The California Legislature Is Losing Women
It’s a Saturday afternoon in San Diego and Democratic Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins sits in the courtyard of a popular neighborhood restaurant. She’s holding office hours at a picnic table. She takes a few minutes out to reflect on efforts to increase diversity in the legislature.
"We spend a lot time talking about how to make that happen for ethnic groups and LGBT and Asians and all those issues," she said. "But I think people are sort of not thinking about the gender diversity and the fact that we are seriously losing women."
Of the 120 seats in the Legislature, 32 are currently held by women. Atkins expects a loss of at least one woman after the November election. And with term limits and the power of incumbency, if that loss isn’t made up for in the next election, she says it could be a decade before the legislature could get close to gender parity.
Democratic Senator Holly Mitchell shares Atkins’ concerns.
"This sort of snuck up on us. That a number of key women who are former state legislators didn’t go away. They are still on the scene. They transitioned to Congress," she said. "And so it took a minute before people began to realize that we were losing real numbers because they kept seeing these same names on the scene."
Mitchell is also concerned about the racial make-up of the women serving in the Senate. She’s one of just three female minorities and just the fourth black female senator since statehood. Mitchell predicts changing that won’t be easy.
Yet Democratic Senator Hannah Beth Jackson says, in her experience, women don’t come to Sacramento to gain influence the way some men do.
"There are always exceptions but generally the women come up here interested in the policy," she said. "They’re not interested in the power."
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