Secretary Pete on Biden’s remark that his infrastructure plan will create 19 million jobs – it’s more like 2.7 million

Pete Buttigieg
Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.

    • President Joe Biden said April 2 that his new infrastructure package could create 19 million jobs.
    • Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg clarified on Sunday that it will probably directly create 2.7 million jobs.
    • The stat came from a Moody’s report projecting 16.3 million jobs from natural growth and the $1.9 trillion stimulus.

President Joe Biden said on April 2 that his new American Jobs Plan – the first of a two-part package – could lead to the creation of 19 million new jobs.

But Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg clarified on Sunday that the plan would create 2.7 million jobs – not 19 million.

In a Fox News interview with Chris Wallace, Buttigieg said he and the Biden administration “should have been more precise” when saying that the infrastructure plan would create 19 million new jobs, given that the economy was already on track to add millions of new jobs from natural job growth and the $1.9 trillion stimulus package.

“It will create 2.7 million more jobs than if we don’t do it, and that’s very important because there are people on this network and others saying with a straight face that this would somehow reduce the number of jobs,” Buttigieg said.

According to Bloomberg, Biden seemed to be citing a recent Moody’s Analytics report that projects 19 million jobs could be added over the next decade if the infrastructure plan passes; however, it also estimates that 16.3 million jobs would be added over the next decade from a combination of organic job growth jobs and the already-passed American Rescue Plan.

In his remarks, Biden also said that almost 90% of the infrastructure jobs could be filled by people without a college degree.

A March analysis from Morning Consult found that, during the coronavirus pandemic, more educated Americans saw their confidence rebound and grow. The same could not be said for lower-wage, less-educated workers, who feared for their ability to hold onto a job. Higher-educated Americans felt confident enough to ask for pay increases, the analysis showed.

Biden’s remarks were tied to the prior jobs report, which saw the economy add 916,000 jobs, far outpacing economists’ expectations of 660,000.

While different unemployment measures dropped amidst the good jobs news, the country still has a long way to go before returning to pre-pandemic levels. In a blog post, Cecilia Rouse, the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, said there were still 8.4 million fewer jobs in March 2021 than in February 2020.

Insider’s Andy Kiersz wrote that, if the March growth rate continues, employment could reach pre-pandemic levels by January 2022. Areas like movie theaters and hotels still have a long way to go, as they continue to lag in recovery.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg backs Biden’s infrastructure bill, says ‘we’re still coasting on infrastructure choices’ from the 1950s

Pete Buttigieg
Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg at a press conference in February.

  • Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg is helping rally support for Biden’s infrastructure plan.
  • Buttigieg said on Sunday the American Jobs Plan represented “a generational investment.”
  • The plan aims for upgrades in everything from roads and bridges to public schools and airports.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

US Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg on Sunday promoted President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan, making the case that the legislation would be transformational for the country.

During an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Buttigieg said the American Jobs Plan represented “a generational investment” that would produce “economic growth that’s going to go on for years and years.”

“Infrastructure is the foundation that makes it possible for Americans to thrive,” he said. “And what we know is that foundation has been crumbling.

Buttigieg made the argument that the current transportation network, built up decades ago, has to meet the needs of a modern society.

“We’re still coasting on infrastructure choices that were made in the 1950s,” he said. “Now’s our chance to make infrastructure choices for the future that are going to serve us well in the 2030s and onto the middle of the century when we will be judged for whether we meet this moment here in the 2020s.”

Biden’s massive plan includes $621 billion in transportation infrastructure investments, with direct funding for road and bridge repairs, improvements in Amtrak passenger train service, lead pipe repairs, port and airport funding, and public school improvements, among other long-awaited projects.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California is seeking to have a bill passed sometime in July, but the legislation’s fate also rests in the hands of the Senate, which the party only narrowly controls.

While Biden is seeking Republican input on the bill, Democrats have not ruled out passing an infrastructure package through the reconciliation process, which would only require a party-line vote.

Read more: Here are 9 hurdles Biden’s infrastructure plan would have to overcome in Congress before it can become law

In order to pay for the plan, Biden hopes to raise the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent, which congressional Republicans vehemently oppose.

GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky last week said that in its current form, Biden’s infrastructure bill will be a hard sell for his caucus, especially if it is funded with “a combination of massive tax increases on businesses and individuals, and more borrowing.”

“I think that package they’re putting together now, as much as we would like to address infrastructure, is not going to get support from our side,” he said.

GOP Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said on ABC’s “This Week” earlier on Sunday that a smaller infrastructure bill could be “a bipartisan, easy win” for the president.

“The other 70 or so percent of the package that doesn’t have very much to do with infrastructure, if you want to force that in a partisan way, you can still do that,” he added.

Buttigieg, along with Housing and Urban Development secretary Marcia Fudge, Energy secretary Jennifer Granholm, Commerce secretary Gina Raimondo, and Labor secretary Marty Walsh, have been tasked with helping rally support behind the plan.

Buttigieg emphasized during the Sunday interview that Biden’s plan would not only repair aging US transportation networks, but would strengthen the country’s economic standing and position it as a leader on climate change.

“America will be much more economically competitive, we’ll be stronger in terms of leading the world because of the research and development investments that are here, and we will be on track to avoid climate disaster because of the provisions for things like electric vehicles,” he said.

He added: “Those electric vehicles that more and more people around the world are driving will be increasingly made in America by union workers. This is what you get for planning for the long term.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

A major Texas highway expansion project has been paused to examine possible violation of 1964 Civil Rights Act

People drive on Interstate 45 toward downtown Houston.

  • The Department of Transportation has paused a Houston-area highway widening project.
  • In the past, highways were constructed with no regard for minority communities.
  • The Biden administration is seeking to address past racial inequities in planning decisions.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US Department of Transportation is using a provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to pause construction on a highway widening project near Houston, an uncommon move that could be an early test of President Joe Biden’s commitment to addressing past racial inequities, according to Politico.

As the populous region continues to grow, the Interstate 45 highway project has been heralded as a way to reduce congestion and improve commute times, but the additional lanes would also impact several heavily Black and Latino neighborhoods, forcing residents, businesses, and houses of worship in the path to relocate.

The construction plan, known as the North Houston Highway Improvement Project, would widen the highway into three segments.

Local resistance to the I-45 project had been brewing for years, with many hearkening back to the 1950s when freeway routes were deliberately drawn to impact Black communities and divide people by race and class.

The I-45 project has at least been temporarily halted, with Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg now at the helm of the sprawling federal department.

Federal transportation authorities in March sent a letter asking Texas to pause contracts on the widening project while they reviewed racial justice complaints covered by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, along with environmental concerns.

The provision states that “no person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Read more: Here are 9 hurdles Biden’s infrastructure plan would have to overcome in Congress before it can become law

In a letter written to the Texas Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration cited community opposition in reviewing the I-45 widening project, mentioning Houston-area Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Air Alliance Houston, and the community organization Texas Housers.

“I think [Buttigieg] was engaged, interested and fair,” Jackson Lee told Politico after speaking with the secretary. “I think he was chagrined at federal dollars being used with such disregard of community views.”

The congresswoman feels that the Texas Department of Transportation “blatantly violated” the Title VI provision.

The project’s pause, which is being driven by civil rights laws, has thrilled grassroots activists and Washington figures.

Fred Wagner, an attorney and former chief counsel at the Federal Highway Administration under the Obama administration, told Politico that taking such a step was a big change.

“It just doesn’t happen very often,” he said. “For DOT to step in, potentially, and say ‘We don’t think it’s an appropriate solution,’ would be a really huge deal.”

Buttigieg, who is seeking to reimagine the country’s transportation system, also hopes to dismantle old processes that disenfranchised Americans of color from past planning conversations, especially when entire neighborhoods were destroyed by urban planners when the modern US highway network was first built in the 20th Century.

“This is not just a matter of halfway accidental neglect,” he said in a Politico interview last month. “We’re talking about some really intentional decisions that happened, and a lot of them happened with federal dollars.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

Transportation Department says taxing drivers by the mile is not part of Biden’s agenda after Buttigieg said it showed ‘promise’

Pete Buttigieg
Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg at a press conference in February.

