TRR photo by Fritz Mayer

Andrea Stewart-Cousins became the first African-American woman majority leader of the New York State Senate. 

Diversity prevails in Albany, Washington D.C.

The 116th U.S. Congress was sworn in on January 3, with many news outlets noting that this is the most diverse Congress in terms of race, sex and religious orientation in the history of this country.

The new Congressman from the New York 19th Congressional District is part of that diverse slate. Antonio Degaldo, the first African American ever to represent Sullivan County and other counties in the district, had a prominent seat with his young family behind Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi as she became only the second person since the 1950s to enjoy a second run as Speaker of the House.

Almost 25% of the people serving in this congress are women, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who at 29 became the youngest woman ever to be elected to Congress. And for the first time in history, two Muslim women—Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib—will have seats in Congress. The new representation also includes Native American women Rep. Sharice Davids and Rep. Deb Haaland.

All of this happened two years after President Donald Trump rode to office slinging insults at women, minorities and immigrants. He derided Sen. Elizabeth Warren by calling her Pocahontas. He said that most Mexicans coming into the country were rapists and thieves. He said there were “good people” among those who marched with white supremacists carrying flags emblazoned with swastikas, and he wanted to ban all foreign Muslims from the country. The success of diversity in this past election was no doubt in part a reaction to Trump’ unique brand of xenophobia.

What’s more, the wave of diverse lawmakers did not recede at the federal level. Wider representation was also found in many statehouse races, including those in the New York State Senate.

The new majority leader of the New York State Senate, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the first woman and the first African American ever to hold that high office, spoke on January 2 at the swearing-in ceremony of Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther and newly-elected Sen. Jen Metzger. Stewart-Cousins said the new senate, with 14 female members of the Democratic Caucus, is the most diverse in the history of the state. “We appreciate that diversity. It’s not something we repel or shun,” she said.

Metzger said that everyone—regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation—in the 42nd NY State Senate District wants essentially the same things: to be treated equally and fairly, a good quality of life, a clean environment and affordable healthcare. In short, she said, they’re asking for the basics that a wealthy, modern, democracy should be able to provide its citizens.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was sworn into his third term on January 1, had been attacking Trump for his anti-immigrant and anti-diversity policies long before Trump ascended to the highest office in the land. Cuomo was sworn in on Ellis Island, where the grandparents of so many U.S. citizens were welcomed to the U.S.

During his remarks at the swearing in, Cuomo mentioned some of the grandchildren of those immigrants who succeeded beyond expectations. He noted that Ellis Island was the place where a Jewish couple from Austria landed and, “whose Brooklyn-born granddaughter would become Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.” For good measure, Cuomo also tied Trump’s and Vice President Mike Pence’s grandparents to Ellis Island.

Today, many top corporations throughout the world are seeking to become more diverse as an added value to their organizations. As an article in Scientific American explains, “Decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers show that socially diverse groups (that is, those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogeneous groups” (tinyurl.com/zo3asdr). More representation, essentially, means a more forward-moving society for all.

As our nation faces extreme challenges—climate change top among them—it seems like good news that we as a nation, as a state and as an electoral district, have helped to elect the most diverse Congress in terms in the history of this country.

It seems unlikely that the President will change his rhetoric on the issue anytime soon. However, it’s just possible that his constant beating of that drum will lead to an even larger round of diverse lawmakers elected to office in 2020.

 

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