Millennial Power— Democrat Antonio Felipe Wins Connecticut Special Election May 12, 2019
One of the major problems Democrats have had, especially in midterm elections, is getting a key part of their base, millennials, people aged 18-29, to turn out to vote. In the 2014 midterms, when Barack Obama was President, only about 21% of millennials showed up at the polls (ibtimes.com/elections, Glum, J., 11/05/14). The result? The GOP took back the Senate and increased its House majority. We then became saddled with obstructionist Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as the Senate Majority Leader, a fellow who did everything he could to thwart Obama and now is Demagogue Donald’s leading lieutenant. After two years of watching Donald wreak havoc on our nation, 31% of millennials showed up at the polls in the 2018 midterms, a 10% increase from their dismal 2014 showing (Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning, google.com). This turnout, though still low, was instrumental in helping Democrats take back the House by grabbing 41-GOP held seats, flipping 7 gubernatorial mansions “Blue,” getting majorities in 8 new state legislative chambers, and painting “Blue” more than 400 “Red” state legislative seats (see dlcc.org, vox.com, 11/26/18, Scott, Nilsen, & Stewart). Yes, a lot of attention has rightfully been placed on the Democrats retaking the House so they can put a check on Donald’s worst excesses. However, state legislatures are also extremely important. They are the “farm teams” where talented lawmakers are recruited to run for higher state and federal offices. They also often write redistricting plans in many states. In addition, they help push legislation, progressive under Democrats, reactionary under GOPers. Medicaid gets to be expanded under Obamacare with “Blue” majority state chambers. Under “Red” state chambers, witness N. Carolina, anti-union and transgender laws are passed. On May 7, 2019, in a special election called to fill Connecticut (CT) State House Seat 130, left vacant by the sudden 3/15/2019 death of 45-year old Democrat Ezequiel Santiago, 23- year old Antonio Felipe easily won. Felipe succeeded Santiago who had represented that district for 10 years (“New Haven Register,” 3/15/19, dlcc.org, 5/07/19, ballotpedia.org). Rep. Felipe will be one of the youngest elected state representatives in the nation (dlcc.org, 5/07/19). Let’s look at Felipe, CT, and the significance of this election.
CT, besides being nicknamed the Nutmeg State, has another moniker, the Constitution State. Why? New England-located CT, one of the original 13 colonies, is credited by many historians with having the first written constitution in the Western tradition, the “Fundamental Orders,” adopted in 1639 (bartleby.com, “Roots of the Republic,” Lutz, Schechter, Stephen). CT also played a major role in the making of the U.S. Constitution. Ct. delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth, were instrumental in achieving the CT Compromise or the Great Compromise, where our Congress was divided into two chambers, the House and the Senate. The House followed the VA Plan, where representation was based on the state’s population, aiding larger states. The Senate followed the NJ plan, where all states received two legislators, regardless of population, thereby boosting the lesser populated states.