  • The Department of Transportation clarified comments made Friday by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
  • Buttigieg on Friday said that a mileage tax to fund Biden’s infrastructure plan had “a lot of promise.”
  • But on Saturday, a spokesperson said such a tax is not part of Biden’s agenda.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The office of Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg on Saturday said the Biden administration was not considering a plan to tax drivers by the number of miles that they drive after Buttigieg said during an interview he was open to the idea.

During a CNBC interview Friday about his goals for US infrastructure and Biden’s upcoming infrastructure plan, Buttigieg was asked about funding the president’s plan, which is expected to cost about $3 trillion. He was specifically questioned about the efficacy of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax, which would tax drivers by the number of miles they drive and is seen as an alternative to taxing gasoline.

“I think that shows a lot of promise,” Buttigieg said. “If we believe in that so-called user-pays principle, the idea that part of how we pay for roads is you pay based on how much you drive. The gas tax used to be the obvious way to do it. It’s not anymore, so a so-called vehicle miles traveled tax or mileage tax – whatever you want to call it – could be a way to do it.”

“You’re hearing a lot of ‘maybe’ here because all of these things need to be balanced and could be part of the mix,” he said.

Read more: Apple will never deliver a car because it can’t figure out how to work with the automakers who could make it happen

But a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation on Saturday shut down the idea after the statement went viral online in a short video clip, sparking a range of reactions and criticism online.

“The Secretary was having a broad conversation about a variety of ways to fund transportation,” Ben Halle, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation, told Insider’s Adam Wren. “To be clear, he never said that VMT was under consideration by the White House as part of this infrastructure plan- and it is not.”

Biden is expected to unveil his infrastructure plan in Pittsburgh next week. The $3 trillion proposal is expected to consist of two bills, according to a report from The New York Times. The first bill is expected to have a focus on upgrading bridges and roads while the second would focus on elements like education and childcare, according to the report.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Secretary Pete may want to tax how much you drive to pay for Biden’s infrastructure bill

pete buttigieg
Pete Buttigieg.

  • Biden is set to unveil a $3 trillion infrastructure bill next week, but its funding is undecided.
  • Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is eyeing a mileage tax as a way to fund the bill.
  • Lawmakers have disagreed on funding, with the GOP position against any kind of tax increase.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden is set to unveil a massive $3 trillion infrastructure bill next week and many lawmakers have floated various ideas on how to fund it. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg has an idea: a mileage tax.

In a CNBC interview on Friday, Buttigieg discussed Biden’s upcoming proposal and said the plan will lead to a net gain for Americans, rather than a net cost, since infrastructure is “a classic example of the kind of investment that has a return on that investment.”

“That’s one of many reasons why we think this is so important,” Buttigieg said. “This is a jobs vision as much as it is an infrastructure vision, a climate vision and more.”

When it comes to funding, Buttigieg said revenue will likely come from different sources and is something that he still needs to discuss with Congress, but a mileage tax could be an effective option. Introducing that would also encourage the use of electric vehicles, which has been a goal of Biden’s since the start of his presidential campaign.

“I think that shows a lot of promise,” Buttigieg said. “If we believe in that so-called user-pays principle, the idea that part of how we pay for roads is you pay based on how much you drive.”

Buttigieg added that Build America Bonds – Obama-era bonds financed by the federal government – could also be revived to fund the infrastructure bill.

The president is set to unveil his infrastructure proposal in Pittsburgh next week, and it could include up to $3 trillion in spending, split into separate packages for repairing crumbling infrastructure and for care-economy funding for initiatives including free community college and universal pre-K.

Sen. John Thune, the Senate’s second-ranked Republican, told reporters on Tuesday that splitting up the infrastructure bill is a “pretty cynical ploy” by Democrats to attempt to gain GOP support for certain measures.

And even some moderate Democrats have expressed concerns about passing an infrastructure bill without Republican support. Moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia told Axios that he likely won’t support another reconciliation bill.

