“For Tara Gaston, it was being repeatedly told “that’s not the way things have been done” on the Saratoga County, N.Y., board of supervisors, to which she had just been elected.
For Haya Ayala, it was watching her bill calling for pay parity get “killed before it could get anywhere near the floor” of the Virginia House of Delegates, which she joined as one of an influx of newcomers last year.
And for Deborah Gonzalez, it was taking her first meeting with the other candidate who had flipped a seat in the Georgia House of Representatives during a special election last fall and realizing that “he got a big office; I got a little office. He was given his first choice of committee requests; I didn’t get any of my committee requests. He was a white man; I was a Latina.”
There’s a blue wave predicted for November, composed of record numbers of newcomers, many of them women, who are running to change the status quo. But for the forerunners of that wave — new legislators like Gaston, Ayala and Gonzalez, who have already won their off-year or special elections — that expectation has now met reality. Like generations of officeholders before them, they are learning that getting elected is completely different from governing, and that this unprecedented and unpredictable political landscape makes it all the more complicated.
“The attention has been on the record numbers who are running and to the message being sent by those sheer numbers,” says Rosalyn Cooperman, associate professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va. “But what kind of change this brings depends not only on who runs and who wins, but how they navigate the rigid political institutions” they are being elected to.”
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