes who were victorious will take their seats, but this time many will be veterans who pin their medals to chests that include breasts covered with a dress or pantsuit rather than a stiffly starched shirt. For the first time the number of women in the 435-seat House of Representatives will be over 100–at least 105 and perhaps a couple more after all races are resolved. The Senate will add one woman reaching 24. Three new members negate two losses (assuming Mississippi Sen. Hyde-Smith wins her runoff on Nov. 27). In all, 38 of the newly elected are women.
We are a long way from parody, but the record numbers of women and minorities of all kinds are about to start representing their constituents with an urgency that has been absent from Congress for many years. These are not single-issue Representatives, but the Muslims and Hispanics will have an interest in seeing that immigration laws are revised and that DACA is finally codified so the courts can stop having to block challenges. The African Americans, Native Americans, and LGBTQ members will work to see that there is no discrimination, especially in the ability to get to the polls and vote. The newly elected Native Americans can now stand on the floor of Congress and finally win the absurd argument that they cannot vote because they can’t prove they are Americans.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this congress could reinstate Article 4 of the Voting Rights Act to its full power to enforce Article 5, which calls for preclearance of any changes to state voting procedures in named precincts? This alone has proven to eliminate much of the unconscionable foils being tested by states who are habitual abusers. The courts are doing a pretty good job pushing back on these racist attempts at suppression, but the perpetrators are showing their guile by applying changes so close to voting day it is either too late or a mad rush to try and reinstate legal voting rights to those facing discrimination.
Avoiding and arguing against climate change and the need to regulate what chemicals and sludge are added to our air and waters will be more difficult because eight scientists were newly elected. Those scientists will add expertise to discussions of environmental protections and what pollution regulations on corporations are necessary, even if they affect corporate America’s ample profit.
The women will bring the issue of protecting women’s healthcare access to the floor. And, almost every newly elected official will have healthcare insurance on the top of their agendas. A majority of the country’s voters count healthcare and healthcare insurance as priority one or two on their list of family issues. The candidates used the issues of protecting preexisting conditions, children’s continued coverage, keeping lifetime insurance company caps on spending out of policies, and lowering prescription drug prices as campaign promises and there is no doubt they will force those issues onto the House floor.
We’ll have to wait and see if the Senate can be infected by the enthusiasm of the newly found youth and diversity of the House. If you haven’t seen the cover of the latest issue of New Yorker magazine, take a look. Its astute, wordless visual can replace all 900 of these words.