This past Tuesday, progressive ballot measures stole the show during election night coverage. Minnesota voters struck down a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage, while voters affirmed their support for gay marriage in Maine, Maryland and Washington.
Elsewhere, Colorado and Washington state voters moved to legalize and regulate marijuana.
For some political commentators, these votes — all of which reflect a traditionally liberal or progressive approach to social issues — signal a major shift in public opinion. And that change, in fact, is relatively recent. “Ballot measures that had failed for years on same-sex marriage and drug decriminalization this time won approval,” USA TODAY reported.
Yet these progressive ballot measures aren’t the only major changes that occurred on election night. Across the country, voters embraced multiple historic candidates — officials notable not only for their experience, commitment and values, but their backgrounds, too. Here are three candidates who made history Nov. 6:
Mazie Hirono, the first Asian-American woman elected to Senate
President Obama isn’t the only notable American politician with Hawaiian roots. Hirono, a Democrat elected to represent Hawaii in the Senate, has diverse roots. An immigrant and a Buddhist, Hirono views the historic nature of her election with wry acknowledgement.
“I bring quadruple diversity to the Senate,” said Hirono at a campaign rally, the Silicon Valley Mercury News reported.
“I’m a woman. I’ll be the first Asian woman ever to be elected to the U.S. Senate. I am an immigrant. I am a Buddhist. When I said this at one of my gatherings, they said, ‘Yes, but are you gay?’ and I said, ‘Nobody’s perfect.’ ”
According to her website, Hirono hopes to prioritize increased sustainability, clean energy and job creation in her advocacy as senator.
U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin waves to supporters after making her a victory speech Tuesday in Madison, Wis. Baldwin defeated former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson to become the nation’s first openly gay senator.
Tammy Baldwin, the first LGBT woman elected to Senate
Across the country from Hawaii, Wisconsin also saw historic changes this election.
Baldwin, who was elected to represent the state in the Senate, is the first openly gay politician elected to the chamber. The issue of Baldwin’s sexual orientation, however, “rarely came up in the campaign,” CNN reported.
Baldwin acknowledged, however, that increased diversity can yield important benefits to political discourse.
“Having a seat at the table matters,” Baldwin told CNN. “Legislative bodies that look more like America” help the country move toward “real equality.”
Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu woman elected to Congress
When Gabbard — elected to the House of Representatives from Hawaii — takes her inaugural oath, she won’t be sworn in under the Bible. Instead, Gabbard will use the Bhagavad Gita, which she views as a central text in her Hindu faith.
Gabbard believes her Hindu faith will enable her to accomplish important diplomatic goals while in Congress, according to the Huffington Post.
“It is clear that there needs to be a closer working relationship between the United States and India,” she said. “How can we have a close relationship if decision-makers in Washington know very little, if anything, about the religious beliefs, values and practices of India’s 800 million Hindus?”
Organizations that work to advance the rights of Buddhists, Hindus and LGBT Americans have viewed these elections as signs of an important cultural shift. As the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) printed in a press release, “candidates should be judged on their qualifications for the job and not their sexual orientation.”
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