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Colorado Legislature poised to be second in country with women in majority

Women will hold 51 of 100 seats across both chambers after 2022 midterms
Lisa Cutter, center, with glasses, speaks at a news conference with the Democratic Women’s Caucus of Colorado on Jan. 19 at the Colorado Capitol. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline file)

Colorado’s state Legislature is poised to have more women than men in 2023 for the first time in the state’s history, with 51% of Colorado’s state legislators being women after the 2022 midterm elections.

Assuming several remaining close races are all called as expected, Colorado will have 39 women in the state House and 12 women in the state Senate in 2023 – meaning a total of 51 women in the 100-seat Legislature. House Democrats will have 34 women and House Republicans will have five women in office, while Senate Democrats will have 10 women and Senate Republicans will have two women in office.

Before the election this month, the highest percentage of women Colorado’s Legislature had was 48%, at the start of the 2019 session. It decreased to 46% by the end of the session, and back down to 44% in 2020 and 2021, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutger’s Eagleton Institute of Politics. In the 2022 session, it rose back up 1 percentage point to 45%, making the 2023 session the highest, at an anticipated 51%.

The figure will make Colorado the second state to reach this milestone: Nevada was the first state to have more women than men in a state legislature, when two women were appointed to vacancies in December 2018. According to the CAWP, Nevada’s Legislature was 52.4% women by the end of the 2019 session, 54% in 2020, and 58.7% by the end of 2021 and 2022.

Kelly Dittmar, director of research at the CAWP, said while there are still some states where it’s numerically possible to have another legislature with women as the majority, it will most likely only be Nevada and Colorado after this election cycle. She said Colorado reaching this milestone is another way to observe how the country is seeing greater gender parity in politics and how well it actually serves as a representative democracy.

“When we think about majority women legislatures, it’s an indicator that finally the legislative body in this state is reflective of the population it serves vis-a-vis gender, and that is not true along so many lines of identity, including gender, across the country and across history,” Dittmar said. She added that when there are more women, it also allows for greater diversity among those women, which she called a “reflection of good democracy.”

Martha Saenz, associate director of the Women’s Legislative Network, part of the National Conference of State Legislatures, said that while Nevada still has some races to call women are expected to account for about 61% of the Legislature across both chambers – the highest representation in the nation.

In Colorado, the state House has had women in the majority before and will be about 60% women next year, Saenz said, but the Senate still sits at around 40% women. Across the country, the average representation of women in state legislatures is 31%, she said.

“If we know population-wise women represent a little over 50%, it’s important for state legislative bodies to reflect their population, so I think tracking that becomes of interest,” Saenz said.

In some cases, state legislation and policy could look different with more women in the state House, but Dittmar said she wouldn’t jump to say it will have a major impact in Colorado because of how long the state has highlighted women’s voices in politics.

“Having a majority-women legislature doesn’t mean that all of a sudden gender equity is the name of the game across all policy or even across all levels of office,” Dittmar said. “At the same time that we celebrate it, (we need) to be cautious about not assuming that the job is done in terms of gender equity, especially in political power, speaking broadly.”

Colorado House Democrats just elected Rep. Julie McCluskie of Dillon as speaker, along with multiple other women in leadership roles in the House and the Senate. Rep. Brianna Titone of Arvada was the state’s first transgender lawmaker and will now also be the first trans lawmaker in a leadership role as majority caucus co-chairperson.

“For the first time in state history, Colorado celebrates a Legislature with a majority of women lawmakers, including the most diverse, female-led House leadership team to date,” McCluskie said in an email. “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.”

Colorado became the first state to have any women elected to a state legislature in 1894, when three women were elected to the Colorado House of Representatives.

To read more stories from Colorado Newsline, visit www.coloradonewsline.com.