“I am not going to get on a bill that cuts them [Republicans] out completely before we start trying,” Manchin said.

Buttigieg on Thursday urged the House Transportation Committee to make a “generational investment” in infrastructure and combat racial inequity and climate change.

He said: “There is near-universal recognition that a broader recovery will require a national commitment to fix and transform America’s infrastructure.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

Senior Democrat caught on hot mic suggests bypassing Republicans on infrastructure

Ben Cardin
Sen. Ben Cardin.

  • Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin was heard suggesting reconciliation for the upcoming infrastructure bill.
  • He cited likely Republican opposition and said the bill will resemble the $1.9 trillion stimulus.
  • Conservatives and moderates have already complained about the prospect of another reconciliation bill.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A senior Democratic senator, Ben Cardin of Maryland, was overheard in a “hot mic” moment saying the next trillion-dollar spending bill will probably have to bypass Republicans once again.

In a moment caught by C-SPAN on Monday, the chair of the Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure was overheard telling Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg that Democrats will likely have to use reconciliation to pass an infrastructure bill, Politico first reported.

Democrats recently used reconciliation to pass the $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” which President Joe Biden signed into law on Thursday. The infrastructure bill could carry an even larger price tag, and Cardin said Democrats will “most likely have to use reconciliation” to pass that one, too.

“Ultimately, it’s going to be put together similar,” Cardin told Buttigieg when speaking about the infrastructure bill. “The Republicans will be with you to a point, and then -” he tailed off, suggesting that GOP backing would taper off as Democrats assemble a large bill.

House Democrats officially began working on an infrastructure package on Friday, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying in a statement that she aims to negotiate with Republicans on the legislative details.

She said it was her hope that bipartisanship would “prevail as we address other critical needs in energy and broadband, education and housing, water systems and other priorities.”

President Joe Biden has already held infrastructure talks with bipartisan groups of lawmakers. On February 11, he met with four bipartisan senators on the topic, and in the beginning of March, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers joined the president to discuss possible funding methods.

After the latter meeting with Biden, Sam Graves, ranking member of the House Committee of Transportation and Infrastructure, criticized the prospect of another party-line procedure.

The next bill “cannot be a ‘my way or the highway’ approach like last Congress,” he said, referring to previous Democratic legislation advanced under Pelosi.

“First and foremost, a highway bill cannot grow into a multitrillion-dollar catch-all bill, or it will lose Republican support,” Graves said. “We have to be responsible, and a bill whose cost is not offset will lose Republican support.”

The Biden administration is reportedly weighing tax increases on wealthy Americans and large corporations to finance at least part of its domestic spending plans. Still, some experts say a significant portion of the legislation could be deficit-financed, citing the low cost of federal borrowing and the nature of infrastructure spending as a one-off investment in the economy.

On the Democratic side of the Senate, the influential moderate Joe Manchin of West Virginia said in an “Axios on HBO” interview that Democrats need to work with Republicans on the next big spending bill.

“I’m not going to do it through reconciliation,” Manchin said. “I am not going to get on a bill that cuts them [Republicans] out completely before we start trying.”

Biden has not yet announced specific funding plans for an infrastructure bill, although his campaign platform included a $2 trillion infrastructure proposal. Manchin has said he could support a bill worth up to $4 trillion, as long as it was paid for adequately.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Pete Buttigieg brought star power to the Transportation Department. Insiders explain how he’s winning over his new staff, the White House, and Republicans.

Hello everyone!

Welcome to this weekly roundup of stories from Insider’s Business co-Editor in Chief Matt Turner. Subscribe here to get this newsletter in your inbox every Sunday.

What we’re going over today:

pete buttigieg
Pete Buttigieg drinks a root beer float while talking with journalists as he walks through the Iowa State Fair August 13, 2019.


This week was busy as ever, and we’ve got a ton of Insider deep dives to share with you today. But before we get to that, a look at what’s trending this morning:

Now, let’s get to it.

What Pete Buttigieg did next

From Adam Wren and Robin Bravender:

Rank-and-file Transportation Department employees saw their phones start blowing up the day President-elect Joe Biden announced that Pete Buttigieg was his pick to lead their agency.

