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ST. OLAF WOMEN REACT

Midterm elections elicit response from St. Olaf students

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Erin NewRingeisen ‘22:
When I received the notification that Barbara Comstock, the incumbent Republican senator from Virginia’s 10th District, had been defeated, I was shocked. She has been a politician in northern Virginia for as long as I have paid attention to politics – first in the Virginia House of Delegates and then in the House of Representatives.  

Each reelection year, lawn signs dotted medians and roadsides every few feet as if drivers would forget her name before reaching the stoplight. I was more familiar with Barbara Comstock’s name than that of my own representative, Don Beyer. I saw Barbara Comstock as a symbol of power: her perfectly coiffed hair and rigid lipstick stood confident in the male-dominated world of her own party. I knew that I did not agree with her policies, but I felt beholden to her for representing my gender in a party that seemed to ignore me. I assumed she was moderate – how else could she win in a northern Virginia suburb composed of largely federal workers? Her district was known for being socially moderate but unwilling to pay the taxes of a liberal platform. 

What I didn’t know is that Comstock represented a district that had voted Republican for 10 years leading up to this midterm, and that she voted with our president more often than Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House. The only opposition she publicized was her stance against the pay freeze for federal workers; Comstock knew her district would be one of the most impacted in the nation. 

In the suburbs of Washington D.C., you are constantly bombarded with political details. National news is your local news. Every day, articles pop up with attention-grabbing titles about new political horrors. We watch videos of the president’s interactions with the press and read articles about what his assaults on government employees mean for our neighbors or family members. Comstock’s voting record is evidence enough that she was unwilling to distance herself too far from the policies of the president.  

When I received the notification that Comstock had been defeated by her Democratic (and female) challenger, I saw more than a democratic pick-up in the House. I saw a suburban decision to choose decency and social issues over personal economic interest. And that is the victory I am celebrating.

Erin NewRingeisen ’22 (newrin1@stolaf.edu) is from Lorton, Va. Her major is undecided. 

Melissa Biesmann ‘20:
In the days before the midterm election last week, it was obvious that the results were going to usher in change. The bipartisan urgency consumed any and every possible news cycle about the election. Day-to-day life changed too; there were always conversations about and genuine interest in the election – it was definitely the first time I can remember voting being so trendy. Democratic engagement finally transcended the age classes and was inspiring a new wave of participants in democracy. The new and different faces going into Congress reflect this popular vote for new representation in our government. Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Sharics Davids and Deb Haaland all will change the prerequisites to participation in U.S. representation. But, in these powerful women’s triumphs, some may overlook the hard-fought cohort of women who came before them. 

Tammy Baldwin, from Wisconsin, has served in the US Senate since 2013 and most recently won her reelection against Leah Vukmir. Previously serving in the US House of Representatives from 1999-2013, Baldwin is no stranger in D.C. Beyond her long political career, Baldwin has and continues to pioneer the political climate through her many historical electoral successes. She was the first woman elected to represent Wisconsin in Congress and the first openly gay person to be elected into Congress ever. It was only  in 1998 that real representation started to appear in our national history. 

Baldwin changed the precedent, and our country now voted to maintain her trajectory. There is tangible evidence that our country desires to give power to politicians who will defy the Trump Administration. However, we, as ordinary citizens, need to remember that we alone cannot change the administration, but we can elect politicians who can. It is our duty to take action happen through using our voices – a voice that needs to stay faithful to important causes and defend them so small, progressive steps can be taken. 

The only way to make up for the current administration is through civic engagement. In the 2018 midterms, we followed the paths of those who came before Omar and Ocasio-Cortez, like Tammy Baldwin, to break the gridlock of political change. Now, we are finally seeing our representational government become the product of our collective voices.

Melissa Biesmann ’20 (biesma1@stolaf.edu) is from Fitchburg, Wis. She majors in biology and political science.

Emily Pounds ‘22:
Watching the election results pour in on Tuesday evening was stressful; I was constantly receiving texts from my mother, my friends, and had gotten multiple calls and texts from my grandmother during the day asking when my friends and I were voting. We were all nervous, and we were especially nervous as women. Living in the Trump era has been stressful for us. The president himself has made derogatory comments about women, and the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh, a man accused of sexual assault, is a possible threat to women’s reproductive rights. If we wanted to make sure our voices were heard, not only did we have to vote, but we had to vote for women.

That’s exactly what we did. On Nov. 6, 95 female candidates were elected to the House of Representatives, 13 to the Senate and more may still be on their way to Congress. Women won state elections, too. In Michigan, every statewide office seat was filled by a woman. It was a historic night for us. The election results were somewhat relieving, and it was refreshing to see that one-third of the winning female candidates were women of color. Ayanna Pressley became the first black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts, Ilhan Omar became the first Somali-American elected to Congress (and one of the first Muslim women to win, along with Rashida Tlaib) and two Native American women were elected to the House: Sharice Davids of Kansas and New Mexico’s Deb Haaland.

Minnesota, in particular, did well in sending women to the House and Senate. Along with Omar, Angie Craig and Betty McCollum were elected to the House of Representatives, while Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar were elected and will return to the Senate. 

When Angie Craig and Tina Smith came to St. Olaf to talk with students, both candidates seemed devoted to representing every woman in Minnesota as best they could. Both of them brought up their disapproval for the rhetoric the president has used regarding women, and asked students what we cared about and why we were voting. I’ll admit, I am biased, but I truly felt as if these candidates were sincerely interested in what Minnesotans are interested in. Politicians can be hard to trust, and they aren’t all what they seem to be, but it was important to me to be convinced these politicians truly cared.

As a young woman, it was especially empowering to see these election results. I’ve always been passionate about women’s rights as a devotion to justice ingrained in me by my mother and grandmother. I feel as though the US has taken a hopeful step forward this midterm election; I was not so sure after the 2016 election. 

Though I am less anxious about the future, I know the fight for equality has not been won yet. There is more work that needs to be done. Women must keep raising their voices and speaking out against those who wish to silence them. We must keep holding our representatives accountable. We must keep voting. 

Emily Pounds ’22 (pounds1@stolaf.edu) is from Saint Paul, Minn. Her major is undecided.