Women were the big win­ners

San Antonio Express-News (Sunday) - - Front Page - By An­drea Zelin­ski AUSTIN BUREAU

AUSTIN — Texas never sent a Latina to Congress be­fore, but vot­ers opted to send two in last week’s elec­tion.

Vot­ers in Michi­gan and Min­nesota elected the na­tion’s first Mus­lim women to Congress.

Also, New York is send­ing a 29-year-old woman to join them, mak­ing her the youngest fe­male elected to the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

All of those firsts are just the be­gin­ning of his­toric wins that will send the most women ever to Congress, and twice as many women from Texas, with six in the state’s 2019 con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion.

Other states made their own land­marks. Iowa, which never had sent a woman to Congress, voted to send two. And two states — New Mex­ico and Kansas — elected the na­tion’s first Na­tive Amer­i­can women to Congress.

“I think the last pres­i­den­tial elec­tion was a gutcheck,” said She­lia Pa­trick, a project man­ager from Round Rock as she and thou­sands of women gath­ered Fri­day at the 19th an­nual Texas Con­fer­ence for Women in Austin. “It’s a widen­ing awak­en­ing of say­ing, what is our worth?”

It was an elec­tion in which health care be­came a lead­ing is­sue and sub­ur­ban women were a prized de­mo­graphic for Democrats.

Peo­ple in the crowd at the Con­fer­ence for Women pointed to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, the “me too” move­ment and the con­fir­ma­tion bat­tle over Supreme Court Jus­tice Brett Ka­vanaugh for hav­ing pro­pelled more women into of­fice.

“I think it’s about time,” said Sharon Fisher of Cedar Park, who works with en­vi­ron­men­tal, health and safety sec­tors of the semi­con­duc­tor in­dus­try. “As time

goes on, we’re go­ing to see more women in­fil­trat­ing Congress, Se­nate, more women CEOs, more women busi­nesses — be­cause al­ready, women have sur­passed men in go­ing to col­lege and get­ting ed­u­cated.”

Women won in races all over Texas, turn­ing around a decade­long slump.

After Tex­ans elected an all-time high of 50 women to serve in state of­fice and Congress in 2008, fe­male can­di­dates lost seats in the Texas House for four elec­tions in a row while the num­ber of women in Congress re­mained stuck at three.

Big win­ners here in­cluded Demo­cratic state Sen. Sylvia Gar­cia in Hous­ton and El Paso County Judge Veron­ica Es­co­bar. Both Lati­nas eas­ily won their bids for Congress in Demo­cratic strongholds.

At­tor­ney Lizzie Pan­nill Fletcher, a Demo­crat, also won in an up­set in Hous­ton by un­seat­ing a long­time GOP con­gress­man.

Other Texas women run­ning for Congress came close. Gina Or­tiz Jones, who has yet to con­cede de­feat, is within 1 per­cent­age point of un­seat­ing Repub­li­can in­cum­bent Will Hurd in a dis­trict span­ning from San An­to­nio to El Paso, ac­cord­ing to un­of­fi­cial elec­tion re­sults.

MJ He­gar — a Wil­liamson County Demo­crat whose can­di­dacy was boosted by a vi­ral cam­paign ad re­veal­ing she and her mother fled from do­mes­tic vi­o­lence when she was a girl — lost her race north of Austin by 3 per­cent­age points.

He­gar’s ad high­lights how Tues­day’s elec­tions are trans­form­ing the ex­pec­ta­tions of how women can cam­paign, said Joanne Green, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Texas Chris­tian Univer­sity. Not only were many of the fe­male can­di­dates vet­er­ans this year, but many ig­nored long­stand­ing taboos for women seek­ing of­fice.

“Women can­di­dates his­tor­i­cal- ly showed no vul­ner­a­bil­ity … they’re sup­posed to be like su­per­women,” Green said. “That they could be moth­ers, but don’t re­mind us that they’re moth­ers. That they could be mar­ried, but don’t re­mind us they’re mar­ried be­cause peo­ple will won­der if their hus­bands are go­ing to be too in­flu­en­tial or if they have their hus­band’s per­mis­sion.

