Meet the New Class of Politicians Challenging the Status Quo

These leaders all made history with their recent wins — now they’re ready to deliver for their constituents.

Everybody's In: Political Class of 2023 roundup

Courtesy of Zachary J. Krakauer Ganz, Greg Casa, Delia Ramirez, Judy Parker, August Schutlz

While midterm elections can be nerve-racking for anyone watching, the weeks and months that follow — when races are called, results revealed, and new positions assumed — can be pretty exhilarating and bring a feeling of hope. Especially with a crop of progressive candidates like this year’s, who usher in a slew of radical firsts: the nation’s first openly lesbian governor; the first Latina elected to Congress from Illinois; the first trans legislator in the Minnesota House; and many more. We spoke to several members of this new class of politicians about how they are changing the landscape, what they’re looking forward to, and what keeps them going. Read on to learn more.

Delia Ramirez, U.S. Representative from Illinois & Former Illinois State Representative 

Everybody's In: Meet the New Class of Politicians Challenging the Status Quo

Courtesy of Delia Ramirez

If someone had told Delia Ramirez five years ago that she would be elected to the U.S. House, she would not have believed them. She was going through a divorce at the time and had recently landed a dream job at a social justice organization. It was the “last thing I would have been thinking,” she says. It was, simply put, terrible timing, which she saw as a sign that she should do it.

One thing Ramirez kept coming back to was responsibility. As the first Latina elected to Congress from the Midwest, she feels a responsibility to represent her community and to create space that brings more Latinas into positions of leadership. 

It’s that same sense of responsibility that, in many ways, shapes the way Ramirez shows up for her constituents, and the level of urgency she feels when she’s building coalitions and thinking through solutions. “And because I come from a community where I haven’t seen someone that looks like me, in this way, and I haven’t had too many other elected officials who have been intentional about opening up space for me to grow with them,” she says, “I come into this space needing to be what I didn’t have.”

Immigration and housing insecurity are two of the issues she wants to focus on in Washington (the first hits close to home, as her husband is a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient), though she’s already gotten a head start. Ramirez used her time during freshman orientation to team up with some other incoming progressive members of Congress, those dubbed the “new Squad” (Ramirez herself has been included in this labeling, which, naturally, feels like a huge compliment and also creates pressure), and others to draft a letter to Nancy Pelosi and other House leaders asking to expand the child tax credit, fund early childhood programs, and protect DACA recipients before the Democrats lost the House. 

As she stood on the Capitol steps for her first congressional press conference with some of her new colleagues — Greg Casar, Robert Garcia, and Summer Lee — Ramirez wondered if anyone would show up. She was pleasantly surprised when more than 12 camera crews arrived, ready to hear them. “To me, that was the exciting beginning of how we come together and create a coordinated effort to policy together,” she says. “I’m really excited about that, and I’m excited to make history.”

This is Everybody’s In, a celebration of people making the world a better place for everyone in 2023. You’re ‘in’ if you’re making an impact. Read on to see who’s with you.

Greg Casar, U.S. Representative from Texas & Former Austin City Council Member 

Everybody's In: Meet the New Class of Politicians Challenging the Status Quo

Courtesy of Greg Casar

Native Texan Greg Casar wants to bring the state back to its progressive roots. So much of the enormous change that makes up Texas’s radical legacy has been driven by Latinx organizers, and Casar hopes to continue that work moving forward. 

What that looks like specifically for Casar is fixing “the system that is benefiting corporations over working people, and … right wing extremists over civil rights.” This includes reforming the Supreme Court so that “our Supreme Court justices are trying to add to people’s rights, not take them away”; restoring abortion rights; fighting for workers’ rights; and taking on the climate crisis. 

I’m committed to talking less about what we can’t do and getting to work on what we must do.

Casar also knows that real change doesn’t happen in a bubble. “You run and win elections as an individual, but you have to govern as a team,” he says. Not surprisingly, he’s as inspired by the progressive classes who have gone before him as he is the one coming in. “It is great to be in such good company,” he says. 

As Ramirez mentioned, group efforts began before folks were even sworn in. In addition to joining Ramirez for the press conference she helped organize, Casar participated in another, this one spearheaded by now-U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost, in which they called on the Senate to vote on an assault weapons ban. Casar and a few other progressive Congress members have also vowed to meet regularly to talk about work, as well as life, “so that we can stay tied together as a team,” he says. “So much of what happens in Washington, D.C., is, you get split up, people try to isolate you — that’s how you wind up getting ground up by the gears in the machine,” he says. “But if we stay committed to each other, I think that makes a really big difference.”

Casar is an optimist through and through. “In my view, it’s our only choice,” he says. “I’m committed to talking less about what we can’t do and getting to work on what we must do.”

Jasmine Crockett, U.S. Representative from Texas & Former Texas State Representative

Everybody's In: Meet the New Class of Politicians Challenging the Status Quo

Credit Zachary J. Krakauer Ganz

For Jasmine Crockett, being the first Black woman elected as the freshman leadership representative, in which she’ll act as a liaison between her new Democratic colleagues and party leadership, victory felt great. “And it felt great from a historical standpoint,” she says, pointing out that there’s only been one Black woman in House Democratic leadership, ever, and that was Shirley Chisholm. “So, to come in as a freshman before I’m sworn in, and to earn a seat at the table so that Black women’s voices are in the inner circle, to me, was a huge deal.” 

