For the first time, a majority of our legislators are women, people of color or LGBTQ+
The Mercury News, by Susannah Delano, December 16, 2022
Successful groups know that recruiting great talent is essential.
College teams invest in scouting to find the kid who could be tomorrow’s star center. Major corporations recruit year-round to hit growth targets. Organizations recruit to ensure their teams reflectthe communities they serve.
In politics, though, recruitment is often left to chance, or to the good old boys network.
The 2022 U.S. Senate races reveal how decisive candidate recruitment is. Underwhelming contenders recruited by former President Trump failed in Pennsylvania, Arizona and Nevada, and the GOP lost its chance to control the Senate.
While California has the fourth largest economy on the planet, its Legislature ranked 23rd nationally in women’s representation before the 2022 election.
That’s why Close the Gap called on progressive organizations years ago to join us in prioritizing a shake-up. Investing in diverse women early was the only way we could convert the opportunity we saw on the horizon — 90+ seats opening 2022-2028 due to term limits.
With allies across the state, we identified women who would make excellent legislators, and invited those who rose to the top to run. By the time our Legislature’s “Great Resignation” increased the number of open seats five-fold this year, higher numbers of more diverse women than we’ve ever seen were ready in targeted districts.
We had to disrupt the paradigm of candidates handpicked by insiders to elect a more representative legislature.
I’m happy to report that it worked: This week, the most diverse Legislature in California history will be sworn into office.
In a dramatic 92% increase since 2017, 50 women (the majority women of color) now serve, an historic high-water mark of 42%. For the first time, a majority of our legislators are women, people of color or LGBTQ+ – just like California is proud to be.
Here are five Bay Area examples of the new talent transforming the legislature.
Lori Wilson (AD 11) served as Suisun City mayor before winning a special election to succeed Assemblymember Jim Frazier. She is the new chair of the Legislative Black Caucus and the first Black Assemblymember to represent Solano County.
Gail Pellerin (AD 28) was chief elections officer in Santa Cruz County for nearly three decades. As county clerk, she says she “managed the office of love and voting.” She is the first woman from Santa Cruz to serve in the Assembly.
Aisha Wahab (SD 10) is the daughter of Afghan refugees who served as chair of the Alameda County Human Relations Commission and as Hayward City Councilmember. She is the first Afghan-American legislator, and will join the Renter’s Caucus.
Liz Ortega (AD 20) was the first Latina to lead the Alameda County Labor Council. She is the daughter of immigrants who were previously undocumented.
Dawn Addis (AD 30) has served as a classroom teacher, co-founder of her local Women’s March, and Morro Bay Councilmember. She flipped a formerly Republican-held seat blue in a new district stretching up to Capitola.
When women run, they win just as often as men. What’s been missing is enough female candidates competing, and the infrastructure to prepare and sustain them against hand-picked good old boys. If all it took was a cultural moment or many open seats, women would have hit parity decades ago.
A strong, diverse, effective team doesn’t just happen – you need to recruit for it.
With 50 more seats opening in the next six years, there’s a robust effort already underway to ensure our state house can raise the nation’s bar for equitable governance this decade.
Heads up to the good old boys: there’s no pushing us off the path to parity now.
Susannah Delano is executive director of Close the Gap California, an organization focused on recruiting and preparing progressive women to run for the Legislature.