It turns out that if you run a campaign centered on real issues, people take notice.
"To every person who's ever been singled out, who's ever been stigmatized, who's ever been the misfit, who's ever been the kid in the corner, who's ever needed someone to stand up for them when they didn't have a voice of their own ... this one's for you," said Virginia delegate-elect Danica Roem during a fiery victory speech on Tuesday, Nov. 7.
Roem is a transgender woman, but her gender identity is secondary to the main issue she campaigned on: fixing Route 28.
"That's why I got in this race, because I'm fed up with the frickin' road over in my home town," she said to laughter and applause during the speech, calling on the state legislature to fix existing problems rather than creating new ones.
Roem's election makes her the first out transgender person who will be elected and seated in a state legislature. Photo by Danica Roem for Delegate.
Roem used her speech to highlight the importance of focusing on unifying issues like infrastructure, ensuring teachers get fair pay, working to expand access to health care, and finding cost-effective solutions to local problems.
"This is the important stuff," she told the crowd. "We can't get lost in discrimination. We can't get lost in BS. We can't get lost tearing each other down."
It's that view, that it's the government's job to address issues of infrastructure and public health, that set her apart from her opponent, incumbent candidate Bob Marshall. Marshall, the self-described "chief homophobe" of Virginia, is perhaps best known for introducing a so-called "bathroom bill" designed to discriminate against trans people. Seeing a politician so obsessed with his anti-LGBTQ views have his seat won out from under him by a trans woman just feels ... symbolic.
Oh yeah, did I mention Roem is also a singer in a heavy metal band?
Mailers sent out by her opponent's campaign before the election warned that "[His] defeat would signal that holding these [anti-LGBTQ] principles is a detriment to being elected."
Hopefully, Marshall is right about that. The people who represent us in government should represent all of us, and his defeat shows many voters aren't willing to put up with elected officials who don't see things that way.
In a recent interview on a right-wing radio show, Marshall showed his disdain for Roem and trans people, generally:
"It is not a civil right to masquerade your fantasies as reality. ... I’ve drawn a line. I’m not leaving it, because I don’t make the laws of nature but I think I understand them, at least at this fundamental level. I never flunked biology, so I’m not going to call a man a woman, period."
If a candidate wants to run on a platform of legislating trans people out of public existence or thinks it's OK accuse their political opponents of defying the laws of nature, that should be detrimental to their odds of being elected.
We need more candidates like Roem whose political ambitions revolve around how best to help their constituents.
This country belongs to all of us. As Roem said in her victory speech (which is excellent, and you should watch it below) with all the intensity of a seasoned politician:
"No matter what you look like, where you come from, how you worship, who you love, how you identify — and yeah, how you rock — that if you have good public policy ideas and you’re well qualified for office, bring those ideas to the table because this is your America too."
Just as it's not enough for Democrats to simply run on being not-Trump, perhaps this is a sign that it's not enough for Republicans to bank on voters hating the same groups as them. During the 2016 election, then-North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory ran hard on the state's anti-trans bathroom bill only to come up short; Marshall did the same in his race against Roem.
Maybe, just maybe, empathy is winning out, and maybe people are coming to understand that the purpose of government isn't to determine who to oppress, but how to help lift us all.