In one of many strong showings for LGBTQ candidates — and for minorities in general — U.S. Rep. Jared Polis became the first out gay men ever elected governor of a U.S. state.
The 43-year-old Democrat, who has represented Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District since 2009, topped Republican state Treasurer Walker Stapleton by 51.5 to 44.9.
“It’s a historic win — not just for the LGBT community but for the state of Colorado,” Annise Parker, president and CEO of the Victory Fund, told the Denver Post. “The fact that the state of Colorado, in 25 years, has gone from being dubbed the ‘hate state’ to a place that can elect someone who is not just openly gay, but publicly gay, that’s historic.”
Colorado was considered a bastion of homophobia after the state passed a ballot initiative in 1991 banning municipalities from enacting anti-discrimination laws protecting lesbians and gays.
Amendment 2 was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1996. The ruling in Romer v Evans set a legal precedent paving the way for the court’s 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage.
In his victory speech, Polis, who has never dodged questions about his sexual orientation, thanked his partner Marlon Reis. The couple has two children.
Polis is also Colorado’s first Jewish governor.
The Victory Fund strongly backed Polis, as well as the reelection of Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who is both the first lesbian and the first woman from Wisconsin ever elected to the Senate.
Baldwin handily won reelection, despite being a top Republican target. Her 10.8 percent victory (55.4-45.6) eclipsed the margins of Scott Walker's three gubernatorial wins, the strongest of which was 6.8 percent in his 2012 recall race.
Baldwin’s Republican opponent Leah Vukmir was, an aggressively anti-LGBTQ state senator who ran a campaign aimed sharply at the corporate and evangelical right. Vukmir attempted to portray Baldwin as too extreme, but ended up creating that impression of herself.
In addition to Polis, Democrat Kate Brown, who is openly bisexual, won a hard-fought reelection as Oregon’s governor.
The midterm election saw record numbers of LGBT candidates running for and winning elections at all levels of government, from school boards to state legislatures to Congress.
The election also saw a record number of 95 women elected to the U.S. House, and at least 13 to the Senate, where they will join the 10 current female senators who were not up for reelection.
According to the most current vote totals, 115 women won national office, including several lesbian and bisexual women and 42 women of color.
Victory Fund wins big
A historically high total of four openly LGBTQ people ran for governor. In addition to Polis and Brown, former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez ran for governor of Texas and Christine Hallquist ran for governor of Vermont, according to the Victory Fund. The organization, whose board is chaired by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, backed a slate of 224 LGBTQ candidates who ran in the midterm election.
Total Victory Fund winners included eight federal-level candidates, 86 state/statewide candidates and 34 local candidates. Among them were seven candidates who won election or reelection to the U.S. House of Representatives: Mark Pocan (Wisconsin), David Cicilline (Rhode Island), Sean Maloney, (New York), Chris Pappas (New Hampshire), Angie Craig (Minnesota), Sharice Davis (Kansas) and Mark Takano (California).
Sharice Davis is the first Native American woman ever elected to Congress in an election that ushered in a historical diversity of legislators. CNN commentator Van Jones described the new Congress as one that will be younger, browner and cooler, with more women and veterans.
"We have the first Muslim women, the first Native American women, the first black woman from Massachusetts, the first Latina from Texas," he said. "It may not be a blue wave, it's a rainbow wave. It's something happening out there and I'm happy about it."
Jones said he was particularly excited by such firsts as the election of the first two Muslim women to Congress, as well as the first two Latinas from Texas.