The 130th CT House District (HD) to be represented by Felipe is entirely located within Bridgeport, CT’s most populated city. The 130th takes in that city’s southern, western, and downtown areas (ctpost.com, Lockhart, 3/28/19, Barone 14 Political Almanac). Bridgeport is part of CT’s 4th Congressional District (CD) currently represented by Democratic Cong. Jim Himes. The rest of the 4th , in the southwestern part of CT, is overwhelmingly white and tops the nationwide list of households earning more than $200,000 a year. Outside of Bridgeport, many of the 4th’s residents are, therefore, part of the nation’s top 1%. The 4th CD is home to several of the world’s largest hedge funds and corporate headquarters in Greenwich, Westport, and Stamford (CQ 14 Political Almanac). Bridgeport, unlike the rest of its neighbors, is a city currently struggling with post-industrial urban problems. It has suffered from years of job losses and unemployment remains above statewide and national averages. Bridgeport, however, still has a diverse workforce with government offices, small scale manufacturers, health care employers, and several colleges. While most of the 4th CD and the rest of CT is overwhelmingly white, the state’s largest proportion of Hispanic residents (17%), are mainly concentrated in Bridgeport (CQ 14). The 4th has a Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI) of D+7 (4/07/17, cookpolitical.com). The upper- class members of the 4th are becoming more repulsed by the crude “Southern-fried” image of the GOP and detest Trump’s vulgar and anti-democratic behavior. Obama won the 4th by 20 and 11 points respectively while Hillary clobbered Donald by 23 points (Pres. Election results). Bridgeport remains overwhelmingly liberal and Democratic (CQ 14). CT itself, is the third smallest state in area and the fourth most densely populated of the 50 states (census.gov). CT has the highest per capita personal income in the nation, estimated at $60, 847 in 2013, but there is a great income disparity between the top 1% and the bottom 99% (Sommeiller & Price, The Economic Policy Institute). Ct’s affluent and less affluent voters were never conned by Demagogue Donald. Hillary won CT by a 13.7% margin. In Bridgeport, Donald received only 6,596 votes to Hillary’s 32, 035 (nytimes.com/elections/2016, 8/01/17).
Although young, Felipe has already been heavily involved in politics. He is the son of Ruben Felipe, an aide to former Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch. Antonio Felipe is the vice president of the Greater Bridgeport Young Democrats. He previously managed several campaigns in Bridgeport, including those of State Representative Chris Rosario and City Councilwoman Maria Viggiano. Felipe grew up in the 130th HD and like the late Santiago is Latino (onlyinbridgeport.com, 5/03/19). Felipe was endorsed by the CT Young Democrats. He is currently attending Housatonic Community College studying for a degree in communications. In his campaign, Felipe emphasized his youth and his ability to bring a “new generation of activists and organizers who care deeply about their state.” Felipe spoke of having “the opportunity to bring a fresh younger perspective to Hartford (the state capital), showing the legislature everything that our generation has to offer (onlyinbridgeport.com, dlcc.org).” Felipe ran on a platform promising to “fight tirelessly for working-class Bridgeporters every single day in the capitol.” He stands for a $15 minimum wage, protecting a woman’s right to choose, and safeguarding access to affordable health care (ctmirror, Pazniokas, 5/07/19).” Felipe campaigned, as did many state and national Democrats, on kitchen table issues, a winning formula. These pressing matters have been rejected by Donald and his reactionary GOP rubber stampers.
Felipe did not run unopposed. He faced four other opponents in the special election, three of them non-partisan write-ins. He also faced GOPer Joshua Parrow. In the end, Felipe handily defeated his runner up Kate Rivera 47.2% -34.8%, a 12.4 % margin. GOP opponent, Parrow finished dead last, getting just 4% of the vote (Ballotpedia.org).
CT has a bipartisan redistricting commission that sometimes requires, as it did, in 2011, guidance from the CT State Supreme Ct. and a special redistricting master. Currently, CT is one of the 14 states that has a “Blue” trifecta (governor plus both state chambers, See nytimes.com, 11/08/18). Felipe’s win now gives the Democrats a 91-60 House majority, a 31- seat advantage. “Team Blue” has an 8-seat State Senate edge (ctmirror.org, Pazniokas, 5/07/19, dlcc.org). Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) executive director Jessica Post aptly noted that “CT Democrats are safely holding the state House because they are addressing issues such as job training, investing in education, and protecting health care.” Post added that Felipe’s victory ensures that “CT will keep moving forward (dlcc.org).” Post tellingly noted that Felipe’s “young, fresh, new voice will help inspire more young people to become politically involved and vote (dlcc.org).”
As it did in our nation’s past, Constitution State CT is guiding our nation’s future. It is showing us how to fight back in the era of Trump. It is telling us that young people have a strong electoral role to play, both at the ballot box and in state and national legislatures. Felipe’s win demonstrates the success of millennial power. Again, congratulations, State Representative-elect Felipe! You are an inspiration to your generation.