Although half of Americans are female, only about a quarter of state lawmakers are. Arizona and Vermont have the most women in office: 40%. And while Virginia is nowhere close to that, women did win big election night.
Following last week’s elections, Virginia hit a milestone. More than a quarter of state lawmakers will now be women.
“It’s wonderful to see the explosion of the number of women that will be coming into the chamber,” said Charniele Herring, chair of the House Democratic Caucus.
Virginians elected 12 new women, 11 Democrats and one Republican. Next legislative session, almost half of the Democratic Caucus in the House of Delegates will be female.
“I think some of the challenges that I may have faced when I first entered, when there weren’t as many women, they may not have those same challenges,” said Herring.
Women’s opinions can sometimes be more easily dismissed, Herring added. She’s looking forward to strength in numbers on issues like reproductive healthcare and paid family leave.
“We have several mothers with young children who are coming to that chamber who can talk about the experience first hand,” she said.
The women include Elizabeth Guzman, a Peruvian immigrant, social worker, and mother of four. Along with Hala Ayala, a single mother, the two are Virginia’s first Latinas in office.
Jennifer Carroll Foy is a graduate of VMI and works as a public defender. She’s also a brand new mother to twins. Three of the women have been public school teachers. One is a college professor. Another a small business owner.
And if current vote tallies hold, Dawn Adams, who has a doctorate in nursing, will be the General Assembly’s first open lesbian.
“She knows health care policy which is obviously so so so important right now, inside and out,” said Delegate Elect Danica Roem during a press call with reporters last week. “I can’t say enough good things about my dear dear dear friend Delegate Elect Adams.”
Roem, a former journalist, will be the country’s first transgender state lawmaker. She recalled an emotional election night.
“And I told an 11 year old transgender girl who was at my victory party,” Roem said. “I picked her up, I looked her in the eye, and I told her ‘You can be President.’”
One prominent woman who lost election night was Republican Jill Vogel. Vogel was running for Lieutenant Governor. Virginia has still never had a female in that role, nor as Governor. And while the gains made in the legislature are significant, there’s plenty of room for improvement.
Governor Elect Ralph Northam commented during an interview on WAMU.
“Last time I checked women make up over 50 percent of the population,” he chuckled, before saying he’ll make sure his cabinet and administration reflect Virginia’s population.
“I think we had some great messages that were sent on Tuesday. One of them was: we want more women in leadership positions,” Northam said.
And Delegate Elect Danica Roem heard another message from voters as well: that they care less about her gender, than what she’ll get done in office.