In January, a Republican county legislator named John Carman posted a meme to Facebook that mocked the impending Women’s March on Washington. “WILL THE WOMEN’S MARCH PROTEST BE OVER IN TIME FOR THEM TO COOK DINNER?” the post asked, accompanied by a stock photo of a woman stirring something on a stovetop. Carman posted the image and added his own comment: “Just asking!”
In the fraught days surrounding Trump’s inauguration, this turned out to be an epically failed attempt at “reading the room,” as they say. A few days later, dozens of women showed up to a small public meeting to confront Carman, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. They brought gifts including a box of macaroni and cheese and the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie book We Should All Be Feminists. They stayed for two hours, but Carman declined to apologize and instead praised the women in his own family for being “strong” enough not to be offended. The protesters ultimately walked out en masse. Ashley Bennett, a 31-year-old lifelong resident of Carman’s county, spoke at the meeting and later told a reporter why she walked out. “You had the entire time to sit and collect your thoughts, and hear what people were saying, and instead of apologizing and saying you could do better, you disrespect people,” she said.
On Tuesday, Bennett knocked Carman off the board, defeating him handily in the election for his seat on the Atlantic County Board of Freeholders, which oversees the local government in an area that includes Atlantic City. The district is considered a Republican stronghold, but Bennett beat the incumbent by almost 1,000 votes out of about 14,000 cast. “I am beyond speechless and incredibly grateful to serve my community,” she told Inquirer reporter Amy S. Rosenberg. “I never imagined I would run for office.”
For Democrats, all of Tuesday’s electoral victories were important. But Bennett’s was one of a few that carried an extra tinge of poetic justice. There was the Liberian refugee elected mayor of a Helena, Montana, where tensions have roiled over the presence of refugees. There was Danica Roem, a transgender Democrat in Virginia who defeated a 13-term incumbent who had introduced a bill that would have forbidden transgender students from using their preferred bathroom in school. “I don’t attack my constituents,” Roem said on election night when asked about Marshall. “Bob is my constituent now.”
And there was Bennett, a first-time candidate who works as a psychiatric emergency screener at a local hospital. Fed up by what she heard at the meeting with Carman, she decided to run for office herself. Her opponent, meanwhile, was recently forced to publicly apologize for wearing a motorcycle vest with a patch that depicted the state of New Jersey partly covered by the Confederate flag. The Woman’s March and other protests, Bennett told the Associated Press, “woke a lot of people up.”
Carman, for his part, did not seem to have been awakened by the response to his Facebook post, which drew immediate backlash from his community. “Lighten up,” Carman wrote to one offended constituent. “It’s called humor.” The trouble with saying “it’s called humor” is that sometimes the butt of the joke gets the last laugh.