Highest Number of Women Headed to General Assembly

The Maryland State House. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines

A record number of women will serve in the Maryland legislature next year.

Seventy-one women were elected or reelected on Tuesday night — 56  to the House of Delegates and 15 to the Maryland Senate.

The previous high watermark for women serving in the State House was 67, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, which tracks women candidates and lawmakers nationwide. Last year in Maryland, there were 61 women lawmakers for the majority of the General Assembly session.

On Tuesday, voters in Montgomery County sent a Chinese immigrant, Lily Qi (D), and elected the first black women in county history — Jheanelle Wilkins, Pamela Queen and Charlotte Crutchfield, all Democrats — to the House of Delegates. The county also welcomed an all-female board of education, the first time in county history.

In Anne Arundel County, the council saw a massive shift, from seven men to a council with five women, three Democratic and two Republican. Anne Colt Leitess (D) was the first woman elected as the county state’s attorney in the 94-year history of the office. In the county’s District 30, Sarah Elfreth (D) became the youngest woman ever elected to the Maryland Senate.

Angela Alsobrooks (D) became the first woman and the first black woman elected Prince George’s County executive.

In Howard County, the number of women on the county council grew to three. And Democrat Jennifer R. Terrasa, a current councilwoman, will leave the post for the House of Delegates representing District 13 — the only three-member House district that will be represented entirely by women in 2019.

The 2018 election proved to be groundbreaking for women across the country.

A record number of women will serve in the U.S. Congress in 2019. At least 125 women will serve in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, increasing the percentage of women in Congress by at least 20 percent, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.

At least 43 of the new federal lawmakers will be women of color, including the first Native American and Muslim women elected to Congress. Some states elected women to Congress for the first time, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 29, of New York, became the youngest woman to ever serve in Congress.

“We’ve seen important breakthroughs, particularly in the U.S. House,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics, “but deepening disparities between the parties in women’s representation will continue to hobble us on the path to parity. We need women elected on both sides of the aisle.”

In Maryland, nine of the women elected to the General Assembly will be Democrats. Many of the newly elected Democrats are alumnae of Emerge Maryland, a program that trains Democratic women to seek elected office.

Since its founding in the state in 2012, more than 103 women have graduated from the Emerge Maryland program. On Tuesday, 25 alumnae were on ballots across the state; 19 won. Eleven are headed to the General Assembly, including 10 first-time candidates.

“The wave — whatever color you want to call it — has happened and I think women are definitely now going to be the norm when it comes to being on ballots across the state and the country,” said Diane Fink, executive director of Emerge Maryland. “… We have seen higher numbers of women getting elected. I see more and more women from more diverse backgrounds coming to us and saying that they’re ready to run.”

Emerge Maryland has already seen a large applicant group for the 2019 class, which will be made up of women seeking local offices in the next three years.

“Now [applicants] are looking at city races and municipalities and school board and races that are going to happen in 2019, 2020 and 2021. So, I think we’ll see women up and down the ballot filling in those slots,” Fink said.

Melissa Deckman, professor of political science at Washington College and co-author of the textbook, “Women and Politics,” was excitedly tweeting results Tuesday night as more and more women took seats across the country.

“I think that Tuesday night was terrific and historic for women candidates all across the country,” Deckman said. “I say that with one caveat though. It was a great night for women Democrats, but a pretty terrible night for Republican women.”

That’s partly because the GOP hasn’t embraced identity politics or directed funding to women candidates in the same way Democratic organizations like Emily’s List and Emerge have. The majority of women’s electoral wins nationwide this year fell to Democrats. In Maryland, the record-setting class of women lawmakers in the General Assembly includes nine Republicans.

“I’d like to see more gender parity on both sides of the aisle because I think it’s unhealthy when the women are mostly in one party,” Deckman said. “Because women are not monolithic. Women have lots of different political viewpoints and I think that for the health of our democracy it would be good to have more balance on both sides of the aisle.”

Deckman said in addition to the cultural barriers women face in seeking elected office, there’s also a structural barrier.

“Incumbents still win by and large in Congress and at state level,” Deckman said. “And when most incumbents are men, that makes it harder for women to really advance.”

In Maryland, a woman has yet to serve as governor and the current 10-member delegation to Congress is all male.

“I would love to see that shape up to see a woman in one of those seats in Congress,” said Del. Sheree Sample-Hughes (D-Wicomico), chair of the General Assembly’s women’s caucus. Because we need to be heard at all levels.”

Sample-Hughes pointed to the work of the Women Legislators of Maryland — the formal name of the caucus that was established in 1969 — during the 2018 session. Women lawmakers drove an agenda that focused on legislation to address sexual harassment in the State House and state government and, with advocates, pushed for long-fought changes to sexual assault and rape laws.

“I think it was very pivotal in the day-to-day thought processes for everyone in elected office, meaning people take a little more time to think before they act with more of the understanding that it is in fact a very real and important issue,” Sample-Hughes said of the sexual harassment legislation.

A commission created to delve deeper into issues of sexual harassment at the State House is expected to issue a final report soon.

“Change is coming to the legislature,” Sample-Hughes said. “And the women’s caucus was at the helm.”

When it comes to the incoming class of women lawmakers, Sample-Hughes was pleased, but not content.

“Thirty-seven percent is wonderful, but let’s keep moving forward,” she said.

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