One DOT staffer remembered being bombarded that December Tuesday with text messages, emails, and Facebook posts from friends who knew little about his actual job but were excited to hear that Buttigieg would be his boss. 

It’s not uncommon for political stars and former White House contenders to land in a presidential Cabinet, but they usually don’t call their new home the Transportation Department, a behemoth federal agency created during the Lyndon B. Johnson administration and whose portfolio includes pipeline safety, air-traffic control, and highway maintenance. 

Read the full story here:

Also read:

Black women CEOs and executives on their time in corporate America

Black women CEOs

From Jennifer Eum, Keishel Williams, Sawyer Click, and Taylor Tyson:

Across corporate America, the struggle to place women – especially Black women – at the helm of major companies continues. Paving the way forward are women like Thasunda Brown Duckett, who was just named CEO of retirement and investment manager TIAA. She will become only the fourth Black woman chief executive of a Fortune 500 company.

Duckett is one of 67 women featured in this collection of responses from influential Black businesswomen in America.

Insider asked these executives, from leading companies like Google, Salesforce, and Amazon, to reflect on their rise to the top, the struggle of being a Black woman in white corporate America, and the best career advice they’ve received. Their answers are raw and poignant, emotional and inspiring.

Read the full story here:

Also read:

Google’s superhuman hearing project


From Hugh Langley:

Alphabet’s moon-shots division, X, is quietly working on a top-secret augmented-reality device that would give people enhanced hearing abilities, Insider has learned.

The project, which is internally named “Wolverine,” is a nod to the comic-book mutant’s heightened sense of hearing, said four former employees familiar with the details, who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

The team started seriously working on the project in 2018, the sources said, and in that time it has gone through multiple prototypes and has gained the favor of executives like Google cofounder Sergey Brin.

 Read the full story here:

Also read:

Inside the downfall of Nikola founder Trevor Milton

trevor milton nikola profile 2x1

From Mark Matousek:

Trevor Milton’s star rose as Nikola raised a billion dollars in funding and assembled a blue-chip roster of partners and customers. By 2020, Milton, the serial entrepreneur who’d started four companies before Nikola and sold two of them, was being compared to Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

But last June, Bloomberg was the first to report that the One prototype Milton unveiled in 2016 couldn’t drive under its own power. Three months later, Hindenburg Research, a financial-research firm that calls out companies it thinks have misbehaved, said Milton had a long history of bending the truth.

Milton denied the allegations, but they hung over him until, a little over a week later, he resigned from the company that made him a billionaire, before it delivered a single truck.

Read the full story here:

Also read:

Lastly, don’t forget to check out Morning Brew – the A.M. newsletter that makes reading the news actually enjoyable.

Here are some headlines you might have missed last week.

– Matt

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Inside Apple’s ambitious next decade, where it could redefine consumer tech with a VR headset, foldable iPhone, and even an Apple Car

What hedge funds really think about SPACs: How a money-printing frenzy could end in tears for whoever’s holding the bag

GOLDMAN SACHS: Buy these 30 stocks that are set to keep surging as economic acceleration and inflation continue to lift interest rates

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Meet the 15 executives with the most power under Amazon retail boss Dave Clark – and the 4 who got pushed down as he rose to CEO

Industry insiders say DraftKings is having M&A talks with a variety of potential targets. Here are the companies that could be on its shopping list and why.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Key House Democrat opens the door to circumventing Republicans on multitrillion-dollar infrastructure package

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden.

  • Biden met with a bipartisan group of House members on Thursday to discuss infrastructure spending.
  • House Transportation Chair Peter DeFazio floated the idea of using reconciliation for the bill on CNBC.
  • Ranking member Sam Graves immediately pushed back on Democrats passing a bill without Republican support. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

After his $1.9 trillion stimulus package passes, President Joe Biden is setting his sights on what could be an even bigger bill: infrastructure. 

And Democrats are already considering ways to go about spending without Republican support.

