This is what a legislator looks like. Catch up.

Just under a month ago, Ohio State Representative Emilia Sykes filed a complaint with the Ohio Department of Public Safety for over two years of disparate treatment by security officials at the Statehouse. More specifically, Representative Sykes – one of ten Black women in the Ohio state legislature – cited heightened scrutiny at security checkpoints and direct comments from security officials that she doesn’t “look like a legislator.” A citizen in Oregon seemed to struggle with the same issue this week when she called the police on Oregon State Representative Janelle Bynum– the only Black woman in the Oregon House – while she was canvassing a neighborhood in her district for re-election.

Yesterday I filed a complaint w/ the Ohio Dept of Public Safety about repeated scrutiny & questioning by Troopers & Statehouse security. No longer can my race, gender, age, or any other characteristic subject me to differential treatment as I'm serving my community. #WeBelongHere pic.twitter.com/WkQBPYFk5o

— Emilia Sykes (@EmiliaSykesOH) June 14, 2018

These recent cases reveal the stubborn and biased expectations of political leadership as old, White, and male. Those expectations are deeply rooted in the foundations of our political (and social) institutions, which were built for and by White men, but are reinforced by an indolence or even unwillingness to reimagine political leadership in ways that expand access to those historically excluded from officeholding.

In addition to age, citizenship, and residency requirements for holding federal office, state constitutions established requirements for candidacy and officeholding based on religious belief, educational attainment, and property ownership for much of the 18th and 19th centuries. These formal sites for exclusion from the political system were bolstered by informal modes of exclusion with disparate effects on women and people of color, some which persist to present day (think, for example, of the costs of campaigning and/or the role of “insider” networks in candidate recruitment, endorsement, and funding, to say nothing of the physical and emotional risks of running for office in racist and sexist environments). It’s little surprise, then, that of the 12,249 individuals that have served in Congress to date, just 322 (2.6%) have been women and 61 (0.5%) have been women of color.

Even for the women who have fought successfully for inclusion into our political institutions, efforts to exclude or marginalize them have continued. In the documentary Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed, Representative Shirley Chisholm (NY) – the first Black woman in Congress – describes being repeatedly heckled by a White, male colleague who couldn’t believe that they earned the same salary. While she successfully confronted him to stop his behavior, Chisholm’s experience reflects the unwillingness of some to accept changes in the allocation of political power.

More than three decades letter, Representative Linda Sánchez (CA) entered Congress as one of just seven Latinas in the 108th Congress and the only Latina under 40 years old. In an interview for our forthcoming book on the impact of women in Congress, Representative Sánchez described a situation strikingly similar to Representative Sykes’ interactions with Ohio Statehouse security.

Representative Sánchez recounted being stopped repeatedly at security checkpoints in the Capitol to show her member identification, despite wearing her member pin and even after multiple instances of proving herself to be an elected representative. Describing how this felt, she told us, “When you are walking with male colleagues and the male colleagues are waved through and they’re stopping you, the subtle message that they are sending is that these people belong here and you don’t.”

Like Representative Sykes, Representative Sánchez took action. First, she called out one of the security guards for reinforcing norms of who should or does hold congressional office, telling them, “You know, White men are not the only members of Congress. There are women who are members. There are Hispanic and Black members too.” Then she complained directly to the Sergeant at Arms, who warned members of his team not to question her credentials again. When we interviewed Representative Sánchez, she was unconvinced that new women members were not subject to the same skepticism, but her efforts pushed some inside the institution to revise their own expectations of political leadership.

Representative Sykes has gone further in her response to heightened scrutiny, launching #WeBelongHere last month as a forum in which Black women in elected office, government, policy, public service can share their stories of bias and extra scrutiny on the job. As its name reflects, the initiative is itself an assertion of Black women’s belonging within institutions from which they have long been excluded.

