It’s the year of the woman and it’s “certainly not a one-time deal.”
That’s Beverly Powell’s sentiment the day after defeating her Republican opponent, state Sen. Konni Burton of Colleyville, by nearly 4 percentage points in the Texas Senate District 10 race.
Powell, a Democrat, credits her win to her experience on the Burleson Independent School District board, talking to local city officials, visiting schools and businesses and appealing to voters about keeping money in public schools.
“Women are gaining their voice more and more every day, it’s a voice that needs to be heard across the nation and the state,” Powell said. “We’re going to see a number of women in the state Legislature and Congress increase and that’s a powerful tool to make sure that we can implement the kind of change in this nation that’s important to families and all of our citizens.”
Forty percent of women who ran for congressional, judicial, State Board of Education and other statewide offices during the midterms in Texas won their race, according to a Texas Tribune data analysis. Texas women were poised for potential gains after multiple upsets in March during primary season. In race after race on Tuesday, Texas women won up and down the ballot including Congress, the Texas House and Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
Across the country, 2018 became the “year of the woman” in the wake of voters seeking policymakers who look like the community they represent, federal elected officials retiring, the #MeToo movement, mounting frustration over a lack of elected women and women voters rediscovering their political power in the aftermath of President Donald Trump's win in 2016. The surge of women running for office for the first time became a national story in the months ahead of the midterm campaign season.
There will now be 32 women in the Texas House, up from 29. Women led the Democrats in flipping 12 seats in the Texas House in Tuesday’s midterm elections, marking the biggest shift in the lower chamber since the 2010 cycle. That means the Texas House Republican advantage over Democrats shrunk to 83-67, giving Democrats a shot to play a slightly bigger role during the chamber’s speaker race.
At the federal level, two Hispanic women Democrats — former El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar and state Sen. Sylvia Garcia — will become the first two Texas freshman women elected to a full term in Congress in 22 years. They, alongside Democrat Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, are helping double the number of women in Texas’ congressional delegation from three to six. Democrats are still hoping Gina Ortiz Jones will eke out a win against incumbent Republican Will Hurd in the Congressional District 23 race. Hurd has declared victory but Ortiz Jones says the race is still too close to call.
Escobar said getting more women running for office and winning is going to happen slowly over time. She said that local offices like school boards, city councils and commissioners courts are important training grounds for women considering running for higher office because they learn how to govern and campaign. Part of the problem, Escobar said, is women "shoulder more responsibilities and obligations than men do" and don't always feel they can run for office because of their family.
"The harder offices are state government and federal government because you're away from home," Escobar said. "If you have children, even if you're in the most equitable partnership, frequently it is the woman that is the primary caregiver and that many times has stood in the way of women wanting to serve. They feel that their kids are their first obligation and it would be too difficult to sacrifice the time that child rearing takes."
Record-breaking turnout plus a wave of new, young voters was a factor for the state’s midterm cycle, said Grace Chimene, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, a nonpartisan group focused on informing voters. She said this new era of voter enthusiasm is going to influence more people to run for local and state office in the future.
“It’s the resurgence of interest in our democracy and interest within the new voters and young voters that’s going to push women running for office,” Chimene said. “What was exciting about this election is finally we have a competitive democracy here in Texas and that is what we need because that builds enthusiasm for elections.”
Nationally, it was a historic night for women in politics. Ayanna Pressley becomes the first black woman in Massachusetts’ congressional delegation. Rashida Tlaib in Michigan and Ilhan Omar in Minnesota are slated to be the first Muslim women in Congress. Deb Haaland of New Mexico and Sharice Davids of Kansas were elected the first Native American women in Congress.
But while Democratic women surged in races in Texas, Republican women did not. Thirty-four Democratic women who ran for the state Legislature and Congress won. Republican women saw more luck with the Railroad Commission, State Board of Education and Texas Court of Criminal Appeals winning a total of 16 races.
Anne Moses, president and founder of IGNITE, a group based in Oakland focused on getting more women to run for office, said the Republican Party “does not make it their business” to find women to run. She said more intentionality around recruiting women would include a new strategy embracing the idea that one’s politics and personal identity are intertwined.
“You want to make sure those young women have something to aspire to and someone they can look at and say ‘there’s a woman who’s running and she’s winning,’” Moses said. “What are we telling the next generation of young women that are conservative if they don’t see anyone who looks like them and running for those seats?”
Republican Pam Little, who scored a narrow victory over Democrat Suzanne Smith on Tuesday in the State Board of Education’s District 12 race, said she was encouraged by outgoing board member Geraldine “Tincy” Miller to run for the seat. Little noted that her race was tight thanks to a double whammy of the “blue wave” in Dallas County and Libertarian opponent Rachel Wester courting votes that Little said would normally go to a Republican.
“I think maybe we need to get more women interested in it,” Little said. “We need to get more women to have the courage to step up and I think as Republican women we all need to support each other and maybe look for opportunities for other people to run like Tincy did with me.”
Additional reporting by Chris Essig and Darla Cameron.