This midterm election was a true Culture Rupture. The great gender divide is more glaring than ever in the election of 31 new women to the House of Representatives. And for the first time, millennial women are making the power of youth and diversity a game changer.
In 2014, many millennials slept through the midterms with barely 20 percent of the youngest half of the generation showing up to vote. That number jumped by 55 percent in the recent midterms, giving Democrats the youth vote by 35 points. This is the first time since 1984 that Democrats have won control of the House without winning men.
At least a half dozen of the 31 new female representatives are Warrior Women of millennial age—military veterans and national security experts and prosecutors. These are gender daring and racially and religiously diverse women. That in itself is predictive of a dramatic change in the debate within American politics.
But the great gender divide is not only political, it is psychological. For the first time in history, white suburban women voted in large numbers in opposition to their husbands.
Mikie Sherrill, a helicopter pilot in Iraq and a mother of three, was asked by Mika Bresinski if she was daunted by getting into politics: “It’s so ugly, they drag up everyone form the past…” Sherrill was unfazed. “A lot of us are used to breaking through barriers,” she said. “I think as women, that's what we've been doing our entire careers.”
Another vivid example of how strong these new Warrior Women can be is the fierce election battle in San Antonio, Texas between Democratic newcomer Gina Ortiz Jones and Republican incumbent Will Hurd. It’s a fight beyond the finish.
As of 2:30 am last Wednesday morning, the 37-year-old millennial woman had a 282-vote lead over her opponent. But the election had already been called as Hurd’s, based on careless reporting by the Associated Press. By six a.m., AP had corrected its error in counting the last precinct and reported that Hurd was ahead again, although only by 689 votes. The Hurd campaign declared victory. The same afternoon, Ortiz Jones tweeted that she was prepared to fight on: “This election is not over — every vote matters and must be counted.”
This election is not over — every vote matters and must be counted.
Now, as of a week later, the current vote count is just over 1.000 votes in her opponent’s favor. Her grassroots organizers and campaign staffers have accused the Elections Administrator of disenfranchising voters by withholding the list of provisional ballots. These are ballots submitted by people whose eligibility is uncertain. They are in the public record. The Ortiz Jones team is demanding this public record be released to show whether people’s provisional ballots were accepted or rejected. The deadline is set for end of day Tuesday 11-13. But she may fight on. The Texas Secretary of State has declared that Ortiz Jones “is well within the margin to request a vote recount. “
Running in Texas’ largest electoral district, the 23rd, with a long border shared with Mexico, this Filipino-American woman had built her campaign from the grass roots up, traveling to every precinct from el Paso to Austin. She even led a gay Pride Parade in a small conservative town on the border, Eagle’s Rock, while President Trump was inflaming his base with his fake warnings of a disease-infected caravan of “bad hombres” ready to ”invade” the United States.
Of all the “firsts” that Gina Ortiz Jones represents as a first-time political candidate--—the first woman to represent Texas’s largest congressional district; the first Iraq War veteran from Texas; the first Filipina daughter of an immigrant; the least perilous of her firsts is her open celebration that if elected, she would be the first out woman to represent Texas in Congress. That fact alone speaks volumes about how far women have advanced in the confidence to stand up for who they are.
Ortiz Jones has performed the male warrior role as an Air Force intelligence officer deployed to Iraq for three years. She has had command authority in hostile environments and has been hardened by real combat, not tantrums and tweets and declarations of “war” against Democrats if they “keep investigating.” . And she has learned how to work with men regardless of class or political affiliation. Ortiz Jones’ hardships have also sharpened her emotional intelligence. As an adult she is able to forgive her absent father and appreciate the sacrifices made by her Filipino mother in leaving her country behind to raise children able to pursue the American dream.
But back in her freshman year of high school, she was rebellious. Stubbornly ready to receive six months probation for an altercation with another student, as she tells it, she caught a look of disappointment on the face of Victorina Ortiz. This is the single mother who raised her and her younger sister in the absence of a father, who was a Korean War veteran with PTSD and substance abuse problems. Once Ortiz Jones found something of a father figure in her student council advisor at John Jay High School, she won her first political office. President of the student council in her senior year, she graduated near the top of her class.
Victorina Ortiz worked so many jobs cleaning white women’s homes, her two daughters had to communicate with her through a notebook. “Sometimes we wouldn’t see her for a couple of days. We’d write a note about passing an exam. She’d write “‘good job on that,’ see you in a couple of days,” Ortiz Jones told me. A devout woman, she would remind her daughters, “Make sure you’re up and dressed because you and your sister are altar servers at St. Rosalia’s Catholic Church in San Antonio.’”
When the 15-year-old Ortiz Jones told her mother, “Mom, I think I like girls,” Victorina hardly looked up from her magazine as she said, “I think you just like the clothes that they’re wearing.” In hindsight, Ortiz Jones thinks that her mother was trying to protect her, knowing how hard it would be for her.
