Women will make up majority in Colorado legislature

Colorado is set to become the second state in the country where women constitute a majority in the legislature.
(from left to right) Andrew Boesenecker Co-Whip, Iman Jodeh Co-Whip, Monica Duran House Majority Leader-elect, Julie McCluskie Speaker-designate, Jennifer Bacon Assistant Majority Leader-elect, Brianna Titone Co-Caucus Chair, and Mandy Lindsay Co-Caucus Chair at the Colorado State Capitol in Denver (Courtesy of Colorado House Democrats)

Colorado is set to become the second state in the country to elect a majority female legislature, with the midterm elections on track to contribute to a slow but steady increase in the number of female state lawmakers nationwide.

In Colorado, the most recent race call made Eliza Hamrick (D), a teacher who ran in a suburban Denver state House district, the 50th woman elected out of 100 total members in the House and Senate. The expected victory by Janice Marchman (D), also a teacher, in a Colorado Springs-area state Senate race would bring the legislature to a record 51% female representation.

Women are also set to hold the top three leadership positions in the state House for the first time in the state’s history. The Democratic caucus elected Reps. Julie McCluskie as speaker, Monica Duran as majority leader, and Jennifer Bacon as assistant majority leader.

“For the first time in state history, Colorado celebrates a legislature with a majority of women lawmakers, and including the most diverse, female-led House leadership team to date,” Speaker-designate McCluskie said in a statement to Pluribus News. “Together, we’re moving Colorado forward with bold new ideas and diverse representation that stretches from our cities to our mountain and rural communities. I couldn’t be more proud to lead a caucus that reflects the state we all love.”

The state will reach the landmark more than 150 years after it became the first state in the country to elect a woman to its legislature.

“It took a lot of work by a lot of women,” said state Sen. Faith Winter (D), who has been part of several groups that train and support Democratic women running for office, including Emerge Colorado, where she served as executive director.

Winter said she inherited a bookcase in her office affixed with an old bumper sticker declaring that the state would reach parity in the 2000 elections, a deadline it blew through.

“The story across the country has been, there was the old boys’ network. We have intentionally formed — and worked hard in creating — a network that empowers women,” Winter said.

Nevada is the only other state where women have made up the majority in the legislature, which they’ll continue to do in 2023. Single chambers in other states have had female majorities, including Colorado, where women held the majority of state House seats before the midterm elections.

“Reaching this milestone is just one measure of progress for women’s political representation, giving us the opportunity to talk about what gender parity in politics actually looks like when it is so rare nationwide and across levels of office,” said Kelly Dittmar of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

Dittmar said Nevada and Colorado are reminders “that women remain underrepresented in 48 state legislatures nationwide” and “that political power in the country remains in the hands of men because these cases are the exception to the norm.”

Women are expected to hold about 32% of state legislative seats in 2023, although dozens of races are still uncalled, said Martha Saenz, the associate director of the Women’s Legislative Network at the National Conference of State Legislatures. That is a nearly 2% jump from the previous year, due in part to increases in the number of Republican women elected in Florida, Idaho, Kentucky and Ohio. Nebraska, which has a nonpartisan state legislature, also saw a bump in the number of women elected.

There has been a steady increase in female state legislative representation every year since the 1970s, with the exception of 2018, Saenz said. That year there was a huge uptick in Democratic women running at every level of government in response to the 2016 election of former President Donald Trump.