“That’s re­ally shift­ing, I think, and re­ally al­low­ing women to show the mul­ti­plic­ity of their life.”

Still, the In­sti­tute for Women’s Pol­icy Re­search pre­dicts it will take an­other cen­tury for women to take half of the seats in the U.S. House and Se­nate. After Tues­day’s elec­tion, women are claim­ing 23 per­cent.

That ra­tio was on ac­tress Reese With­er­spoon’s mind as she ad- dressed the crowd of 7,500 in her key­note speech at the Con­fer­ence for Women.

“Now it’s our job to be the bound­ary-push­ers, the first in our com­mu­ni­ties, in our fam­i­lies and our com­mu­ni­ties, in our govern­ment. I think it’s amaz­ing to see how many women came out to run for of­fice be­cause we are not well-rep­re­sented in our govern­ment,” said With­er­spoon, who launched her own com­pany to give more au­then­tic voices to fe­male char­ac­ters.

“I think we need to do more and we need to step up as lead­ers.”

Vot­ers this year elected 101 fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the U.S. House, 40 of whom are women of color.

No more than 85 women have ever served in the 435-mem­ber House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives at one time, a record set two years ago.

“It’s a slow rip­ple,” said Am­ber Bo­gie, 30, who works in soft­ware mar­ket­ing in Austin. “It’s a more and more nor­mal con­ver­sa­tion for women to be front and cen­ter.”

In the Texas Leg­is­la­ture, 37 women won seats, many of them new­com­ers bump­ing off in­cum­bent Repub­li­cans.

“I started run­ning and a lot of peo­ple want to make you into a mold,” said Michelle Beck­ley, who ran for of­fice as an un­der­dog and won in a state House race north of Dal­las.

She’s a bird store owner and Demo­crat mo­ti­vated by the 2016 elec­tion. She said her goal was to run an au­then­tic cam­paign.

“Peo­ple want real peo­ple as politi­cians. They want some­body they can re­late to. I think that’s more the mind­set than any­thing else right now.”

Most of the women who won in Tues­day’s elec­tion were Democrats. In Congress, Democrats gained a ma­jor­ity in the U.S. House, and the Democrats in the Texas House gained 12 seats. Repub­li­cans main­tain ma­jori­ties in both the U.S. Se­nate, Texas Se­nate, gov­er­nor­ship and all of the state’s ex­ec­u­tive branch of­fices.

“In a na­tional en­vi­ron­ment where so much feels threat­ened, hav­ing these fresh voices talk­ing about the is­sues they care about that ac­tu­ally im­prove qual­ity of life and build stronger com­mu­ni­ties and cre­ate equal op­por­tu­ni­ties, that con­nected,” said Kim­berly Cald­well, pro­gram di­rec­tor of An­nie’s List, a group that sup­ported 37 fe­male can­di­dates for statewide, leg­isla­tive and lo­cal of­fices this elec­tion cy­cle. Thir­ty­one of those can­di­dates won.

De­spite the gains, women hold just 47 of the 219 Texas con­gres­sional and state Leg­is­la­ture seats.

“It’s this mes­sage of em­pow­er­ment that’s start­ing to re­ally spread,” said Anne Grady, an au­thor and TEDx speaker who fo­cuses on com­mu­ni­ca­tion, lead­er­ship and emo­tional in­tel­li­gence. “It’s been build­ing. It’s this mo­men­tum of women start­ing to feel more con­fi­dent. I think we’re start­ing to see women who are try­ing to model the be­hav­ior they want their daugh­ters to see.”

Mark Mul­li­gan / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

Hous­ton Demo­crat Sylvia Gar­cia is in­tro­duced on stage by Con­gress­woman Sheila Jack­son Lee dur­ing a cel­e­bra­tion of Gar­cia’s elec­tion as a U.S. rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

Brett Coomer / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

Lizzie Pan­nill Fletcher, left, was elected to the U.S. House.

Carolyn Kaster / As­so­ci­ated Press

El Paso’s Veron­ica Es­co­bar was elected to Congress.

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