Our Body Politic

What the Elections Teach Us About Swing Voter Issues Today, How Race and Ethnicity Shape Young People of Color Politically, and Why Welcoming Refugees Helps Us

Episode Notes

Host Farai Chideya talks with longtime immigrant rights expert Cecilia Muñoz about Welcome.US, a website that connects people to the process of resettling newcomers. Our Body Politic contributors Diane Wong and Jenn Jackson, researchers at the GenForward survey, share their findings about the favorability of both major parties with young people of color. Author and global citizen Chloe Dulce Louvouezo embarks on an exploration of identity in her book, "Life, I Swear: Intimate Stories From Black Women on Identity, Healing and Self-Trust.” And on Sippin’ the Political Tea, Errin Haines of the 19th and Tiffany Jeffers of Georgetown Law dissect the week’s news with Farai, going through the major elections this month and what they say about the issues getting voters to the polls.


1:04 Cecilia Muñoz on her new initiative to help us welcome refugees

10:51 The data scientists at GenForward on young people of color and the two-party system

21:21 Author Chloe Dulce Louvouezo on finding home in herself

29:35 Sippin’ the Political Tea: Our Body Politic contributors Errin Haines and Tiffany Jeffers cover the week’s news with Farai Chideya

Episode Transcription

Farai Chideya: Thank you for listening to and sharing Our Body Politic. We are always so grateful to you for your support. Every time you leave a review on Apple Podcast, we get important feedback about our show and it helps other listeners find us. So after you listen today, consider leaving us one. As always, thanks so much. 

This is Our Body Politic, I’m Farai Chideya. This week, we explore questions of identity, what it means to be Black in the US, and how young voters feel about the two party system. First, we want to cover yet another angle of the migration crisis, the refugees coming from Afghanistan. The Biden-Harris administration began informing governors this fall about the Afghan evacuees that would be resettling in the States. Nonprofits and individual citizens have been taking on the efforts to support them at the local level.

Cecilia Muñoz is a senior advisor at New America, former director of the White House Domestic Policy Council under Obama, and former vice president of the National Council of La Raza, now called Unidos US. She was recognized with the MacArthur fellowship in 2000 for her work on immigration and civil rights. Today, she's turning her political know-how to the Afghan refugee crisis. She co-chairs Welcome.US, a website that connects people to the process of resettling newcomers. welcome.us also works with major companies and nonprofits to coordinate everything from housing for migrants, to donating airline miles for their travel. I'm delighted to have Cecilia Muñoz on Our Body Politic to tell us more. Cecilia, welcome back.

Cecilia Muñoz: Thank you so much for having me.

Chideya: Can you give us a little sense of what the state of play is for refugees from Afghanistan, since you're focusing on that as part of this work?

Muñoz: Yeah. This is really the folks who were evacuated from Afghanistan. And mostly, these are folks coming with nothing. They literally walked out of their homes and they are largely in military bases overseas, where they're going through processing to make sure that they pass all of the security checks to be allowed to come to the United States, and then they will arrive. It is, obviously, a very big moment for these families, but it's also temporary, right? The people who are refugees are not people who are in need forever, they're in need now. And we can be stronger places of welcome than we have been, and that's something that we're hoping to accomplish with this campaign.

Chideya: Writers reported that hundreds of Afghan refugees are leaving those military bases before they get resettlement services. Why do you think some of them are making that choice?

Muñoz: Yeah. So that's folks who have already come to the United States, but they're in military bases here and they're waiting for the process to play out. Some of them have contacts and family or friends in the United States and so rather than wait for all of the services to play out there, leaving and rejoining their family, we're a little bit worried about the families that have left the bases, because there are parts of the process which are really useful to them and securing the documents that you'll need, ultimately, to be able to live and work successfully in the US. But it's understandable when you've had to leave everything and you have people here, you want to get to your people here as quickly as possible, that seems like a pretty human thing.

Chideya: I was fascinated to learn a bit about how different states are very invested in bringing in refugees, others are not. Can you explain a little bit more the role of the state, the actual US state in making choices about refugee resettlement?

