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Women step up representation in Washington State’s 2018 midterm elections

One of the biggest stories to come out of the 2018 midterms is the success of women running for office across the country.

On a national scale, women made history. By recent counts, at least 101 women will serve in the House of Representatives and 22 women have been elected in the Senate – this represents the most women serving in Congress in history. The new women elected to Congress are also diverse. This year’s election saw the first Native American women and the first Muslim women voted into Congress, and an increase in LGBTQ representation in political office as well.

The same trends are found in Washington State.

During the 2018 legislative session, Washington had a total of 55 female legislators (36 in the House and 19 in the Senate), making up 37.4 percent of the legislature. As the votes stand now, female representation has the potential to increase in Olympia.

Leading into Election Day, 105 women ran for the state legislature and 90 women advanced to the November election. In the state House, races such as the 5th, 6th, 28th, 29th, 42nd and 47th Legislative Districts were all won by women after previously being held by men.

In the State Senate, Claire Wilson is winning in the 30th LD over incumbent Mark Miloscia, and on Friday Joe Fain conceded the Senate race in the 47th LD to Mona Das. The Senate race in the 42nd is still up in the air, where incumbent Doug Ericksen leads challenger Pinky Vargas by just 72 votes.

However, in Washington State several of these races that were won by women are offset by seats that switched to men. For example, races in the 18th, 25th, 32nd, and 34th were won by men after being held by women in 2018.

We spoke with Karen Besserman, Executive Director of Emerge Washington, about this change in female representation in American politics both at the national level and in Washington State. She says this is more than a trend or a blip on the radar.

“We had the year of the woman in 1992, but now it’s called life. We’re stepping up and we’re coming forward and we’re being trained and ready to run. So I think this is the beginning of, I don’t want to say ‘trend’ because I don’t want to belittle it, but I think this is the beginning of the way things are going to be from here on out.”

Emerge Washington is an organization dedicated to recruiting and training Democratic women to run for office. Emerge launched in 2017 and has since run several 3-day bootcamps and their first 70-hour multi-month training program. The programs teach everything from how to write a campaign budget and raise money, to how to door knock and prepare for debate.

Graduates of their trainings include Dr. Kim Schrier, who just beat Dino Rossi in the 8th CD, Claire Wilson in the 30th LD, and Mona Das in the 47th LD.

Besserman says the key to women’s success this year is their willingness to run.

“What we know is that women win at the same rates as men do, they just don’t run as often as men do,” says Besserman. “Woman generally have to be asked seven times to run for office whereas men wake up in the morning and go ‘Sure, I could do that.’ And women of color have to be asked 2 and 3 times that seven number.”

Besserman also points to the importance of the diversity of female candidates in Washington State this year.

“With the election results — and talking about Mona Das is a great example along with Claire Wilson and others — we not only saw women step up, we saw women of color step up in a grand way… we’re really focused on insuring our democracy not only represents our gender diversity, but represents our cultural/ethnic/sexual orientation diversity because the fact of the matter is that the future of America is not white men. It just demographically isn’t.”

This story has been updated to include the 6th LD race where Jenny Graham will succeed Rep. Jeff Holy.