Women claim majorities — and make history — in Mountain West statehouses
The 2022 midterm elections were record-breaking for women winning seats in state legislatures — especially in the Mountain West.
In Colorado, women will hold the majority of seats in the state legislature for the first time. That makes Colorado and Nevada the only two states in the country with majority female statehouses.
Nationwide, at least 2,386 women will hold state legislative seats in the new year. That surpasses the former record of 2,307 set this year, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.
Kelly Dittmar, the center's director of research, said that while the uptick is progress, female representation will still fall below one-third of all legislators.
“We're not increasing the representation hugely,” Dittmar said. “As of Election Day, women held about 31.1% of state legislative offices. When we look at the new results, they're going to move those up a little bit to be 32.3% of state legislators.”
When Colorado's 2023 legislative session convenes, 51% of seats will be held by women.
“Colorado also had already had a majority of women in its house, but not across both chambers,” Dittmar said. “It's really just a continuation and expansion of women's representation in a state where this has already been somewhat of the norm, thanks to a lot of the work that women in the state and especially women in the legislature have done to build women's representation.”
In Nevada, women won enough seats in the midterms to expand their majority to 60.3%. New Mexico, meanwhile, saw women win a majority in the House.
With state lawmaking long dominated by men, Dittmar said gender norms will be slow to change.
“It's not a one-for-one,” she said. “It's instead thinking about the many ways in which having more women and a diversity of women is going to help to disrupt the prevailing norms of these institutions.”
Dittmar also emphasized that people should not fear “feminist agendas” just because women are now in these seats.
“Simply having majority women in the legislature is not going to necessarily lead to a specific policy agenda, in large part because women are diverse in what they care about and what they're going to fight for in the lived experience that they bring,” she said.
Dittmar said there’s also a symbolic importance in this representation.
“Hopefully, what that does is inspire other women and those who might have not thought that this was a place where they were welcome or where they could make a change to consider that for themselves,” she said.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.