Muñoz: Folks who come in through the traditional refugee process, which is right, you're in a refugee camp somewhere in the world, you get processed and are allowed to come in, there's some degree of federal support. There's these voluntary agencies who are in the business of helping people resettle, and the state gets involved as well because they have a stake in the success of those newcomers, of those folks who are starting their new lives at home. And so many states have embraced this and have a long tradition of working with the resettlement agencies in the federal government. Interestingly, in the sort of moment of the end of the war in Afghanistan, many governors of both parties, I think almost 50 states, not quite, stood up and said, with respect to these people from Afghanistan, "They stood up with us and we will stand up with them." So there is an encouraging kind of bipartisan spirit going on right now, with respect to this group of refugees. And as we know, as compelling as the stories of the Afghan newcomers are, that they're not the only newcomers making lives in the US. And there's more work to be done to help with, for example, the kids who came alone, unaccompanied migrant children who have come from Central America, who are also starting new lives.

Chideya: We recently did a special round table on the military and veterans, and it had two Black female veterans. We talked a bit about the need for resettling refugees from Afghanistan. And both of them also said, "Let's not forget about our brothers and sisters from Central and Latin America, from Haiti, from other parts of the world." As a Latina woman who has been powerful for years, and years, and years, how do you see your role in leadership on a multinational global stage of refugee resettlement, and more broadly, who is American?

Muñoz: We have to stand up for each other. That to me feels like the tradition that got handed to me by virtue of my parents becoming Americans. We're not always good at it, at every point in our history, but I do know this, that we have always been proud of the times when we have stood up with the people who were coming and we are frequently ashamed of the times when we have not, right? When we turned around the St. Louis with refugees fleeing Nazi, Germany, that is something that causes a shame and it should. I think a lot of people felt an absolute shock when they saw the treatment of the migrants coming from Haiti, just a couple weeks ago at the hands of our border patrol. That's not something to be proud of. We can do much, much better than that. And frankly, we have to do much better than that. So as a Latina, who's a daughter of immigrants, who has worked in immigration policy, my whole career, it feels important to me to stand up both for my own community, but especially, for communities that are not the ones that I come from. To send that kind of a message, right? That we need to be one watching out for each other and invoking the best of what we're capable of as Americans. I feel like in the last few years, we've gotten a really good dose of the worst that we're capable of. And this is part of the antidote to that, is finding ways to be at our best.

Chideya: As someone who's been in a long time field reporter, I've talked to people of every race and many ethnicities who are against immigration, including some Latinos and Blacks, et cetera, including some immigrants. What do you say to people who might be people of color or immigrants who are like, "Nope. Done?"

Muñoz: I think it's really important to listen. That sentiment is usually coming from somewhere. And sometimes, it's a place of fear, sometimes, it's a place of not fully understanding what the laws and policies are. And then hopefully pointing to the points in our history when we have done this, when we resettled tens of thousands of people from Vietnam, and Cambodia, Laos, for example, after Vietnam War. We rightfully take pride in what it took to resettle those families. And if you look at what's happened in the years since, what you find is that they've done what everybody else in this country does, which has become Americans. So there are ways to dispel some of the fears that people express, which is not to say I've been a hundred percent successful at that, I certainly haven't. It's important to be in the conversation. And I personally believe it's important to demonstrate the joy that comes from helping a neighbor start a new life.

Chideya: And so what would you say or what do you say to someone who says, "We've just got to take care of our own?"

Muñoz: Oh, I agree that we have to take care of our own. The good news is though, we don't have to choose, right? This isn't about choosing between your child and your neighbor's child. The act of watching out for others also benefits us greatly. And it's not just that it kind of benefits ours spirits, right? This is good for the soul. Frankly, it benefits the United States economically. There's just scads of evidence that immigrants and refugees help this country economically, that we are all better off when we welcome the folks who are coming.

Chideya: Yeah. I mean, in fact, your website has let's welcome our new neighbors, but neighbors can be complicated, America can be very divided. What is your short-term wish and your long-term wish for this work? Short-term wish, something that might be accomplished in a couple of months, long-term, five years, a decade.

Muñoz: In the short-term, I would love to see a huge outpouring of folks opening their homes, their hearts, their wallets, whatever it is, whatever they're able to do, to connect to these folks who are starting new lives in this country. And in the long-term, what I deeply hope this will lead to is more people in the United States who are connected to somebody who's from another country. The survey data shows that the people who are most likely to be anti-immigrant, virulently so, are the same people who have never met someone from another country. And the more we have the opportunity to connect, the more the mythologies slip away, and our better natures come out. So I'm hoping that this effort will be a vehicle for us to just get to know each other better, which I think is an essential ingredient to being one country, and not as bitterly divided as we are now.

Chideya: Cecilia Muñoz, thank you so much for joining us.

Muñoz: Thank you so much for having me.

