The Hidden Story of the 2016 Election: Rise of Women of Color in Government
When I think about what this election cycle has meant for women of color, anger and fear are two of the predominate words that come to mind and the representation of women in government stayed about the same. However, one story has lingered in the shadows, and is a small beacon of hope in these troubling times: After the 2016 election, a record number of women of color will be serving in Congress.
The next Congress will include 38 total congresswomen of color, including 35 Democrats and 3 Republicans. Three new democratic women of color were elected to the Senate: Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada, Tammy Duckworth in Illinois, and Kamala Harris in California. All of these new members of Congress are notable trailblazers. Catherine Cortez Masto, won the open Nevada Senate seat vacated by Harry Reid and she will be the first Latina senator. Kamala Harris will be the first Indian-American and second African-American woman to serve in the Senate.
Several women of color were also elected to the House. Stephanie Murphy won her seat in the House by beating 12-term GOP incumbent Rep. John L. Mica in Florida’s 7th Congressional District. Stephanie Murphy will be the first Vietnamese-American female member of Congress. Lisa Blunt Rochester will be not only the first African-American woman to serve in Congress from Delaware, but will also be the first woman to ever serve in Congress from Delaware. Lisa Blunt Rochester was also Delaware’s first African-American female state labor secretary.
Val Demings, who was the first African-American woman to serve as police chief of Orlando, won her congressional race in Florida. In Washington State, Pramila Jayapal, who is Indian-American, won an open congressional seat. New Hampshire will continue to be represented by an all-female congressional delegation. Rep. Mia Love, who was the first African-American female Republican in Congress, was reelected in Utah. Republican U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who was the first Latina elected to Congress, also won reelection.
Another remarkable victory for women of color came from a Minnesota state legislative race, where Democrats elected the first Somali-American lawmaker, Ilhan Omar. Additionally, in Kentucky, Attica Scott became the state’s first African-American female legislator in 20 years. Native Americans were also well represented in this election, with over 40 being elected in state legislative races across the country. Namely, Affie Ellis became the first Native-American woman elected to the Wyoming Legislature. In this election, Nevada Democrats also put up an all-female ballot in a suburb of Las Vegas, right down to the county commissioner.
These victories are a bright spot for women of color in an otherwise dark election. Although we should celebrate these victories, we must still be cognizant of the current climate for women in government. Women are still vastly underrepresented in politics. After this election, women still make up just under 20 percent of Congress, yet represent half of the U.S. population.
Although this election has shown that change is possible for women of color, these changes are moving much too slowly. To win more races, women need to run more. Although Hillary Clinton’s loss will have a lasting effect on women in politics, we cannot let it discourage other women from jumping in and running for office. In 2016, women’s representation in government did not make a large change, but the women who did win are more diverse than ever, and we should use that as motivation to deal with the challenges that will surely come.
Shanly Hopkins is a business and real estate attorney with Aguirre Allen Law, and co-chair of the Professional Advancement Committee.