The president began holding talks on the matter on February 11, when he met with a bipartisan group of four senators to discuss the future of infrastructure funding. On February 17, he called top labor leaders to the Oval Office to hear about their priorities in such a package. 

Infrastructure talks continued this Thursday as Biden was joined by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Peter DeFazio, ranking member Sam Graves, and seven other House members.

In a Thursday interview with CNBC before meeting with Biden, Democratic Rep. DeFazio said he planned to propose the idea of using reconciliation to fund an infrastructure bill and have specific projects within the bill be passed on a bipartisan basis.

“Clearly the president wants to try bipartisan, and I’m willing to try that,” DeFazio, a Democrat, said.

However, in a statement shortly afterward, the Republican Graves said legislation “cannot be a ‘my way or the highway’ approach like last Congress,” referring to previous Democratic legislation.

“First and foremost, a highway bill cannot grow into a multitrillion-dollar catch-all bill, or it will lose Republican support,” Graves said. “We have to be responsible, and a bill whose cost is not offset will lose Republican support.”

“The President, Vice President, Secretary, and Members of Congress discussed their shared commitment to working across the aisle to build modern and sustainable infrastructure in rural, suburban, and urban areas across the country that create good-paying, union jobs and support the economic recovery,” the White House said in a statement following the meeting. 


During his campaign, Biden proposed a $2 trillion infrastructure plan that would focus on job creation and climate progress, but Press Secretary Jen Psaki has declined to settle on an exact price tag and said in a February 25 briefing that would come after the stimulus plan is passed. 

DeFazio did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

Graves emphasized in his statement that he does not want “another Green New Deal disguising itself as a transportation bill.” Biden’s campaign proposal on infrastructure heavily focused on climate-related initiatives that would create jobs.

On Wednesday, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the US a C-minus grade on its four year infrastructure report card and said the country needs $2.8 trillion in national road and rail transportation in the coming decade.

After the White House meeting, DeFazio declined to disclose specifics but told reporters the conversation topics included how to pay for the bill. 

“He [Biden] wants to move as quickly as possible,” DeFazio said. “He wants it to be very big and he feels that this is the key to the recovery package.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

LGBTQ candidates made history in 2020, but what’s most ‘earth-shattering’ about their record is its standout diversity

White House pride lights
The White House is blanketed in rainbow colors symbolizing LGBT pride in Washington on June 26, 2015.

  • In the November general election, a number of LGBTQ candidates won races across the US in a phenomenon that’s been dubbed the “rainbow wave.”
  • Several winners made history, including the first Black gay members of Congress, the first transgender state senator in Delaware, and the first nonbinary state legislator. 
  • Andrew Reynolds, a professor at Princeton University who studies LGBTQ+ people in politics, said the wins were more a “splash” than a “wave,” noting that the gains coincided with existing trends.
  • What’s more notable, he said, was the diversity among the winners, including more wins for female, nonbinary, and nonwhite LGBTQ+ candidates. 
  • Anisse Parker, the president of the Victory Fund and former mayor of Houston, Texas, told Insider that in recent elections, LGBTQ+ candidates have been about 30% more diverse than the candidate pool at-large.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Stephanie Byers wasn’t a career politician, but last month, the 57-year-old retired high school band and orchestra director from Wichita won a race to become the first openly trans legislator in the Kansas House of Representatives. 

Byers, who taught for 32 years before she retired in 2019, is one of a growing number of LGBTQ individuals in the US who has successfully sought elected office.

One of the most notable wins this year came in Delaware, where 30-year-old activist Sarah McBride won her race, becoming the first out transgender state senator ever elected in the US. Her win came two years after that of Danica Roem, who in 2017 won her race in Virginia to become the first openly trans person ever elected to a state legislature. This year, Roem won reelection.

According to a report from NBC News, more than 220 LGBTQ candidates celebrated victory on Election Day this year, a phenomenon some have dubbed the “rainbow wave.”

Two gains were made in Congress: Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones, both Democrats from New York, who were elected to serve as the first openly gay Afro-Latino and Black men in Congress, respectively. The election of Torres and Jones brings the total of LGBTQ representation in the US House to nine, as NBC News reported. 

