These 6 Down-Ballot Victories Were a Sliver Of Hope in a Dark, Crushing Election Season

Lead Photo: Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
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For many who aren’t white, cisgender men, Donald Trump’s presidential victory delivered a devastating blow. Despite the sobering realization that his message of hate resonated with so many people across the United States, Election Day was more than just electing the nation’s 45th president. Down-ballot races and measures can have a more direct effect in people’s everyday lives than the president.

“Change happens from the bottom up,” said Our Revolution’s Erika Andiola, quoting Bernie Sanders to The Fader. “We are all very focused on the presidential campaign. But the fact is that there are a lot of policies that happen at the local level and that were pushed back in 2010. Around that time, there was a huge movement on the right – the Tea Party movement. A lot of those folks were basically making a lot of changes through the local level and introducing legislation that was very, very harmful to our communities. Nobody was paying much attention because we were all so focused on the federal races.”

With things like education and minimum wage at stake, it becomes increasingly clear why down-ballot items are so important. Republicans now have a stranglehold on the house, senate, presidency, and presumably the Supreme Court in the near future. But there’s still a silver lining. This election featured notable signs of progress. They may be small gains, but here are six positive changes that came from Election Day:


Joe Arpaio, America's Toughest Sheriff, Gets the Boot

Photo by Darren Hauck/EPA

Joe Arpaio has served as Maricopa County Sheriff for 23 years. This year, groups aggressively fought to get him out of office. Bazta Arpaio, for example, brought together a group of young activists intent on stopping him. Arapaio’s reign has defined most of their lives. For way too long, they’ve heard about his inhumane tent city jail and racial profiling of Latinos. Or worse, their loved one have been on the receiving end of his policies.

Going up against Paul Penzone – a former Phoenix police sergeant who lost to Arpaio in 2012 – Joe trailed his opponent by 9.8 percentage points.

“The people Arpaio targeted decided to target him. He lost his power when undocumented people lost their fear,” said Carlos Garcia, executive director of Puente, to the New York Times. “We knew that losing an election was only a matter of time. For us, what is most important now is to undo the damage and culture of hate that he has brought upon this county.”



Catherine Cortez Masto Becomes First-Ever Latina Senator

Former Attorney General of Nevada Catherine Cortez Masto made history on Tuesday when she became the first-ever Latina senator. Running against Joe Heck, it was a hard-fought battle for Harry Reid’s seat, according to the New York Times.

Focusing her campaign on immigration overhaul and the economy, Cortez felt compelled to run after Reid announced he’d be retiring. “For me, it would allow me to continue to fight for the people in the state on so many issues” she told Remezcla. “During my time as Attorney General, there were other places where people wanted me to run for office, but I was working on so many important issues for the state at the time, including trying to pass laws against the sexual exploitation of our children and stopping sex trafficking in Nevada, and doing more to protect our seniors from exploitation and fraud. I felt like I needed to finish what I started. When Senator Reid announced his retirement, I started to seriously consider [running for the U.S. Senate] and continue to fight for Nevadans across the state and take on some national issues.”



Weed Was Legalized in Four States

California, Nevada, Massachusetts, and Maine legalized weed on Tuesday night. Marijuana possession arrests more commonly affect people of color, according to the FBI. Data on how many Latinos end up arrested because of weed-related infractions is not readily available. However, though blacks and whites use weed at comparable numbers, blacks are much more likely to end up arrested.


There Are More Women of Color in the Senate

Photo: Damian Dovarganes/AP

On top of Catherine Cortez Masto, Asian-American Tammy Duckworth and black and Indian-American Kamala Harris also won Senate seats on Tuesday. With Mazie Hirono, a Japanese-American woman who reps Hawaii, this brings the grand total to four WOC in the Senate. As Vox points out, it might not seem like huge progress considering there’s 100 Senate seats, but it is the biggest leap in any one election.


Formerly Undocumented Immigrant Adriano Espaillat Elected First Dominican-American to US Congress

Adriano Espaillat is the first Dominican-American as well as the first formerly undocumented immigrant to get elected to the US Congress. According to NBC News, Espaillat decisively beat opponent Tony Evans with 89 percent of the vote.

“Adriano has served in the New York State Legislature for 20 years, championing the rights of tenants, students, and working families all across the spectrum,” said the Latino Victory Fund. “We are proud to congratulate Adriano on becoming the first Dominican-American to serve in The U.S. House of Representatives, and we look forward to having him bring his skill and dedication to public service to Washington.”


California's Bringing Back Bilingual Education

Back in 1998, California passed a law making bilingual education hard to come by within the public school system. As it stands, only 5 percent of the state’s public schools have multilingual programs. Nearly 20 years later, 73 percent of voters shut down bigotry by voting in favor of Proposition 58. Written by Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), supporters argued that limiting students to just one language, the state would be shutting them out of jobs.

“Prop. 58 is long overdue,” Eric Heins, president of the California Teachers Assn, told the Los Angeles Times. “We are really a diverse state now, and we are participating in a worldwide economy. For our students to only know one language puts them at a disadvantage, and the research bears that out.” Currently, 1.4 million people – most of whom speak Spanish – are learning English in California.