Chideya: That was Cecilia Muñoz, senior advisor at New America. Go to welcome.US to find out more. Last week was a big week for elections. In many states, voters chose governors, local leaders, and replacements in Congress. In Virginia, businessmen, Glenn Youngkin won the governor's race for the Republican Party. That was the GOP's first win in a decade for that seat. In New York City, Democrat Eric Adams waged a successful campaign for mayor, promising he'd meet the needs of working and middle class voters of color. And Michelle Wu will be the next mayor in Boston, in a race where she was considered a more progressive Democrat than her challenger, city counselor Annissa Essaibi George.

Chideya: My next guests will help me examine how young people of color are voting and why it's not so black and white these days. Doctors, Jenn Jackson and Diane Wong are research consultants with the GenForward Survey. It's the first survey of its kind, specifically targeting young adults, 18 to 36, and over sampling Black, Asian, and Latino Americans in particular. Dr. Diane Wong is assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University, Newark. Welcome Dr. Wong.

Diane Wong: Thanks. It's great to feedback.

Chideya: And Dr. Jenn Jackson is assistant professor at Syracuse University. Dr. Jackson, welcome back.

Jenn Jackson: Thank you so much for having me.

Chideya: So we're in another election cycle, lots of local and state races, and want to get into what the data says about how young adults participate in elections. I'm going to start with you Dr. Jackson, and then if you can follow up Dr. Wong.

Jackson: Yeah, I mean, we had some really interesting findings when talking to young Americans about their ideas about the 2020 elections. We had our February 2020 survey, independents were the group that were actually the least likely to indicate that they intended to vote in November 2020. Conversely, when we talked to young Americans who identified as either Republican or Democrat, more than 80% of both groups indicated that they were planning to vote. So what we saw here is that there was some level of depression of voting amongst independents, which actually runs counter to what we've seen in prior years elections.

Chideya: And what are your thoughts on what the data's telling you, Dr. Wong?

Wong: Right. So while we don't have current data about intent to vote in this current election cycle, if we listen to what young people have been sharing with us, I am optimistic that we will continue to see high participation rates, right? So according to GenForward data, prior to the 2020 elections, 57% of Black youth, 54% of Asian American youth, 40% of Latinx youth, and 63% of white youth share that they were likely to vote. And then fast forward to November of last year, we saw these numbers reflected in many of the battleground states across the country, where young people of color turned out in force for a majority or 53% of 18 to 30 year olds voted, and youth turn out rose nine percentage points from 2016. And this is all to say that youth are tuned to what's going on around them and their political choices reflect the issues that they are prioritizing, right? In our last survey, we also saw that a majority of young adults felt that this country was going off on the wrong track. When we asked them about the greatest issues facing their communities, the top issues were the pandemic, racism, healthcare, climate change, and inequality. And so like the 2020 election, I do think it will be youth, youth of color who will be defining elements of our current election cycle.

Chideya: Yeah. So we recently interviewed Princess Blanding who ran for governor of Virginia on the Liberation Party ticket. And here's what she said about her campaign.

Princess Blandi...: I have been making loops around the entire state, spreading the word very directly to community members. And the more people that find out, the more angry they are, because they see what I don't even need to tell them, that this is a form of voter suppression. And they see the hypocrisy, they see the political games, and they feel that the duopoly does not have the right to filter their choices. That is not democracy.

Chideya: Dr. Wong, does that track with the data from your survey?

Wong: The statement that you shared is fascinating and there is truth there, right? As I'm thinking about data from our last GenForward survey, which indicates that youth are thinking outside the box beyond party politics and traditional measures of participation, right? So for instance, what we found was that since January 2021, an overwhelming 87% of youth did not attend a meeting, rally, or speech, or dinner to support a candidate or a political party. In addition, 66% of young adults chose not to express their opinions about party politics through social media and 86% of youth did not raise or donate money to a campaign. Now, these numbers alone might tell a bleak story, right? That youth are less involved in party politics. But what we need to remember is that this is only one side of a story. We know that political life intersects with other parts of our lives. And this is true for young adults where in the midst of this pandemic, we've seen more young adults embrace creative forms of politics that include movement participation, grassroots campaigns, mutual aid coordination, and other solutions that extend beyond party politics. We're also actually seeing higher levels of political efficacy across the board for youth. According to our data, 66% of Black, 61% of Latinx, 73% Asian American, and 60% of white youth believe that participating in politics makes a difference.