Like @EmiliaSykesOH I've been questioned when someone *thinks* I don't look like a lawmaker. But I was elected just like anyone else. Black women have the capacity and credentials to do anything. #WeBelongHere in Congress, and everywhere else. pic.twitter.com/1yyb3IMwqa

— Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (@RepBonnie) June 19, 2018

Like Chisholm, Sánchez, and Sykes, women nationwide are standing up for themselves against forces that would ignore or erase their presence in political institutions. But the work cannot fall only on those who are challenging the status quo to prove that they belong. It’s on all of us to not only accept, but also celebrate and promote the diversity of political leadership. It’s on all of us to question our own biases and rethink images and conceptions ingrained in our psyche about who is meant to lead. And, finally, it’s on all of us to recognize that the scrutiny and surveillance of women and people of color are rooted in racist and sexist norms that founded American political institutions without them in mind.

Today, while White men are still overrepresented at every level of political office, 1,876 women, 456 women of color, and 277 Black women serve in state legislatures nationwide; 107 women are voting members of Congress, including 38 women of color; 72 women hold statewide elected executive office, including 6 women governors and 8 women of color; and nearly 300 women are mayors in cities with populations over 30,000. There is much progress left to make in achieving a more representative democracy for women and communities of color, but these data make clear that women across racial and ethnic groups belong in positions of political power. It’s up to everyone else to get on board.

 

Flat lines and Forecasting Women’s State Legislative Representation

When you are in the business of keeping numbers in the present, you’re often asked to forecast numbers in the future based on historical trends and variables. In our world of women’s political representation, we’re asked (and often ask ourselves) how long it will take for women to reach political parity in government. Here’s the problem: we can’t forecast the pace for progress when our numbers are moving backward instead of forward. Unfortunately, that’s the trend we saw from 2014 to 2015 for women in state legislatures. Let’s remember the recent history for women in state legislatures. In 2010, we saw the largest percentage decline in the number of women in state legislatures since we at CAWP began keeping the numbers in the 1970s. In 2012, women made up for those losses and netted about 20 seats for women nationwide. Women still remained just over 24% of state legislators, less than the historical height of women’s state legislative representation of 24.5%. WomenStLeg Before Election Day 2014, 1,791 women (24.3%) served in state legislatures nationwide. In 2015, 1,786 women (24.2%) hold state legislative seats. While the aggregate numbers reflect an overall loss in women’s state legislative representation, the partisan trends of 2014 were clearly evident among women candidates. From 2014 to 2015, the number of Republican women state legislators increased by a net of 60 legislators and the number of Democratic women state legislators decreased by a net of 68. Women lost a net of 26 seats in state houses nationwide, but gained a net of 20 seats in state senates. The trend overall, then, remained one of breaking even versus breaking records of women in office. Slide08 Slide09While Republican women gained state legislative seats this year, they still remain significantly underrepresented among all Republican legislators. In 2015, Republican women are just 17% of all Republican state legislators, while Democratic women are 33.8% of all Democratic state legislators. For Republican women, that’s a smaller proportion of their party’s representation than they held in 1995. Democratic women have increased as a proportion of all Democrats over the past two decades, though the flat line of progress is evident in the most recent election years (see chart below). PercentWomenStLEgThirteen more women of color will serve in state legislators in 2015 than served in 2014, reaching 390 women of color in total, or 21.8% of all women state legislators (up from 21% in 2014). These gains are significant in a year when women lost overall, but they are still reflective of a very slow rate of change. What explains the stagnation in state legislative women? A few things are of importance to note. First, women fare worse in elections where Republicans fare best because they make up a smaller proportion of Republican candidates. Moreover, the Democratic losses in Republican years are particularly damaging among women officeholders, who are more likely to be Democrats. Second, the number of women candidates – Republicans and Democrats alike – is not increasing at a pace necessary to see representational gains. We know that women fare as well as men on Election Day when they are in comparable races, but women need to make it to the ballot to experience that same level of success. In 2014, 2,517 women ran for state legislative office, 20 lower than ran in 2010 and just 72 more than the number of women who ran in 2012. The flat line in women’s representation is consistent with the flat line in women’s candidacies, serving as yet another reminder for the need to encourage, support, and mobilize women to run. Lastly, if women are to reach political parity with men, they must do so in both political parties. The trends in 2010 and 2014, both Republican years that saw declines in women’s representation, demonstrate that the dearth of Republican women running and winning makes it hard to counter the Democratic losses among women in the same years. So when will women reach parity with men in state legislatures? At this pace, the prognosis is grim. Instead of forecasting numeric progress, however, I’d rather identify opportunities for numeric change. CAWP’s research provides insights into the challenges and opportunities for women running for state legislative seats, and CAWP programs work to provide the support infrastructure to women making the decision to run. But what else needs to be done to disrupt the stasis and prevent further falls in women’s state legislative representation? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. There is much more work to do.  

