For Texas Democrats, Tuesday had some disappointing top-line news, as Republicans retained control of all statewide offices and Ted Cruz won his U.S. Senate re-election. But further down the ballot, the party saw some surprising successes.
Two congressional districts held by Republicans flipped to the Democratic side. In the state House, Texas Democrats picked up a dozen seats. In the state Senate, two more Republican incumbents fell to Democrats.
One of those Democrats was Nathan Johnson, who defeated incumbent Don Huffines in state Senate District 16.
Johnson, like many Democratic candidates who ran across the country this cycle, has an unusual background for a politician. He graduated with a degree in physics from the University of Arizona, and later received a law degree from the University of Texas at Austin. He co-founded a law firm dealing with business disputes, while doing pro bono legal work for the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, which works on immigrants’ rights.
On the side, he has owned a music production business, where he composed classical music as well as music for the American dub of the popular Japanese animation series “Dragon Ball Z.”
In an interview with a fan website, he explained that he got that job because he happened to rent an office from someone who was connected to the production company. “It was one of the most bizarre collisions of circumstance I’ve ever experienced,” he said. Among other things, Johnson campaigned against state pre-emption laws, which prevent cities from enacting their own policies on things like living wages.
In Iowa, Republicans held the governor’s mansion. But down the ballot, there were some bright spots for Democrats. Zach Wahls, a prominent gay rights activist whose 2011 testimony before the Iowa state House invoking his lesbian parents in favor of marriage went viral, won a state Senate seat. He campaigned against the privatization of Medicaid, an experiment that has been costly for Iowa.
Nebraska sent Megan Hunt, a progressive atheist, to a seat in the state’s nonpartisan legislature. It is noteworthy that a state known for its religiosity would elect someone like Hunt, though she did not campaign by wearing her lack of religion on her sleeve. She’s a survivor of sexual assault who previously founded Safe Space Nebraska, a nonprofit that works with bars and nightclubs to address sexual harassment and assault. She knocked on 23,000 doors over the course of her campaign, even while her campaign manager worked two jobs and went to school while working on Hunt’s operation. She campaigned on expanding Medicaid and enacting paid leave in the state.
Out in Hawaii, social studies teacher and Democratic Socialists of America member Amy Perruso will be joining the state House after defeating Republican John E. Miller. She campaigned on raising Hawaii’s minimum wage to $15 per hour; its current minimum wage is $10.10.
In New York, a “Dreamer” named Catalina Cruz was elected to New York state Assembly. She campaigned on fixing the mismanaged New York City subway and establishing a universal health care system in New York state.
The “Panera” strategy of mobilizing swing voters in suburban counties seemed to be in full effect in Georgia, as around half a dozen Republican incumbents in metro Atlanta were either lagging behind their Democratic challengers or outright defeated, as votes are still being counted.
In North Carolina, the Republican supermajority in both the House and Senate was broken. The Michigan Senate and Pennsylvania Senate also saw GOP supermajorities broken. Meanwhile in Oregon, Democrats achieved supermajority control of both chambers. Oregon law requires a three-fifths vote to raise taxes, so this should put the party in a place where it could possibly raise revenue for its priorities.
Democrats also picked up trifectas — control of the governorship and both legislative chambers — in Colorado, Maine, New Mexico, and Illinois. The Minnesota state House flipped, as did the New Hampshire House and Senate.
Correction: November 8, 2018
A previous version of this article misspelled the last name of Amy Perruso. Wahls’s viral speech was in favor of full marriage equality, not civil unions, as previously reported. It has been updated.