Jackson: What was interesting is that voting in national elections is typically seen as the primary form, kind of voicing your concerns, and thinking about retrospective voting concerns, and thinking about how to engage with your political leaders. But what we found in talking with young people is that they actually felt strongly that voting in state and local elections was a more effective way to make real progress. So for young Black Americans, about 21% that we surveyed said that voting in state and the local elections was more effective. It was the most effective way of making real progress compared to 16% saying that voting in national elections was the most effective way. They also said, about 18% said organizing in community was important and the most effective way. And about 10% said that non-violent protests and demonstrations was the most effective way. So what you see here is that these young folks are thinking about many different forms of engagement. Now, this happens across racial groups. The most surprising group is white Americans. 18% said that voting in national elections was the most effective way to make real progress, 17% said that voting in state and local elections was the most effective way, but another 17% said organizing in communities. And this is exciting, especially when we think about the protests that we saw across the country and across the globe, following the death of George Floyd, right? We saw folks coming out in the suburbs of places like rural Ohio and upstate New York. And they were young white people, young folks from high schools, from colleges who said enough is enough. And it's really good to see that even though we typically valorize national elections a preeminent model of voicing one's political concerns and one's political ideological leanings, young people are finding many ways to engage their political leaders and to make their voices heard.

Chideya: And so, Dr. Jackson, what else are you finding out about Black voters, younger Black voters in particular?

Jackson: Yeah, I mean, it's actually really, really fascinating because what we found according to our March 2021 survey was that a plurality of young Americans found the Republican Party very unfavorable. And this is across all racial groups. So for Black Americans, it was about 44%, Asian Americans, 44%, Latinx Americans, 36%. And even for whites, it was 33%, which is sometimes a little different from the data that we found, right? Conversely, when we look at the Democratic Party, it's a very, very different story. It's the same survey, March 2021, a plurality of young Americans found the Democratic Party very or somewhat favorable. So for Black Americans, about 31% found the Democrats very favorable. But the key category here was the somewhat favorable category. So about 37% of Black Americans found Democrats somewhat favorable. So when you add those together, you're about a 68% of young Black Americans found Democrats either very favorable or somewhat favorable. So what we're seeing is that this typical divide that we've seen across the two party system with folks of color landing on the Democrat side, and non-white Americans landing on the Republican side, it just isn't holding anymore. And there's lots of reasons for that. One could be the Trump effect. Young Americans still believe and still find Trump to be incredibly racist.

Chideya: Yeah. And you're going to ask some more questions, Dr. Wong, your team shared with us that you're likely to ask some questions about voter turnout in the next survey, going out in the field. What are you thinking about asking?

Jackson: Yes, things are happening quickly. We'll be asking questions that allow us to capture trend data about the pandemic and the financial lives of young adults as they might intersect with the election results. And in terms of how we're thinking about these questions and how we're crafting them, we always listen to sort of the polls of the people and what issues are at the forefront. At GenForward, we really do see the crafting of the survey questions as a very much iterative process, always ensuring that the questions we ask on the questionnaire builds from previous iterations and also honors the expertise of directly impacted folks.

Chideya: All right. We're going to leave it there. Doctors, Jackson and Wong. Thanks for joining us.

Jackson: Thank you.

Wong: Thank you.

Chideya: That was Dr. Diane Wong and Dr. Jenn Jackson, research consultants for the GenForward survey. I connect a lot with the quest of my next guest who tackles questions like what home means, and whether you can find that in other people or inside yourself. Chloe Dulce Louvouezo just published her book, "Life, I Swear: Intimate Stories from Black Women on Identity, Healing and Self Trust." Welcome, Chloe.

Chloe Dulce Louvouezo:

Thank you so much, Farai. I am so excited to be here with you today.

Chideya: A lot of what you talk about in your book is your third culture kid life in multiple nations with multiple identities. Where did you grow up, how would you describe it?

Louvouezo: The third culture kid is just because my parents are from two very different origins. So the first culture is where your parents are, your second is where you reside, and your third is the melting pot that you sort of belong to. And my parents separated when I was young. And so when I was seven years old, we moved to Niger, my mother and I. And I was there for nine years and it put me at the center of being American in Africa, being a Black girl with a white mother. Niger, too, added a layer of also having the responsibility because it is one of the poorest countries in the world. The responsibility of also from a very young age, understanding how privilege plays out and how to navigate culture, privilege, race, and color in this very nuanced environment.

Chideya: Well, I have a friend who is in America, a Black American who has one parent from Sub-Saharan Africa, another who's from Europe, Black and white. And when she lived in East Africa, she would be called a mzungu, which can mean various things, but kind of means that white person. Have you ever had that sort of happen to you, a version?