If they found out I was gay, they would take away my opportunity to serve our country. And my opportunity to die for our country.”
Seeing the military as a channel to pursue an education that she could otherwise never afford, Ortiz Jones earned a four-year Air Force ROTC scholarship and 16 other scholarship offers before choosing Boston University. There she would earn both a B.A. in East Asian studies and an M.A in economics. To qualify for a career in military intelligence, she went on to study military arts and sciences at the U.S. Army School of Advanced Military Studies and earned another master’s degree. She then joined the Air Force and was deployed to Iraq during the peak of George W. Bush’s unpopular war. Embedded with the Army as an active duty intelligence officer, her job was to guide American fighter pilots on when to respond to enemy engagement.
“Embedded” is a cruel word to describe her experience in Iraq. It was still the era of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the Clinton-era policy that prohibited LGTBQ service personnel from disclosing their sexuality. About the anguish of her isolated personal life in those years, Ortiz Jones is unusually forthcoming. When her battle buddies would talk about their weekend plans, she had to either disengage or outright lie. “The immeasurable cost was not being able to form the type of bonds that military members are known for forming with one another,” she wrote in a Facebook post. One false step, and she would have had to forfeit her scholarship and drop out of college.
She told me how it haunted her even later, as an Air Force captain: “I know what it’s like when you’ve worked so hard for something, and you live in fear every day that it could be taken away from you. If they found out I was gay, they would take away my opportunity to serve our country. And my opportunity to die for our country.”
This is a woman who had to learn how to hide. It may help to explain her extreme guardedness; perhaps a touch of PTSD. Captain Ortiz Jones hung tough on active duty in Iraq for three years until word came—not from the stoical Victorina—that her mother was being treated for colon cancer. That prompted her daughter to leave the military in 2006 and go back to her family home in San Antonio to care for her mother. For the next two years, she worked for a consulting company. Her mother survived. This is not the kind of sacrifice one hears about in many male politicians’ resumes.
You can’t teach courage and you can’t teach class.
In 2008, she was able to pick up her career in military intelligence. It was her strategic understanding of how foreign economies work and affect U.S. national security that won her a giant leap in career status in 2012. As she likes to say on the campaign, “It’s not often that a girl goes from subsidized housing and reduced school lunches to working in the Executive Office of the President, where some of the most important decisions affecting our country and the world are made.”
When she decided to try to reflect her values by running for Congress. “The first question that political people asked me was, ‘How much money can you raise?’” She has refused to take corporate money.
“But my community and my country invested in me,” she adds. Emily’s List was fully invested in her race. She was also supported by End Citizens United, a non-profit dedicated to ending the fiction that corporations are people and thus can multiply their campaign contributions. Ortiz Jones also gives back. She set up a scholarship for her high school, where only 300 out of 900 kids go on to college, and hired one of her scholarship recipients for her campaign team.
Although she is often seen as a Latina, Ortiz Jones is a Filipino-American, born of a Filipino mother and American father. Most Filipinos identify as Asian or Pacific Islanders.
I followed Ortiz Jones to Eagle Pass, the small town on the Texas-Mexico border that was holding its second annual Pride Parade. A molten sun was laying down its rays on the community park when Ortiz Jones arrived to address the boisterous crowd of about 200. including men in bare-butt drag and buxom trans mamas in gold lame and little daughters with eagle-feather crowns. I spoke with Annette Zuniga, a local resident, 33, a married Latina with children. She was curious about Ortiz Jones’s “hyphenated name.“ She asked me, as did many undecided voters, “Is she part Hispanic?”
Before the candidate spoke, Zuniga told me “I’m not that much into voting.”
Ortiz Jones appeared on stage, slender in a cotton tweed dress and ankle boots—no adornments whatsoever. “I want to wish you a happy Pride. It takes a lot of courage to say ‘I am proud of who I am. I am proud of who I love. And if you have a problem with that, it’s your problem.” The cheers were deafening.
She continued: “People always ask me, ‘Why run for this office?’ I’ve been very fortunate. I served under ‘Don’t ask, Don’t tell.’ It’s so important that we gather like this and remind each other how strong our community is. But we must also remember how quickly we could lose this, by people who don’t like us, who don’t want us to serve in the military. In days, we start early voting—it’s the most important election in our lifetime! So let’s go out and give ‘em hell!”
Hearing this modest woman, Zuniga was dazzled. “The way she spoke, so authentic, the confidence behind her words—she was inspiring. Just the fact that she came up here on only the second Pride parade in a hyper-conservative town on the border of Mexico! I can relate to her. Her mom supports her choice. I want to do that as a mom. I’m going to vote—for her.”
As Ortiz Jones says, “You can’t teach courage.”
What are your thoughts on the gender divide?