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Minority Candidates Make History in Delaware's Midterm Elections

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Among the national wave of upsets in the midterm elections, women and people of color led the headlines.

The local races in Delaware were no exception, with significantly more black and female lawmakers elected across the state. In a year when one-quarter of its members did not seek re-election, Delaware’s legislature now will be far more diverse, with the most black and female members in history.

Women claimed more than half of Delaware’s nine statewide elected positions, with a female attorney general, auditor, and treasurer joining Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long and U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester and boosting the number of women in the legislature from 13 to 25. In 2016, incumbent Rochester became the first woman and first African-American elected to the U.S. House from Delaware.

For the next legislative session, the number of black legislators doubles from four to eight, a historic high. African-Americans comprise 22 percent of Delaware’s population and now hold 13 percent of the legislative seats.

Women sweep state offices

Women swept the statewide offices this year, adding female faces to vital roles in Delaware’s government.

Kathy Jennings became the state’s first female attorney general since 2005, defeating her opponent by 22 points. Kathy McGuiness, a pharmacist and Rehoboth Beach commissioner, became the first female state auditor in Delaware history and the first Democrat to hold the office in decades. Healthcare consultant Colleen Davis knocked off one-term incumbent Ken Simpler—the state’s highest-ranking Republican and a possible future candidate for governor—to become state treasurer.

But the first taste of post-presidential election victory came in February 2017, with the special election for Delaware’s 10th district Senate seat. It was the first swing election in the nation after Donald Trump’s January inauguration, and impassioned donors and supporters across the country helped Stephanie Hansen fight for a Democratic majority at the local level. The environmental attorney won a decisive victory over her Republican challenger.

 

Krista Griffith, a former Delaware attorney general, says her primary goal is improving access to and lowering costs of healthcare.//Photo by Maria DeForrest

 

Seeing successful challenges for new leadership led former Deputy Attorney General Krista Griffith to a campaign victory over long-serving Republican House Minority Whip Deborah Hudson of the Greenville-Hockessin area. Griffith served for nearly a decade as deputy attorney general in the Delaware Department of Justice, prosecuting criminal cases, developing policy and drafting legislation. She says she knew her unique background, which includes leading protection efforts for Delaware seniors and caring for a son with leukemia, would be an asset in representing the people of the 12th District.

“My experiences give me a deep understanding of the challenges facing our residents, as well as the passion and ability to do something about those challenges,” she says.

Griffith saw a path to victory in a formerly red district and built a committed team of volunteers to reach out to as many voters as possible.

“My team worked tirelessly to accomplish that goal by knocking on thousands of doors, calling and writing to hundreds of voters and helping me raise money so that we could spread our message as widely as possible,” she says.

Griffith says her primary goal as state senator is improving access to and lowering costs of healthcare. In 2015, her son was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia just a few weeks after his first birthday. Having excellent health insurance allowed her to leave her position as a deputy attorney general to focus solely on seeing her son—who’s now cancer free—through his treatment.

She knows that for many people a medical crisis such as hers also would become a financial catastrophe, and she says she is committed to making affordable medical care more accessible for Delawareans.

Sturgeon becomes first Latina elected to the Delaware legislature

As a public-school teacher and advocate, Laura Sturgeon says she didn’t feel represented by the conservative political leanings of Greg Lavelle, the state senator from the 4th District and former minority whip.

“Having grown up in North Wilmington, I knew it was a very centrist area, and I wanted somebody who represented me and my community better,” she says. Looking at the history of the district, which has flipped back and forth between both parties, Sturgeon believed in a path forward. She just didn’t know she would be the one to forge it.

Laura Sturgeon is the first Latina to be elected to the
Delaware legislature.//photo by Maria DeForrest

“I saw the opportunity to make a difference and thought, ‘Wait a minute, I want this change. Why not step up and be the one to run?'” Sturgeon says.

She first considered entering the race for state Senate after seeing the results of Delaware’s primary back in September 2016. “At the time, I firmly believed we would have our first female president and I decided I wanted to flip this seat,” she says.