Louvouezo: Absolutely. In Niger, the word is anasara and daily, whether it's walking down the street or going to the market, I would be called an anasara, and that would be particularly amplified when I was walking with my mother. Nigerians are very diverse in complexion and features. And so without my mother, my hair braided, I could actually pass as a Nigerian. But if I were alongside someone who was clearly a foreigner or an expat, or simply based on my accent when I spoke French, or even how I dressed, westernized, it categorized me as anasara which is, at the time, I was able to understand that it was more about access and privilege than it was about race. I understand that. And part of integrating into other cultures is just understanding their context and not centralizing myself in how they see the world. And so for that, understanding that the thing that did actually divide us, even though we were both people of color, was the privilege and the access that I had during that time.

Chideya: Let me ask you about proximity to whiteness. I went into a room on Clubhouse and I got totally my derriere handed to me on a platter as a privileged American who had "proximity to whiteness." And I thought that was... I had never heard that phrase before, but I was like, "Oh, yeah, that's a really complicated thing," because I think a lot of times in America, Black proximity to whiteness is considered a challenging situation, how do we navigate it? But it also means that we are literally closer to certain types of resources and certain types of infrastructure. I'm a Black American, I'm a Black American with a deep appreciation for Africa, African culture, my family in Zimbabwe, but I'm an American. And sometimes, I miss certain frames. I mean, what have you learned about Black Americanness that maybe other people wouldn't think about?

Louvouezo: Part of my reintegration into the States is also similar to how I, by necessity, had to integrate in Niger. The foundation of building community has to be respect and understanding.

Chideya: Yeah.

Louvouezo: And part of that respect and understanding is also understanding the way society was set up, why I was an outlier, and being humble enough to accept that because my proximity to whiteness is the differentiating factor. And every community for me has the right to be insular. And so for me, deeply respecting the community of Black Americans that I didn't grow up with, and it was not taken lightly when I was welcomed.

Chideya: So I want to talk about a story of yours that I related to, unhealed wounds, which is where you go into having been in an abusive relationship. And at one point, I was in a relationship that was primarily abusive, verbally, emotionally, and financially. And actually, what broke the spell for me was when he did slap me. And we both kind of looked at each other and we're like, we didn't literally say this, but like, "It's a wrap." For me, I was just like, "I was willing to put up with so much stuff, but when he laid a hand on me, I wasn't." and question was, for me later, "Why did you put up with all the other stuff?" And I think very often for traditionally accomplished women, there's always that question like, "Well, why would you put up with this? You can earn on your own, you can be on..." So can you tell us a little it about your journey and what it means to look at it now?

Louvouezo: One of the reasons that it was so important for me to do this book is because I recognized that in lieu of having a strong sense of self, I attached my sense of self to relationships.

Chideya: Yeah.

Louvouezo: In lieu of having a really foundational family structure, having grown up very transient, I attached myself to people who could equate to family. And that meant, by any means necessary, I wanted to have a sense of belonging with X person. I don't think that being "smart" or "professionally accomplished" says much about the work that we have done or how tender our wounds are. And I really resent judgment of women because there is a unique journey to everyone's path and this book has been me trying to articulate mine.

Chideya: Chloe, this has been such a pleasure. Thank you for joining us.

Louvouezo: Thank you so much, Farai. I'm just feeling honored today to share space with you.

Chideya: That was Chloe Dulce Louvouezo. Her book is "Life, I Swear: Intimate Stories from Black Women on Identity, Healing and Self Trust," and it's out now. Now, it's time for Sippin' the Political Tea. This week, we have our regular contributor, Errin Haines, editor-at-large at The 19th, back with us. Hey, Errin.

Errin Haines: Gobble, gobble.

Chideya: And we've got Our Body Politic legal analyst, Tiffany Jeffers. Welcome, Tiffany.

Tiffany Jeffers: Hi, Farai.

Chideya: All right, Errin. There is so much going on. Where should we start?

Haines: Well, I mean, first of all, Farai, can we just start with the fact that it's already November? How is 2021 almost over? I... Whatever.

Chideya: I think it's still March 2020, but anyway, keep going...

Haines: Sure. Right. Yes. Exactly. Some political observers are calling this November's elections, a preview of what might happen during the midterms. That's how I know it's November, elections.

Chideya: Exactly.

