by Jaweed Kaleem
Tuesday’s elections brought two historic firsts for religion in American politics: A Buddhist senator and a Hindu representative — both from Hawaii — will join Congress.
Democrat Mazie Hirono beat former Gov. Linda Lingle (R), making Hirono the first Buddhist in the Senate. In Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, Democrat Tulsi Gabbard defeated Republican opponent Kawika Crowley, making Gabbard the first Hindu in Congress.
Both elections were cheered by Hindu and Buddhist Americans, members of two faiths that share a common history that traces back to ancient India.
“These are all signs of dharmic communities being accepted in the country,” said Anju Bhargava, founder of Hindu American Seva Charities. “It’s all about inclusion and acceptance. The feeling that my faith and my people are accepted. Ultimately, politics comes down to ‘how does it impact me?’ or ‘how am I included?’ It will mean so much for the upcoming generations of Hindus and Buddhists.”
Hirono, who was born in Japan, practices the Jodo Shinshu tradition of Buddhism. She was first elected to Congress in 2007 to represent Hawaii’s 2nd District, the seat that Gabbard won Tuesday. Prior to that, Hirono served 14 years in the Hawaii state legislature and was the state’s lieutenant governor for eight years. She is also the first Asian-American woman senator and the first senator born in Japan.
“I certainly believe in the precepts of Buddhism and that of tolerance of other religions and integrity and honesty,” she said when she first joined Congress.
Buddhism, which includes a widely diverse set of spiritual practices, is one of the largest religions in the U.S., but statistics vary on how many Buddhists live in the nation. Surveys have estimated the population between 1.5 and 3 million.
Gabbard, 31, was born in American Samoa, and raised by a Catholic father and a Hindu mother. She moved to Hawaii when she was 2 and in 2002, joined the Hawaii state legislature at age 21. She served in the Hawaii National Guard the next year and, in 2004, went to Baghdad to be a medical operations specialist. In 2008, she was deployed to Kuwait to work with the nation’s counterterrorism trainees.
Gabbard chose to embrace the faith after her mother started practicing it when Gabbard was a teen. The congresswoman-elect, whose first name refers to a tree that’s sacred to Hindus, follows the Vaishnava branch of Hinduism, which focuses on the Supreme Lord Vishnu and his 10 main incarnations. She relies upon the Bhagavad Gita as her main source of scripture.
In an interview with Religion News Service prior to her election, Gabbard said she hopes to be a bridge between cultures and nations. “Hopefully the presence in Congress of an American who happens to be Hindu will increase America’s understanding of India as well as India’s understanding of America,” she said.
Like Buddhists, estimates of the Hindu-American community in the U.S. also vary. Largely made up of Indian-Americans, the Hindu population is between 600,000 to 2.3 million. Unlike most Hindus, Gabbard is not of Indian heritage. Her father is Samoan and her mother is a convert to Hinduism.
The two best-known Indian-Americans to be elected to office are Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who was raised Hindu but converted to Catholicism, and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who was raised Sikh but converted to Methodism. Haley had both Christian and Sikh wedding ceremonies, and has said she attends Sikh services on occasion out of respect to her family’s culture.
Hirono and Gabbard will join an increasingly diverse Congress. The first Muslim to join the House or Senate, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), was first elected in 2006 and reelected for a fourth term on Tuesday. In 2008, Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) was the second Muslim elected to Congress. In 2008, Rep. Hark Johnson (D-Ga.), another Buddhist, also joined Congress, making history with him and Hirono the first Buddhists to be elected to Congress.
More than a century prior, smaller religious groups also made headway into congressional seats for the first time. Lewis Charles Levin of the American Party was the first Jew elected to Congress in 1845, and represented Pennsylvania in the House. The first Mormon was John Milton Bernhisel, who joined Congress in 1851 to represent Utah. The only Sikh congressman, California Democrat Dalip Singh Saund, was elected for three terms beginning in 1957.
Mazie Hirono and Tammy Duckworth: Women Make History on Election Night
by Mythili Sampathkumar, from http://www.policymic.com/articles/18780/mazie-hirono-and-tammy-duckworth-women-make-history-on-election-night
Barack Obama has been re-elected. I never dreamed of being able to write that the first time around and here we are discussing it again. No doubt, this was a hard-fought battle by the Romney campaign and it was a close margin of victory for the president in many of the battleground states. In a graceful concession speech, Romney, often criticized for the lack of inclusion in the Republican Party, called for a spirit of cooperation. Obama did the same as he spoke with hints of 2008 in his voice and delivery. He went back, in a way, to those big ideas he gave us in 2004 at the Democratic Convention and again in 2008 during his now famous “Yes we can” speech.
That optimism, that focus on inclusion and hope for cooperation, is reflected in the Democratic Party’s stance on womens’ issues and the 12 point win with female voters in the election. It is amazing to foreigners that the states have never had a female leader when countries that are often chastized for their treatment of women, have had leaders like Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, and Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson to name a few. Nearly every developed country on Earth has more female represenation that the states. Our Congress in general has had female representation for less than a century.
The tide feels like it’s changing because of last night though. Sometimes a candidate wins and it is their race, their victory. Sometimes, though, you get a candidate whose victory and term in office is much bigger than just them:
Nineteen women will join the Senate, the most ever. That means 1 in 5 Senators will be a woman, finally reflecting, in a small way, the fact that more women vote than men.
The first Asian American woman, Mazie Hirono (D-HI) was elected to the Senate. Not only that, but she is the first Senator have been born in Japan and is a Buddhist. A historic win for sure as Hirono says, “I bring quadruple diversity to the Senate.”
Tulsi Gabbard, not to be outdone, was also victorious last night. She’s also only 31, an Iraq War veteran, and won by a healthy margin in Hawaii’s second congressional district. As if that wasn’t enough she made history by becoming the fist Hindu to be elected to Congress. On a more personal note, this means a great deal to me.
As the battle over labor rights waged in Wisconsin, we watched a failed attempt to throw out Republican Governor Scott Walker. Add to that the fact that vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan is also from Wisconsin and any Democratic victory in the state seemed unlikely. But, this election has been nothing if not full of the unlikely. Obama won Wisconsin’s electoral votes and Tammy Baldwin will now be the new Senator from the state defeating, of all people, former Governor Tommy Thompson. Wisconsin has never sent a woman to the Senate. No state has ever sent an openly gay person to the Senate. Baldwin may have felt she ran ‘”to make a difference” and not to make history” but she did both last night.
What happens when a female Iraq War veteran loses both her legs and part of her arm in combat, comes home to painful physical therapy, runs for Congress in 2010 and loses? She gets back up, speaks at the Democratic National Convention, and wins. Tammy Duckworth is now the congresswoman-elect for Illinois’s 8th congressional district. She handily defeated the infamous and ignorant Joe Walsh who seems to think that abortions are never necessary to save the life of the mother, much to the medical community’s chagrin. What do they know, they are just doctors!
Todd Akin thinks women are pretty magical too. Maybe they are onto something given how enchanted an evening Claire McCaskill had in Missouri. It was a ‘legitimate’ victory decided a mere three hours after polls closed. McCaskill, the encumbernt, retains her seat in the Senate. During the Republican primaries, it is said that McCaskill’s team targeted Akin to be the candidate with attacks on his opponents.