There are two openly LGBTQ senators, Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Sen. Krysten Sinema of Arizona, marking 11 members of Congress from the LGBTQ community. 

And in California, Todd Gloria, the former San Diego city council member and member of the state assembly, was elected San Diego Mayor, joining Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot as the second currently serving out gay mayor of a major US city.

Most wins, like Byers’ in Kansas, came at the state level, and others, at more local levels, like Charmaine McGuffey in Ohio and Kristin Graziano in South Carolina, who both identify as lesbians and were elected as county sheriffs. In Oklahoma, Democrat Rep. Mauree Turner became the first openly nonbinary person elected to a state legislature in the US. 

While their identities in the queer community are pivotal to who they are, candidates said identity played a backseat to policy 

“I can’t hide my identity,” Byers told Business Insider. 

The 2018 recipient of GLSEN’s Educator of the Year Award, said she and her campaign knew they had to be upfront with voters, many of whom already knew her as a longtime member of the community.

“Wichita is a conservative city but leans purple,” Byers said. “It’s also a place where I found acceptance when I transitioned to be my authentic self. I figured there’d be some sort of pushback because I had taught at one school since 1991.” 

But when she came out in 2014, the negative reaction she anticipated never materialized. She worried an angry parent might show up to a school board meeting to take issue with her transition, but no one did. Her run for office was largely similar, she said.

On Election Day, Byers said a journalist had approached an older man exiting his polling location, and the voter said he’d cast his ballot for Byers’ opponent. However, he told the reporter it had nothing to do with her being transgender – he just wasn’t a fan of her politics, she said.

Byers pushed for better funding for local public schools, Medicaid expansion, and a need to update the unemployment system in Kansas. 

“Maybe here in Wichita we’ve pushed the door open a bit, so people realize that someone’s status as a member of the LGBTQ community is just one part of who they are. It’s not their whole identity,” Byers said.

Stephanie Byers
Educator of the Year honoree Stephanie Byers accepts her award at the GLSEN 2018 Respect Awards at Cipriani 42nd Street on May 21, 2018 in New York City.

Nearly 600 miles southwest of Wichita, Rep.-elect Brittney Barreras in Albuquerque, New Mexico also spent election night celebrating a historic victory. Barreras was elected as the first openly lesbian member of the New Mexico House of Representatives. 

Barreras said her identity as a gay woman hadn’t played a major role in how she campaigned for the seat. Instead, she centered her campaign around the issues that mattered to voters in her district.

“Being that I’m gay, I knew that it was going to be hard,” Barreras told Insider. “I don’t look like other politicians. I don’t sound like other politicians.”

But Barreras, who ran as a declined-to-state candidate, said she didn’t enter the race because she’s a part of the LGBTQ community. 

“At the end of this,” she said, “I got involved because I’m part of District 12, and because I think I can represent all different families.”

Annise Parker, the former mayor of Houston, Texas, and current president of the Victory Fund, a political action committee dedicated to electing LGBTQ leaders, told Insider that despite clearly shifting attitudes, homophobia and transphobia aren’t exactly relics of a bygone era.

Parker, who served as one of the first elected lesbian mayors in US history from 2010 until 2016, pointed toward the attacks faced by Colorado State Rep. Brianna Titone, who in 2019 became the first openly transgender state legislator in her state. 

During her reelection campaign this year, Titone faced multiple instances of transphobia, including robocalls that claimed she intended to force a “radical sexual agenda on every Coloradan” and other smears that referenced her deadname, the name she used prior to her transition, as CPR News reported in October.

“It’s a mixed bag,” Parker said. “I will say that every year we see less and less of that. It used to be a dog whistle, where an opponent will say ‘I don’t think it should be an issue my opponent is gay’ – making it an issue but not attacking overtly.” 

LGBTQ winners are now coming from more diverse backgrounds

Candidates from the LGBTQ community are often more diverse than candidates at large, Parker told Insider. Victory Fund data suggests that their candidates over the past several election cycles were approximately 30% more diverse than candidates at large, she said.

