Let's get this out of the way first: November 9 was a terrible day for Florida.
We decided that a man who once starred in a stuffed-crust pizza commercial was more presidential than the former secretary of state and voted to give Marco Rubio his job back despite the fact that he's a spineless invertebrate who somehow managed to become a U.S. Senator.
But there's hope to be found in the women who were elected to public office for the first time on Tuesday, many of whom are minorities and first-generation immigrants and quite a few of whom have overcome incredible odds.
Sadly, their accomplishments were largely overshadowed by the collective sense of doom, frustration, and sadness that many of us felt on Tuesday (and Wednesday and Thursday and today — let’s be real). So let's take a moment to appreciate them now.
1. Dania Beach elected Tamara James, a 32-year-old black woman, as mayor.
Tamara James is a former UM basketball star who attended South Broward High, played in the WNBA, and then returned home to become a community activist and start her own foundation for local kids. But the Sun-Sentinel declined to endorse her, arguing that voters should elect a 60-year-old white man instead because he’d lived there longer and she could always run again. Seriously, that was their entire explanation. She won anyway.
2. Florida got its first black state attorney ever, Aramis Ayala.
This is huge. Nationally, 95 percent of all prosecutors are white. And there’s a very strong argument to be made that this racial disparity is one of the reasons why black people, on average, receive much longer and harsher sentences than white people do. On Tuesday, voters in the Ninth Judicial Circuit (which includes Orlando) took a step in the right direction by electing Aramis Ayala, whose campaign pledges included a stronger focus on domestic violence cases and attempting to heal the rifts between law enforcement and communities of color.
Ayala’s life story is super inspiring and should probably be the subject of a biopic or at least a magazine profile: She got cancer while she was still in law school, beat it, went back and passed the bar, and had a successful career as an assistant public defender and then an assistant state attorney. Then, this fall, she ran against her boss — a middle-aged white dude — and won, despite the fact that media outlets seemed intent on repeatedly pointing out that her husband had served time in prison a decade before on drug-related charges. (He’s now an advocate for restoring former felons’ voting rights, and she says that his experience has shaped her understanding of the criminal justice system.)
Sure, she also had help from George Soros, who contributed millions of dollars to the race. But for now, let’s just enjoy this for the poetic movie-script ending that it is.
3. Beverly Perkins became the first African American woman to serve on the Pompano Beach City Commission.
Given that Pompano Beach is roughly one-third black, it’s about time. Perkins, a longtime community activist who spent several decades registering black voters in northwest Pompano Beach, previously served as Congressman Alcee Hasting’s outreach director. She also led the effort to get Hammondville Road renamed to Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard. On Tuesday, she beat out Ed Phillips, the District 4 incumbent.
4. Amber Mariano, a 21-year-old UCF student, became the youngest person ever elected to Florida legislature.
Okay, so Mariano was endorsed by Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, which is kinda cringeworthy. But her campaign platform centered around making college more affordable, which is hard not to like. And she’s wanted to be the first woman president ever since she was six years old. So props to her, because it looks like she’s already well on her way.
5. Voters chose Florence Taylor Barner to be the first Haitian American judge in Broward County.
Barner, whose parents were Haitian immigrants, is only 35, making her one of the youngest judges in the county. A graduate of the University of Florida’s law school who grew up in North Miami Beach, she spent three years working as a prosecutor for the State Attorney’s Office before going into private practice. Also of note: She’s the first black woman in Broward County to become judge by winning the general election rather than being appointed.
6. Orlando’s Stephanie Murphy is about to be the first Vietnamese American woman in Congress.
Murphy immigrated to the United States when she was just one year old along with her parents, who fled communist Vietnam by boat. While she was growing up, they worked blue-collar jobs and cleaned office buildings at night in order to support her and her brother. With the help of scholarships and Pell grants, she became the first woman in her family to go to college, studying economics at William and Mary and later earning a master’s degree in foreign service from Georgetown. Oh, and she was endorsed by no less than Barack Obama himself.
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7. Daisy Baez, a Dominican American immigrant, will join the state legislature.
Baez, who is a healthcare consultant and a U.S. Army veteran, is also a single mother who wants to see Florida pass a women’s equal pay act. Her other goals? Restore cuts to the Bright Futures scholarship program, expand Medicaid, get Rick Scott to acknowledge that climate change exists, and fight back against what she refers to as the “cannibalization” of public schools by charter schools. She’ll represent District 114 in Miami.
8. Environmental activist Emily Bonilla won a seat on the Orange County Commission.
This is going to sound like a familiar story to any Floridian: developer wants to build thousands of houses in an ecologically sensitive area. Residents protest. Someone on the commission with deep ties to real estate — in this case, Ted Edwards, a lawyer whose job is literally to represent developers — decides to move forward with the plan anyway. But, in a plot twist, Emily Bonilla appeared. Not only did she mobilize hundreds of people to get out and protest the imminent destruction of one of the area’s few remaining rural communities, but she also ran against Edwards and beat him — despite the fact that he’d raised ten times as much money as she had.