Storming the State House: Women are Taking Charge

By Craig Auster, PAC & Advocacy Partnerships Director

Not only did this most recent year of the woman result in historic representation of women in Congress, the same was true all across the country in state legislatures, the very places where progress on climate change is also being made. In 2019, a record 2,117 women are serving as state legislators, which means that 28.7 percent of all state legislators are women.  Of course, this representation of women in state legislatures still doesn’t match their share of the population, but it is a noteworthy increase—an over three percent increase from 2018.

Not only are women serving in state legislatures, they are trampling barriers and leading state legislatures, from Colorado to Minnesota to New York and in between. In Nevada, two appointments created the first majority-female legislature in our country’s history. Colorado also made history with its female-majority House of Representatives. Previously, the only time women made up the majority in a state legislative chamber was the New Hampshire Senate in 2009.

Thanks in part to record investments in state races by our state LCV partners, there are hundreds of pro-environment women in state office and there are new pro-environment trifectas in six states, from Maine to New Mexico (both of which also happen to have new, pro-environment women governors).   

Pro-environment women now lead at least 10 state legislative chambers:

  • California Senate: President Pro Tem Toni Atkins
  • Colorado House: Speaker KC Becker
  • Maine House: Speaker Sara Gideon
  • Massachusetts Senate: President Karen Spilka
  • Minnesota House: Speaker Melissa Hortman
  • New Hampshire Senate: President Donna Soucy
  • New York Senate: President Andrea Stewart-Cousins
  • Oregon House: Speaker Tina Kotek
  • Vermont House: Speaker Mitzi Johnson
  • Washington Senate: President Pro Tem Karen Keiser

Pro-environment women also lead their caucus in at least six other states:

  • Arizona House: Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez
  • Florida Senate: Minority Leader Audrey Gibson
  • Idaho Senate: Minority Leader Michelle Stennett
  • Michigan House: Minority Leader Christine Greig
  • Virginia House: Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn
  • Wisconsin Senate: Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling

As leaders, these women are in strong positions to push legislation to protect our air, water and lands, combat climate change, and fight back against polluter efforts to put our communities at risk.

Of course, none of this progress happened of its own volition—it took intentional support of women candidates, which helped to build momentum.

Two 2017 State Senate Races Set the Stage

In 2017, two key state senate special election victories were harbingers for our success in 2018. In Florida, our state partner, Florida Conservation Voters (FCV), endorsed climate champion Annette Taddeo for a key open state Senate seat in Miami-Dade, a district on the front lines of rising sea levels, which was  previously held by an anti-environment politician who chaired the Senate Committee on Communications, Energy and Public Utilities. Taddeo’s win foreshadowed another Florida special election win by FCV-endorsed Margaret Good in early 2018, and FCV candidates Geraldine Thompson and Jennifer Webb in November, all of whom helped shrink the anti-environment majority in Tallahassee.

In 2017, Washington Conservation Voters (WCV) also helped a state Senate candidate, Mankha Dhingra, win her race. WCV played a key role in Dhingra’s race, which broke the anti-environment bipartisan coalition in the state Senate that was preventing climate legislation from moving forward. Dhingra made history as the first Sikh person elected to a state legislature in the country’s history and by creating a pro-environment trifecta in Washington State. Following her incredible victory, three more seats flipped from anti-environment in the November election, all by women endorsed by WCV: Mona Das, Emily Randall and Claire Wilson.

The 2018 Elections Built on the Momentum

In Arizona, LCV’s Chispa AZ PAC roared onto the political scene for the first time ever with a big impact, supporting a number of amazing women for state and local office. In the state House, Chispa AZ PAC helped elect new climate justice champion Raquel Terán in a competitive primary, and re-elect clean energy champions Representative Kirsten Engel and now-Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez.  

In Colorado, our state partner Conservation Colorado Victory Fund invested heavily in helping five women win battleground state senate districts. Jessie Danielson, Kerry Donovan, Brittany Pettersen, Tammy Story and Faith Winter all won their races by double digits, creating a pro-conservation majority in the state Senate, the final key to a pro-conservation trifecta in the state.

In Maine, after eight long years of Governor Paul LePage obstructing climate progress, Maine Conservation Voters (MCV) made winning a pro-environment trifecta a top priority. Along with helping elect Maine’s first woman governor, Janet Mills, MCV Action Fund supported two women who helped flip the state senate, Erin Herbig and Linda Sanborn. The Pine Tree State is now poised for serious action to protect the environment and invest in clean energy.

In New York, women supported by New York LCV, including Monica Martinez, Rachael May, and Jen Metzger, helped lift pro-environment Democrats into power in the state Senate and installed environmental champion Andrea Stewart-Cousins as Senate President and Majority Leader. Stewart-Cousins made history as the first woman and first woman of color to lead the senate. For the first time in a decade, New York now has pro-environment leadership in both chambers of the legislature as well as a pro-environment governor, Andrew Cuomo, and can push an even more aggressive climate agenda including a Green New Deal.

In North Carolina, we needed to pick up four pro-environment seats in the state House to break the anti-environment supermajority that was undermining pro-environment Governor Roy Cooper. In the end, we picked up 10 pro-environment seats, including four pro-environment women who North Carolina LCV (NCLCV) Conservation PAC supported: Sydney Batch, Christy Clark, Rachel Hunt, and Julie von Haefen. NCLCV’s Conservation PAC also endorsed Natasha Marcus, who helped flipped one of the six state senate seats necessary to break the anti-environment majority in that chamber as well. Now, Governor Cooper can maintain a veto of pro-polluter legislation.

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Across the country, the Conservation Voter Movement helped pro-environment women of diverse races, sexual orientations, religions and ages make significant gains in state legislatures. Because of their victories, so many states are a step closer to equal representation and to passing strong environmental policies that will protect our communities and our planet.

 

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