Haines: So in terms of what voters are connecting with or rejecting, let's start in Virginia, Republican Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia's governor's race, this hotly contested battle against Democrat Terry McAuliffe, and also third party candidate, Princess Blanding of the Liberation Party who we had on last week's show. Here's a clip from Youngkin's victory speech, emphasizing how he campaigned among other things on ending critical race theory in schools.

Glenn Youngkin: We're going to restore excellence in our schools. We will invest the largest education budget in the history of the Commonwealth. We're going to introduce choice within our public school system.

Haines: So Farai, incoming Governor Youngkin has vowed to ban critical race theory upon taking office, by the way, critical race theory is not being taught in the Commonwealth classrooms, but what should we take away from Youngkin's win and how his campaign used attacks on critical race theory as a hallmark?

Chideya: Yeah, this is pretty straight up, classic culture war tactics, it's also really good politics, just like Tiffany sometimes uses good law. I'm not talking about good as in morally good, I'm talking about it's a winning strategy. And it just... I kind of sometimes want to stick a fork in my forehead when I think about how many times people try to explain away some of the dynamics that lead people to vote against what is perceived as their self-interest. I think voter self-interest is very complicated, and people vote for deeply cultural reasons, and can be triggered by the way that race is used in culture war. And so what happened in Virginia was that there was a 13% swing towards the GOP among white female voters in Virginia, fueled by a 37 point shift among white women who didn't go to college. So this is very much kind of a continuation of some of the things we saw in the Clinton-Trump race and how white women voted. But I specifically covered white suburban women during the 2016 election and they are like the ultimate swing voters within swing voters. They switch their presidential choice every one to two cycles. And I think that Virginia is an interesting state, it's former seat of the Confederacy, but it's also a tech state. Anyway, I just think that this really points out the ways in which critical race theory was used as a wedge issues that specifically worked well with white female voters, who are often perceived as education voters on behalf of their kids.

Haines: Yeah. Absolutely. Tiffany coming to you, what do you think a Youngkin victory says about the political trajectory of the state of Virginia?

Jeffers: You know, Errin, I don't know that it says a whole lot other than the continued narrative that a businessman can do it better without having a really deep political or policy agenda, because Youngkin didn't run on anything substantively outside really of CRT demolition and abolition of what's not even in existence. Something that's really interesting that I haven't heard a lot about, Errin, is Youngkin's proposal to put a police officer in every school. In the clip, we heard him talk a lot about education reform and how he's going to be building schools in the Commonwealth, but what that means from the lens of Youngkin and his supporters is phrases like school choice, and charter schools, and policing in schools. Those are really dangerous for Black and brown children. Those types of policies increase the academic gap that we already see in schools. It takes funding from public schools that are already struggling and underfunded, and puts it in charter schools, and people that already have ability to choose are given more ability to choose, and it really is detrimental to kids. And so that's something that's stuck out to me as pretty dangerous outside of the CRT boogeyman, that's a tangible thing, that a tangible policy that Youngkin has run on that is really going to be dangerous that I think we should be watching.

Chideya: I think also, just to jump in, that the next lieutenant governor is going to be an asset in how the next governor navigates some of these social issues. The next lieutenant governor is Winsome Sears who is a Black conservative, who is, for example, pro school voucher and anti-abortion access, and a real solid social conservative, and also was the national chair of Black Americans Making America First, which was promoting initiatives by former president Donald Trump. So there's some really complex math that's coming together.

Haines: Yeah. Important to note, Winsome Sears made history with her election becoming the first Black woman elected statewide in Virginia. As somebody who used to cover the Virginia legislature and Virginia politics, we know that historically speaking, the party that Virginia chooses for the presidency is usually not the party that they choose the following year to be their governor. So at least, in terms of that-

Chideya: Yeah. Excellent point.

Haines: ... that's kind of tradition holding up and yet another cycle. So in New Jersey, you had Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat, narrowly reelected a much narrower margin than some people expected, even as Phil Murphy also made history in becoming the first Democrat to be reelected in more than four decades in New Jersey history. Farai, what do these two big races mean for next year's midterm elections and how are both parties making their case?

Chideya: So when you look at the narrow victory of New Jersey Governor, Phil Murphy, what we know at the time of taping is just over 50%, it looks like, but those numbers can be adjusted a little bit with absentee ballots, et cetera. And you look at Virginia, we're going to continue to see themes of culture war, critical race theory. And in Virginia, Princess Blanding, running as a Liberation Party candidate, sort of represented the fatigue of working class Black voters with the Democratic Party, which is something the party really has to think about. And yeah, once again, going back to white suburban women as they key swing vote.

