I am a Kentuckian, a Democrat and the only Black woman in the Kentucky Legislature. I have heard the stereotypes and experienced the prejudices that accompany being from a southern state: we only vote Republican, we are ignorant when it comes to social issues, our states only have white people who live in rural areas, we’re uneducated, and we’re all struggling with addiction.
We know what it’s like for folks to be condescending toward us because of our political outcomes. But as Tuesday night’s election proved, Kentucky is not the backwater some on the coasts have come to believe. The reality is that there are many factors that influence who we are politically and culturally in the commonwealth — and those factors are changing.
The reality is that there are many factors that influence who we are politically and culturally in the commonwealth — and those factors are changing
While many folks are celebrating what appears to be the Democratic gubernatorial win by Andy Beshear, we also lament the loss of every other constitutional office in Kentucky. Tuesday’s election night win was more a reflection of our collective rejection of a bullying political despot than our enthusiasm for a political dynasty.
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We were sick and tired of a now-hopefully lame duck governor who attacked almost all of us across the state. Republican incumbent Matt Bevin belittled Black people, dismissed immigrants and refugees and repeatedly attacked our teachers, among others. If we didn’t speak up for ourselves at the voting booth, we knew there would have been no one left to speak for us.
But Beshear did not win easily. He had to work hard to earn the votes of young people, women and people of color. I was, admittedly, one of the many people who did not choose Beshear in the primary election. I did, however, choose Kentucky in the general election Tuesday.
Now, it’s time for us to hold the governor-elect accountable and to show up for one another in ways that have historically been avoided and ignored, and we will expect Andy Beshear to do the same.
It’s possible for Democrats to win across Kentucky when we show up for racial justice, speak out for reproductive justice and stand up for equity and fairness. We are a multi-issue state full of immigrants and refugees (including folks from Ethiopia, Mexico, Thailand, etc), young people, people living in poverty and people who have been marginalized.
We can and will win when we build our political power across the state and see ourselves united — from the hollers to the ‘hoods. We can win when we are bold enough to support Black statewide candidates and when we authentically campaign the same way in central Kentucky as we do in eastern Kentucky, northern Kentucky and western Kentucky.
We can and will win when we listen to one another, stop judging people who vote differently than us, and choose to build authentic relationships across our differences. Of course, this means respecting and valuing one another’s humanity. I refuse to allow myself to be treated as invisible for the sake of partisanship or political expediency — no one should be asked or expected to make that sacrifice.
Republicans still control the Legislature in Kentucky, but we’ve made gains for progress in 2016 and 2018. In 2016, I defeated a 34-year incumbent to become the first Black woman in the 21st century to be elected to the Legislature. In 2018, we elected our first Indian immigrant to the Legislature.
Our grassroots organizing, ground work and advocacy in the Legislature helped to show people what we do as Democrats.
What is happening across the south — and Virginia flipping Democratic on Tuesday is yet another example — is a result of ongoing mobilizing, organizing, registering people to vote and empowering ourselves. In southern states, we’ve seen this with labor unions and community-based organizations. If we ignore all of this history and present-day work, it will be to our detriment.
We can and will win when we choose one another. In 2020, Mitch McConnell is next on the list. And I, for one, can’t wait.