News Politics

Women of Color Notch Historic Wins Across the Country

Ally Boguhn

Ilhan Omar became the first Somali American to be elected as a state legislator and the first Somali-American woman to be elected to public office in the country when she won her race in Minnesota.

Women of color claimed historic wins across the country from California to Delaware during Tuesday night’s election.

Ilhan Omar became the first Somali American to be elected as a state legislator and the first Somali-American woman to be elected to public office in the country when she won her race in Minnesota.

In August, Omar effectively ousted incumbent state Rep. Phyllis Khan, who was initially elected to the state legislature in 1972, after winning the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party primary in the state. Before her loss, Kahn had said Omar had “done a very good job of mobilizing students to get out to the caucuses and she’s also very attractive to the kind of, what we call the young, liberal, white guilt-trip people” in a June statement to local outlet Alpha News.

“A lot of the prejudice I faced had to do with the fact that I was a young woman running. And I think some cultural prejudice,” said Omar in an interview published Monday with NBC News on her historic race. “Some people were a little off-put that I wasn’t oppressed or submissive.”

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Her platform included a focus on criminal justice and police reforms. “Institutional racism is the root cause of the school-to-prison pipeline and we must commit ourselves to ending it,” explained her campaign website. She also says she “unequivocally support[s] women’s reproductive rights,” and serves as the vice president of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party’s Feminist Caucus.

Democrat Lisa Blunt Rochester became both the first woman and the first Black politician elected to Congress by voters in Delaware. The state was one of just three that had never elected a woman to Congress, according to Roll Call.

Reproductive health care was included as a key issue highlighted on Rochester’s campaign website. “As a young woman I relied on Planned Parenthood for my health needs. I know I am not alone,” she said in a statement posted to the page. “We cannot afford to let politicians in Washington try and drag us back to the last century.”

Rochester also released an eight-point Economic Agenda for Delaware Women and Families calling for, among other things, policies such as paid family and medical leave, affordable child care, equal pay, a minimum wage increase, and “access to a full range of reproductive health services.”

Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) became the first Thai American elected to the U.S. Senate when she won her race against incumbent Sen. Mark Kirk (R).

Duckworth has a 100 percent rating from reproductive rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America for her time in the 114th Congress. She also signed onto an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that argued “all women have the right to choose whether to carry a pregnancy to term and to make that decision free from unnecessary state interference.”

California Attorney General Kamala Harris’ U.S. Senate win against rival fellow Democrat, Rep. Loretta Sanchez, makes her the first Indian American to be elected to the Senate and just the second Black woman. A Black woman had not been elected to the U.S. Senate in almost 20 years.

Harris, the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica, was endorsed by NARAL Pro-Choice America PAC. Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement that Harris has “always been at the forefront of efforts to defend and expand access to safe and legal abortion care and has pushed back against attempts to limit Californians’ right to accurate health information.”

Her office was among the first to investigate the anti-choice Center for Medical Progress after it released a series of deceptively edited videos attempting to smear Planned Parenthood.

Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto won her Nevada U.S. Senate race, making her the first Latina Senator. During her race, Cortez Masto criticized Republican rival candidate Rep. Joe Heck in ads for repeatedly voting to defund Planned Parenthood.

Her website says she “will oppose efforts to criminalize abortion.”

Progressive state Sen. Pramila Jayapal (D) won her race to replace retiring Rep. Jim McDermott (D) in Washington’s 7th Congressional District, joining Harris as the first Indian-American women to be elected to U.S. Congress.

“I’m committed to fighting for women in all aspects of their lives, including raising the minimum wage, implementing paid sick, safe and family leave, and ensuring women are accorded the power and voice that they deserve for the places they hold in the home, in the workplace, and in the community,” said Jayapal in a statement on her campaign site.

That includes a call to “expanded access to women’s health care—including access to abortion care, and expanding preventive care such as mammograms and ovarian cancer screenings.”

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Reproductive rights are a public health issue. That's a fact.

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