Haines: Yeah. Also, it's just interesting that obviously we're talking in here about white women, their voting history, and kind of patterns, the framing of the Virginia race in particular was really around what Black voters were going to do if they were going to show up and how they we're going to participate in that election. The narrative that I would like to see us get away from as a political journalism class is the one that kind of pits Black voters as the savior or scapegoat of every election cycle, because as you noted with that exit polling, a significant number of white voters sent Glenn Youngkin to Richmond and there were an overwhelming number of Black voters that showed up to elect Terry McAuliffe, it just wasn't enough. So there were other races that were notable, we don't want to miss those that happened this week. Michelle Wu becoming the first woman elected mayor of Boston, Eric Adams becoming the second Black man elected mayor of New York, New York City never had a woman mayor just FYI. And just sticking with New York for a second, you also had Letitia James jumping in to run for governor of New York, right? And if she is successful-

Jeffers: That's a big one.

Haines: ... she would be the first Black woman governor in the country, ever. So New York getting its first woman governor ever in Kathy Hochul, who is the incumbent that Tish James is looking to potentially unseat next year. Tiffany, another issue that's coming up across the country and is going to be a big part of the midterms is obviously abortion access. Here's the clip from NBC news about the Texas abortion law and the two lawsuits that are now at the Supreme Court.

NBC News clip: Turning now to breaking news in Washington, high stakes arguments are happening in the high court today. Supreme Court justices took up two challenges to the nation's most restrictive abortion law. The controversial Texas law effectively bans most abortions in the state. And today's arguments will also set the stage for the question of whether to overturn Roe v. Wade set to come next month.

Haines: The Texas abortion law has been in an effect now for two months. And now, as expected, there are legal challenges. Tiffany, what exactly is the issue before the Supreme Court today?

Jeffers: It's layered, Errin. If I could sum it up, it'd be about access and power. And I don't mean access to abortion or power to deny abortion. I mean, access to the courts and the power to sue, the power to, again, access the court system. The real legal issue isn't about the substance of whether a woman can have an abortion. It's about the providers right to sue in court and who are they going to sue in court? Do they sue the clerks? Because the state of Texas has absolved themselves from being a party, they've enacted this bill and then washed their hands and said, "Up, hands in the air, we're not involved." So it's not as if providers can sue the state of Texas and federal court. The question is about can providers, abortion providers, sue clerks of court that are accepting the civil suits made by the vigilante citizens? So that's one of the questions. And then the other question was does the federal government have the right to challenge the state in this way and enacting a law? It's really a question of federalism. Who's the boss, who has the power? Is it the state or is it the federal government? And does the federal government even have a right to say that these challenges can't come up in state courts or should this be resolved only in the state of Texas? So those are the overarching questions before you even get to the underlying substantive questions of the abortion access itself.

Haines: Yeah. Thank you for laying out both of those different cases that are before the court, and for noting that neither of those is really over the right to an abortion directly at issue. That's something that the court will be taking up next month. That direct question that has kind of Roe v. Wade, much more hanging in the balance. So Farai, I want to come to you now, because gun rights advocates are actually siding with abortion providers in a fight against this law. Are you surprised by that allyship?

Chideya: I feel like we've seen everything except pigs flying so surprised? Maybe, not so much, but this is an interesting one. It's the Firearms Policy Coalition and it defends gun rights nationally. And it's basically, looking at what Tiffany has been saying about this being an end run where the state's like, "Hey, we're just telling you that you can handle this, we're not handling this, you can report people." And this gun organization is worried that some kind of statute could also attempt to do an end run by cutting the state out of the equation of, in their case, protecting gun owners' rights. So yeah, I'm not surprised. I'm just trying to keep up with the bad mitten ball, the bad mitten birdie.

Haines: Well, I will keep an eye, skyward, and update you on those pigs, stay tuned. I mean, look Tiffany, in discussing the Texas abortion law, Supreme Court Justice, Brett Kavanaugh also described a loophole that's been exploited, those are his words. And that the law could "be applied to limit other constitutional rights, like free speech, free exercise of religion rights." How did you interpret Justice Kavanaugh's comments?

Jeffers: I think as a conservative justice, he was fearful that the rights that he supports ideologically are in danger and I think that fear is correct. One of the justices, during arguments, said essentially... It could have been the advocate, actually, the solicitor general, essentially no right is safe if we allow states to just dismantle constitutional rights and say, "Oh, nope, it's the state's prerogative." No right is safe for American citizens. And so that's a dangerous proposition regardless of if you're a progressive or a conservative, because we all believe in something. We all think we have rights to do something. And so when those are in question without challenge, it's scary.

