Nevada becoming the first state to have women be majority in state Legislature
Nevada is set to become the first state in the nation with an overall female-majority Legislature when its next session opens in the new year.
The Clark County Commission on Tuesday appointed Beatrice Duran and Rochelle Nguyen to fill two open state Assembly seats. With the commission’s approval, the Legislature will have 32 women out of a total of 63 seats between the state Assembly and Senate.
The additions will solidify the female majority in the Assembly, with 23 of 42 seats to be held by women. Men still make up the majority of the 21-member state Senate, with women holding nine seats.
“A great milestone!” Democratic Gov.-elect Steve Sisolak tweeted after the appointment. In his last meeting as Clark County Commission chairman, Sisolak voted to approve both women for the vacant seats.
Tuesday’s appointments continued to propel Nevada forward as a state that has been especially receptive to women running for — and being elected to — public office. The midterm election in November proved to be a high-water mark for the Silver State.
Jacky Rosen defeated incumbent Dean Heller in the U.S. Senate race, becoming the second woman in Nevada to secure a Senate seat. In 2016, Catherine Cortez Masto became the first female senator to be elected to represent Nevada.
Half of Nevada’s representatives in the U.S. House will be women next year as well; Susie Lee defeated Danny Tarkanian and Dina Titus beat Joyce Bentley.
The Nevada Supreme Court also picked up a majority of women in November, with three female judges being elected to join a fourth on the bench. Nevada voters also approved by a wide margin a ballot question that exempted feminine hygiene products from state sales tax.
State Sen. Pat Spearman, who led the push for Nevada to become the first state in more than 40 years to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in 2017, said the new female majority in Nevada should be a beacon to other states.
“We are on the right side of history and we will continue to make history,” Spearman said. “For people stuck in the 15th century who still want to promote the idea that a woman’s place is only in the home, I would say if you’re planning on running for office, be afraid. Be very afraid. People are done with that. It’s time to get things done.”
Nevada’s female population, according to the latest Census data, is 49.8%. In Clark County, where Las Vegas is, it’s 50.1%.
Kelly Dittmar, an associate professor of political science and scholar for the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, said Nevada’s embrace of women in positions of political power may be partially rooted in the West’s more pragmatic view of women pulling weight in all aspects of frontier life.
“You needed women to step in and step up into public roles,” Dittmar said. “Whether it was working on the farm or participating in government.”
The Center for American Women in Politics showed New Hampshire had a female majority in its state Senate in 2009-2010, but no state has had a female majority of both chambers combined.
Dittmar said the states with the lowest concentration of women in their state legislatures heading into 2019 were West Virginia and Mississippi — both at under 15% female.
Nevada has generally had higher representation of women in its state Legislature, with 39.7% being represented by women in 2017, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The average for state legislatures nationally was 24.4% in 2017.
Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson said in a statement he was proud to welcome two members with a “diversity of backgrounds and life experiences.”
Nguyen, a Democrat, said she was inspired to run amid the record-setting number of women who sought political office this year, but she said that wasn’t the only factor in her decision to seek the Assembly seat.
The criminal defense attorney and mother to two children said issues like education and healthcare were driving forces behind her seeking the seat.
“We can sit there and talk about how we want things to change or want things to be different or better, but I know it was important for me and my husband to show our children that, in order to make a difference, you have to get involved,” Nguyen said.
Duran, a fellow Democrat and a staff member at Culinary Workers Union Local 226 in Las Vegas, said she was honored to be part of a history-making legislative class and that this was a chance “for women being able to show their power.”
Nevada’s legislative session begins in February.
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