After the 2016 presidential election, she floated the idea to a friend in the Delaware House, whose daughter was a former student. There was a lot of Democratic energy picking up, especially after the national attention that accompanied Hansen’s special election win.

After that, a few members of the local Democratic Party encouraged Sturgeon to run and offered help. In particular, a new grassroots activist group called Network Delaware was instrumental in helping her write a campaign plan and form a team.

“Once I had a roadmap, I was like, ‘OK, I just have to work my butt off and execute this plan,'” she says.

As the daughter of Argentinian immigrants, Sturgeon feels in touch with a district that has so many Asian immigrants with stories similar to hers. “These are immigrants who came to this country as professionals, and that was my family’s story,” she says. “My parents came here as college graduates to pursue Ph.D.s.”

Because the 4th District is among the wealthiest in the state, encompassing three well-known country clubs, those immigrant experiences are often far different from what dominates the daily news cycle. Still, Sturgeon says her own family’s experience will inform how she governs.

“Our immigrant stories are not always the story of a family struggling,” she says. “But I feel I can represent the stories of many of the immigrants in my district.”

Lockman becomes second black woman ever in the Delaware Senate

Tizzy Lockman, a 38-year-old mother and community activist, says her decision to run for the Delaware Senate was a culmination of her work in public service, community development and activism. She won the seat formerly held by retiring Democratic incumbent Bob Marshall in Delaware’s 3rd District.

Lockman has been actively involved in advocating for education reform as a member of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee and as director of the Parent Advocacy Council for Education.

When the political climate heated up after the 2016 election, it challenged many people to think about their participation in democracy, she says. “It was an opportunity to take a step forward from wherever you were on the spectrum of democratic participation. I was already facilitating civic engagement in the community, and I felt personally challenged to do more.”

 

Tizzy Lockman is the second black woman ever in the state Senate.//photo by Maria DeForrest

 

She felt it was the ideal moment for her to strive for this role serving the senate district where she grew up and now resides with her family.

Lockman didn’t face a Republican challenger in the district, one of the most diverse and densely populated in the state, which encompasses more than half the city of Wilmington.

She will become the first woman and the first person of color to hold this seat in a district with more than twice as many black and Hispanic residents as the rest of the state.

Lockman says she feels fortunate to have been involved in friends’ past political campaigns and already have a support system familiar with the building blocks of a campaign.

“It was just a matter of sitting down with people in the know about how campaigning works, and I was extremely lucky to have people willing to help me,” she says.

Lockman says her top goal as state senator is pushing for more equitable education funding. She went through the Red Clay Consolidated School District herself and saw the stark difference in resources as her daughter attended the same schools.

“We are in desperate need of education funding reform and the General Assembly needs to be the place to do it,” she says. “I wanted to be at that table.”

Seven of eight black legislative members are new to the assembly

Nnamdi Chukwuocha believes increased diversity in
the legislature will help lawmakers address many
conditions that have impacted minority groups.
//photo by maria deforrest

Stephanie Bolden is the only black member of the legislature returning to office. The other seven are new faces, including Lockman, Kendra Johnson, Franklin Cooke Jr., Melissa Minor Brown and former Wilmington City Council members Darius Brown, Sherry Dorsey Walker and Nnamdi Chukwuocha.

Chukwuocha says he challenged incumbent State Rep. Charles Potter Jr.—also African-American and a Democrat—because Potter didn’t reflect his values, indicated by actions such as voting against the Marriage Equality Act.

“We need representation that unites us, not further divides and separates us,” he says. “I believe we need better representation on the issues that matter most like education, equality, and social and criminal justice.”

Chukwuocha hopes the increase in African-Americans and women in legislative bodies—locally and nationally—will produce greater awareness, respect and more inclusive deliberation.

“I believe the increased diversity will help guide our legislative approaches to address many of the conditions that have impacted certain communities: people of color, women, and other minority groups, and ultimately, this will aid in moving our state and nation forward,” he says. 

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