Haines: Yeah. So Farai, yeah, because it's November, that means that Congress is still haggling over the infrastructure and Build Back Better, kind of twin pieces of legislation that may or may not be voted on together. Where are we in this and what's left in this bill now, where are we?

Chideya: Well, I think part of it is that things are moving so very for fast and we're seeing there have been a number of different people advocating for things like paid family leave, including the Duchess of Sussex known as Meghan Markle.

Haines: I've heard of her.

Chideya: Yep. Making phone calls to legislators. I mean, you cannot beat any of this. I really... So what do you think, Errin?

Haines: Well, I think the conversation has been really interesting and what I don't want to get kind of lost in this, this is the kind of thing that we focus on over at The 19th. I mean, it's not so much what is the final number going to be or even where is Senator Manchin or where is Senator Sinema, and kind of the back and forth palace intrigue over this. But really, in terms of what the substance of the Build Back Better Bill is in particular, the kinds of folks that it is going to help women, people of color, other marginalized folks. That bill is the one where the future of it is really in question, support for it, it really remains in question. I mean, yes, we do love a road, and a bridge, and a building, but when we're talking about kind of the human infrastructure that the administration has emphasized, which people, which Americans, which voters we are talking about, I think is something that we cannot allow to be lost in this conversation. So that is kind of what I'm watching as these negotiations continue. So lastly, let's just talk quickly about what Mother Jones reported recently. I didn't know if this was the Halloween costume or the real deal, but a story that Senator Joe Manchin told associates, he was considering leaving the Democratic Party if President Biden and his colleagues didn't agree to cutting down the infrastructure bill like he asked. And now, he denied this later, I just saw him denying it on Morning Joe, but Mother Jones says they are sticking with their story. Thoughts?

Chideya: It's so interesting. You've got the independents who used to be Democrats, you don't get so many Democrats going and becoming Republicans or vice versa. And according to FiveThirtyEight, there have been just 34 sitting members of Congress who switched parties since 1951. So there's kind of no point to me saying this, but indulge me for a second. I think America would function better as a multi-party democracy. This is me a pining. And so what I mean is if you look at Senators, Raphael Warnock, Tammy Duckworth, and Joe Manchin, in Europe, they would all be in three different parties, not in one party. And that's just on the Democratic side.

Jeffers: Could I just jump in and...

Haines: Sure.

Jeffers: More broadly, it's interesting to me how the commitment to the base is dependent on who that base is. So there's seemingly no commitment to the democratic base, the boots on the ground, the very progressive people that are getting Democrats elected more recently. And yet, when you think about Manchin, and Sinema, and their base, if it's the white base, then the loyalty is unending, right? Regardless. And yet when Black people are calling for defunding the police, abolition, we get you elected and then are getting scraps from the table, it's really becoming a source of discontent for a lot of people.

Haines: Multiparty system, maybe for Christmas, maybe when pigs fly, don't know. We're going to have to wrap it up there, though. Thank you to both Farai and Tiffany for another great conversation and some more great tea this week.

Jeffers: Thanks, Errin.

Chideya: Thanks so much, Errin. That was Errin Haines, editor-at-large at The 19th, and OBP legal analyst, Tiffany Jeffers, professor at Georgetown Law.

Thanks for listening to Our Body Politic. We're on the air each week and everywhere you listen to podcast. Our Body Politic is produced by LWC. I'm the creator and host, Farai Chideya. Juleyka Lantigua is executive producer. Jen Chien is executive editor. Our senior editor is Veralyn Williams. Paulina Velasco and Sarah McClure are our senior producers. Cedric Wilson is lead producer and mixed this episode. Our political booker is Bridget McAllister. Emily Daly is assistant producer. Original music by associate sound designer, Kojin Tashiro. Production assistant from Mark Betancourt, Elizabeth Nakano, and Natyna Bean. This program is produced with support from Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, Democracy Fund, the Harnisch Foundation, Compton Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the BMe Community, Katie McGrath and J.J. Abrams Family Foundation, and from generous contributions from listeners like you.


Chideya, Farai, host. “What the Elections Teach Us About Swing Voter Issues Today, How Race and Ethnicity Shape Young People of Color Politically, and Why Welcoming Refugees Helps Us.” Our Body Politic, Diaspora Farms LLC. November 5, 2021. https://our-body-politic.simplecast.com/