#WomenRun2014: State Legislatures Outlook

Today we focus on the outlook for women running in state legislative races. The detail and predictive value of our data are limited at this level due to the high number of candidates and races, but we do know that we enter Election Day without a record-level number of female state legislative candidates. State Legislative Nominees In 2014, 2,517 (1,621D, 888R, 7NP, 1I) women are state legislative nominees in the 46 states holding state legislative elections.[1] Two hundred and sixty-nine (163D, 99R, 7NP) additional women are holdovers who will continue to serve in 2015. The record number of women nominees for state legislative seats is 2,537 (1,616D, 908R, 6NP, 7Prg), set in 2010 – another year in which 46 states held state legislative elections.[2] While slightly fewer women are nominees this year, one explanation may be that fewer seats are at stake. Eighty seven state legislative chambers hold elections on Tuesday, compared with 88 chambers for which elections in the fall of 2010. Minnesota’s state senate holds elections only in years ending in 0, 2, and 6. As a result, there are 38 fewer female state legislative nominees in Minnesota in 2014 (75) than in 2010 (113).  In other states, state senate elections reflect staggered terms that may influence the competitiveness of seats available (and thus number of candidates) across different cycles. StLegNomineesWinnersThis year, 453 (291D, 154R, 7NP, 1I) women are nominees for state senate seats and 2,064 (1,329D, 735R) are nominees for state house seats.
Of the 2,517 women nominees running this year, 1,243, or 49.4%, are incumbents. Seven hundred and fourteen women, or 28.4%, are running as challengers, and 558 women, or 22.2%, are running in open seat contests. Similarly, 51.2% of all female House nominees are running as incumbents. Among female state senate nominees, 41.1% are incumbents, 32.5% are running as challengers, and 26% are running in open seat contests. The number of Democratic women state legislative nominees in 2014 (1,621) is the greatest in the past decade, though just five more women are Democratic nominees this year than were on the ballot in 2010 (1,616). Twenty more Republican women were state legislative nominees in 2010 (908) than will be on the ballot this year (888). Despite these slight differences, the overall trend between and across parties is static, as shown by the relatively flat lines in the graphs above and below. StLegNomineesbyParty A complete list of nominees by state and party is available on CAWP’s Election Watch 2014. Women in State Legislatures 2015 Today, 1,789 (1,137D, 637R, 10NP, 1I, 4Prg) women serve in state legislatures, including 411 (258D, 142R, 10NP) female state senators and 1,378 (879D, 495R, 4Prg) female members of state houses. They represent 24.2% of all 7383 state legislators nationwide. The percentage of women state legislators has remained nearly flat over the past two decades, as is evident in the graph below. As the chart above shows, women’s state legislative representation increases as the number of women nominees rises. Without a significant jump in the number of women nominees this year, it is unlikely that we will see a significant departure from the pattern of stagnation in the number of women officeholders at the state legislative level in 2015. PercentWomenStLegCurrently, 375 (347D, 27R, 1NP) women state legislators, or 21% of all women legislators, are women of color. Because we are unable to track state legislative candidate race prior to Election Day, we do not know the racial identification and breakdown of women nominees this year. CAWP will be tracking the numbers of women winning state legislative seats as results come in and are finalized to determine how women fare nationally, by chamber, by state, and by party. We will monitor trends in women’s representation as well as watch for shifts in the balance of partisan power in state legislative chambers, especially where women hold top leadership positions. For the latest numbers and information about women running for office in 2014, visit CAWP’s Election Watch 2014 and check out our next post, reporting on women running for statewide elected executive offices in the 2014 elections. You can also follow the conversation on Facebook and Twitter by using the hashtag #WomenRun2014.
[1] No state legislative elections will be held this year in LA, MS, NJ, and VA.
[2] Because AL and MD hold state legislative elections every four years and LA, MS, NJ, and VA hold state legislative elections in odd-numbered years, only 44 states held legislative elections in 2012.