SEATTLE — Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) beat former Governor Tommy Thompson (R) last night to represent Wisconsin in the U.S. Senate. Baldwin is the first female Senator to represent Wisconsin.
And with the race still close to call, former State Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D) is still narrowly edging out Councilmember Vernon Parker (R) for Arizona’s 9th District for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Baldwin’s win and Sinema’s competitive showing represent more than the success of two women. These women embody representational progress at the intersection of gender and sexual orientation.
In the United States, we have a representative democracy. That means, instead of us all gathering as a nation to deliberate politics as was done during Ancient Greece, we elect politicians to represent us, and to deliberate politics on the modern-day forum of the Congressional floor.
But representative democracy can have another meaning: The idea of self-representation. The idea that beyond our ideas and ideologies being represented, there is the idea that we as people with different genders, races, ethnicities, education, occupations, religion, geographies, and sexual orientations are physically represented.
Self-representation is important because not all politicians are alike. For example, women in Congress do bring something different to the table than their male colleagues. A recent article in New York magazine showcased the differences:
“For a forthcoming paper on female lawmakers’ effectiveness, three political scientists crunched all 138,246 bills introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives over the past four decades. They found women introduced twice as many bills on civil rights and liberties bills; many more on ‘family’ concerns; and significantly more on labor, immigration, education, and health. In other words, it’s about much more than who is paying for my birth control. They note that despite a century of discussion about health-care policy, it took a female speaker of the House to make universal health care happen.”
Therefore it is not unreasonable to think that members of Congress who represent different sexual orientations may also put forth issues and legislation that are different than other members, and that are also of concern to the people they represent–be it representation of their constituency or self-representation.
The role of self-representational politics is embraced by select politicians. For example. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has said, “There are still so few women in Congress…so you really do have to represent much more than your own state…Women from all over the country really do follow what you do and rely on you to speak out for them.”
Of course, the task to represent these segments of the population should not only fall on these politicians, nor should it automatically fall on them based on their identities alone.
That said, Baldwin’s win last night, and the potential success of Sinema, mean that the 113th U.S. Congress is slowly becoming more representative of all Americans.