But Crockett, who is a civil rights and criminal defense attorney in addition to a U.S. representative, doesn’t see it as a standalone accomplishment. She sees it as a sign of the number of historic things that will come out of this class. “We have this immensely diverse class, from age to sexual orientation to even our political backgrounds,” she says. “So it only makes sense that we will continue having a bunch of firsts.”

In other words, Crockett feels the energy. She sees the new congressional class as a group of people with a vast array of solid experience who decided it was time to step things up a notch, stoked in part by events like Jan. 6., the Trump presidency, and the overturning of Roe v. Wade. “There’s nobody else that’s gonna fight like we are — we’ve just got to do it,” she says. 

In her own words, Crockett is “the type of girl who is going to ask for the world and then let you rein me in.” She plans to start with issues like legalization of marijuana, voting rights, gun control, and reproductive rights. Of the latter, she says, “Obviously, I’ll be fighting. I mean, I’m a Black woman out of the state of Texas, [and] Roe v. Wade is a Dallas, Texas, case!” 

Crockett is fierce, confident, unapologetically herself, and, possibly most important to her constituents, trustworthy. “I think there’s so many people, at least in my district, that even if they don’t agree with me, they’ve always felt as if I was operating and doing what I really thought was in the people’s best interest,” she says. “I think being a consensus builder is really where I wanted to lay my hat.”

Maura Healey, Governor of Massachusetts & Former Massachusetts Attorney General 

Everybody's In: Meet the New Class of Politicians Challenging the Status Quo

Courtesy of Judy Parker

Naturally, Maura Healey is quite proud of all the accolades she’s collected with her recent win: the first openly lesbian governor in the U.S. (with Tina Kotek close on her heels); Massachusetts’s first elected female governor; and the first all-female ticket elected nationwide, but more important to her is that this trend continues. “That’s what this is about. It’s about progress. It’s about evolution. It’s about moving forward,” Healey says. “The focus for me is that we’re continuing to make sure that there are opportunities available for people who have been marginalized or left out for far too long.”

When we have more people in leadership who reflect the people that we serve, we’re going to get better policies, better laws, better results.

Healey, who started out as a civil rights lawyer, knows what that kind of marginalization looks like all too well. “I was practicing at a time and doing some of those cases where people were afraid to be ‘out’ at work, they were afraid to tell their landlord,” she says. “To see what’s happened in a relatively short matter of time is really something, and it makes me so happy to see so many members of our community, not only living authentically, but saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got something important to say and to offer and we’re running for office. And we want our voices to be heard.’” 

This feels especially crucial at a time when the queer community has been under attack. “At the end of the day, representation matters. And when we have more people in leadership who reflect the people that we serve, we’re going to get better policies, better laws, better results,” she says before adding that she’s ready to show up and serve as that beacon of hope for other women and LGBTQ+ community members looking up to her. “I want them to know that their potential is limitless.”

Healey believes that Massachusetts is “the greatest state in the country,” and she’s focused on getting those better results for all of its residents. In order to make sure people come, stay, and build their lives in Massachusetts, Healey wants to make it “a state that is affordable and works for people.” A place that puts affordability at the top of the list, which includes housing, childcare, and job creation. Climate change is another priority, and in fact, Healey recently announced the first state-Cabinet level climate chief in the country. 

About making the leap from attorney general to governor, Healey says, “I’m really excited about the opportunity to have a broader impact across all aspects of people’s lives here in the state.” She adds, “Ultimately, it’s about the people and also the belief that so much is possible when we work together.”

Leigh Finke, Minnesota State Representative 

Everybody's In: Meet the New Class of Politicians Challenging the Status Quo

Courtesy August Schutlz

As the first out trans person ever elected to the Minnesota Legislature, Leigh Finke hasn’t yet tired of people asking her how that win feels. She finds it “very rewarding and energizing,” and she’s honored to have the opportunity to do well, not just by the constituents in her district, but by the community she represents. “I accept that this is going to be a part of my story here, so I will happily engage with — over and over — what it means to be that person because it’s just so important,” Finke says. 

Though this is Finke’s official foray into politics, advocacy work has been a constant throughline in her career, whether through activism, journalism, or documentary filmmaking (she started a production company called Totally Gay Productions in 2020), and she knows just what she wants to prioritize as a state legislator. Gun violence is a top concern — she’s particularly interested in reducing the likelihood of partner and ex-partner murder. And she’s already working on a bill she’s calling the Trans Refuge Safe Harbor Bill, which allows folks to come into Minnesota to access trans- or gender-expansive health care and related resources without fear of extradition or prosecution from other states. “We’re going to continue to see the country collapse around trans rights. So those of us who have an opportunity to safeguard our communities nationwide really need to do that,” she says.

As attacks against trans rights started to increase in the last few years, and Finke began to see the possibility of her own rights being jeopardized, it became clear to her that “we need trans people and gender-expansive people in every capitol, in every decision-making space,” she says. “It didn’t mean it had to be me, but it did mean it had to be someone.” When a seat opened up, she went for it. What she did not expect was to win, nor to be a part of such a landslide of queer victories in Minnesota alone. “When I did get in the race in February, I didn’t know anything about [the] historic number of LGBTQ candidates that were running in Minnesota,” she says, “So, to be in the position that we are now, not only was it a surprise, but it’s incredibly inspiring to think of what we can do together.”

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