“Looking back over the last cycle, our candidates are significantly more diverse than the general candidate pool, which frankly tends to be white men,” she said. 

Andrew Reynolds, a research scholar and lecturer at Princeton University who studies LGBTQ politics, said overall, queer candidates and politicians are trending more diverse, which is more in line with the LGBTQ community as a whole. 

“Almost uniformly the LGBTQ community has historically been represented by white gay men,” Reynolds told Insider. “They’ve led the fundraising, the advocacy, they’ve held the political leadership with elected office.” 

“Now,” he added, “we’re seeing women and women of color, and increasingly trans and gender-nonconforming people being elected. If you believe that reflecting the community is a normative good, then this is what the new leadership is doing. Not completely, but overall, it’s reflecting the community at large.” 

The Victory Fund, which supports candidates from all political parties, helped elect Eddie Mannis, a gay Republican in the Tennessee state legislature. Also in Tennesse, it helped elect Torrey Harris, a Democrat, who is Black and bisexual.

Barrera, who is Latinx, told Insider, “Growing up, I didn’t have someone locally who I could look up to and say ‘that person looks like me, and I can do that someday.’ If I could be that person for somebody else – some person in my community – that’s what this is all about.”

She said the so-called “rainbow wave” is the latest indication that attitudes toward the queer community are shifting.

“It shows that the way our families look is changing, so the people representing our families are changing too,” she added. 

Brittney Barreras
New Mexico Rep.-elect Brittney Barreras (R) pictured here in a photo with her daughter and partner.

Reynolds told Insider data suggests that while attitudes toward LGBTQ candidates have shifted as a whole, how people perceive gay and trans candidates continues to depend on their political ideology. 

For some progressive voters, he said, a candidate’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender identity can be a positive, even providing candidates with a slight boost at the polls. 

“Being LGBT actually says to voters that this candidate is more inclusive, empathetic, and more demonstrative of what we want America to look like,” Reynolds said. “And so, you literally get a 1, 2, or 3 % bump for being queer in the right type of districts.”

In other, more conservative districts, LGBTQ candidates can still face a penalty with voters because of their identities, but even that’s becoming rarer, especially among gay and lesbian candidates, he added. Reynolds said LGBTQ candidates often face voters’ perception of whether they’re electable or not. 

“Voters almost sense the field of candidates before they even start because they think ‘who can win,’ he told Insider. “The expectation about who can win isn’t actually based in reality, but if enough people believe it, it’s a self-reinforcing prophecy.” 

Despite the supposed “rainbow wave,” 2020 wins weren’t as groundbreaking as some had hoped

Reynolds said that gay and trans wins in 2020 weren’t all that surprising, given that the results are part of a general trend toward “slow incremental gains” for queer representation in politics.

“This isn’t a big Tsunami. It’s not a big wave. I characterize it as a splash,” he said. “I characterize the most exciting part of the election as the type of people from the community who are being elected. I don’t think the numbers are earth-shattering.”

Parker noted several disappointing losses for LGBTQ candidates, including at the highest office.

Despite narrowly winning the all-important Iowa caucus in February, Pete Buttigieg, the openly gay, former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, unsuccessfully ran in the crowded Democratic primary race for the presidential nomination.

“Pete was a game-changer,” Parker said. “He completely transformed for most people what’s possible in American politics.”

“He reduced the hurdle for the next person,” Parker added. “He demonstrated to moderates, independents, and even Republicans that the gay man doesn’t have to frighten you.”

Losses were also felt at the congressional level, where some candidates failed to win their contentious races. Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones, who is openly lesbian and a veteran of the US Air Force, failed to win her race to become the first LGBTQ elected to Congress from Texas. Democrat Jon Hoadley likewise lost his bid to become the first openly LGBTQ person elected to Congress from Michigan, as them reported.

“We didn’t win in some places where we hoped to get congressional seats, but those seats are all about the federal level and presidential politics,” Parker said.

Looking forward, Parker said the Victory Fund had its sights set on electing LGBTQ candidates in three statehouses that haven’t yet elected an openly queer person: Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alaska.

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