Colorado could be first in nation with female-majority state legislature

July 10, 2018

Real Vail: Colorado could be first in nation with female-majority state legislature

By David O. Williams

A day after President Donald Trump passed on nominating a woman to the U.S. Supreme Court – selecting instead another white man in the form of Brett Kavanaugh – it is worth noting yet again that women make up more than 50 percent (pdf) of the electorate in the United States and have been more politically active than men in recent elections.

That activism is especially evident in Colorado, where 60 percent of the Democratic vote is female, and Democrats in 2016 surpassed Republicans among all active voters for the first time in 30 years. In last month’s primary election, millennial female voters jumped from 9 percent in 2016 to 15 percent of the vote in 2018.

According to EMILYs List – a pro-choice political action committee that recruits and backs women Democratic candidates — there are four states in which a Democrat is running for every seat that is up for grabs this November in both chambers of the state legislature: Ohio, North Carolina, Michigan and Colorado.

Of those Democratic candidates in Colorado, more than half — 53 of a possible 82 – were women before last month’s primary. Now there are 47 of 82 Democratic women running in the Nov. 6 general election – 37 of 65 in the House and 10 of 17 in the Senate – and that includes Vail’s incumbent Sen. Kerry Donovan.

“All of the top-tier Senate targets are filled with very strong women candidates,” EMILYs List President Stephanie Schriock told Real Vail in May, although the organization has yet to endorse Donovan. Historically, Colorado has a long history of electing women to the state legislature but not necessarily to higher office after that.

“Colorado is the first state in the entire country to elect women to their legislature [in 1894, a full 26 years prior to women getting the vote nationally],” Schriock said. “Colorado has a great history of electing women to their legislature. It is often in the top five of the percentage of women in their legislature in the nation.”

But in 142 years of statehood, Colorado has never elected a woman governor, and that trend will continue in 2018 as EMILYs List-endorsed former state treasurer Cary Kennedy came up short in the primary, along with current Lt. Gov Donna Lynne. Republican women never even made it onto the primary ballot.

However, Colorado could make history in November if the predicated blue (and women’s) wave takes shape. The state was third in a recent New York Times article on a list of states that could become the first in the nation with majority female legislatures. Currently at 38 percent, Colorado could hit 54 percent female on Nov. 6. No state currently has a majority female legislature, but at least eight have a chance in November.

Schriock says her organization is focusing on state legislatures because of choice issues that are increasingly being decided at the state level, the redistricting that happens in legislatures and has been increasingly unfair to Democrats, and because state legislatures are great training grounds for higher office.

EMILYs List recently endorsed former Eagle and Routt County state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush for U.S. Congress in the 3rd Congressional District that includes the western two-thirds of Eagle County. Mitsch Bush decisively won last month’s primary and is taking on incumbent Republican Rep. Scott Tipton.

The Vail Daily earlier this month published a Real Vail article on that race, and the political website Colorado Pols took note of the piece, delivering this commentary:

“It’s important to keep in mind that, although EMILYs List endorses women candidates for office, not just any woman candidate makes the list. To qualify for support from the organization means a candidate has met specific benchmarks that assess the viability of a candidate before they are endorsed – a process that helps the reputations of both the candidate and EMILYs List as a credible endorser. The organization’s support doesn’t end with an endorsement, either, as candidates can tap into a pool of financial and in-kind support for their race.

“All of which brings us back to the central question, whether Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush has what it takes to successfully challenge entrenched incumbent Republican Rep. Scott Tipton. To her credit, Mitsch Bush dispatched her Democratic primary challenger Karl Hanlon by a much wider-than-expected margin. After years of disappointment in this district, Democrats do see the 2018 election cycle as the best chance of flipping Tipton’s seat that has existed since Tipton himself unseated a Democrat in the 2010 wave year.

“As of this writing, there’s every reason for Democrats to be hopeful. There are two realistic locations where Democrats can advance the cause a House majority in Colorado – Rep. Mike Coffman’s district, and Tipton’s. So if you’re ready to believe in a 2018 Democratic wave, here is where you’ll put that belief to the test.”

CD3, which encompasses Pueblo on the Front Range and most of the state’s Western Slope, is predominantly Republican with a majority male electorate. Mitsch Bush, who’s also a former Routt County commissioner, had this to say about Trump’s supreme court pick:

“The nomination of Justice Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court raises many troubling questions, but for me this question is critical: forty years from now will the American people have fewer rights and opportunities than we do now?

“Judge Kavanaugh has consistently decided against working people’s rights, consumers’ rights, voting rights, women’s rights, the right to privacy, and science-based protections for our environment and public health. He has been outright hostile to the Affordable Care Act and the more overarching idea that all Americans need access to quality, affordable healthcare. He has turned a blind eye to elderly Americans and their retirement security. He consistently favors large, multinational corporations and Wall Street over Main Street and the majority of Americans. His decisions have aimed to overturn fundamental legal protections and advances gained throughout the 20th and 21st Centuries, striking at the heart of our American Dream.

“Many have referred to Justice Kavanaugh as ‘an originalist’, a jurist committed to interpreting our Constitution ‘as it is written’. Since 1787, we the people have worked to expand human rights, civil rights, and equal protection under the law for ALL, not just a privileged few. Justice Kavanaugh’s jurisprudence aims to roll back these advances while – ironically – also lending legal weight to something that emphatically was NOT in our 1787 Constitution: corporate personhood.”

“His decisions suggest that he does not realize or does not care that the economic opportunity ladder in our country is now missing critical rungs for the middle class due in part to court cases, such as the recent Janus case and the EPIC case in May that unabashedly favor large corporations against employees and consumers (read my op-ed on the EPIC case here).

“Members of the U.S. House have no direct authority on the confirmation of Supreme Court nominees, but our representatives do have the responsibility to protect our rights through legislation. House members have the duty to check and balance the powers of the Executive and Judicial branches, but Scott Tipton has proven that he is unwilling to protect what voters in the 3rd Congressional District value. Now – more than ever – we need a Congresswoman who can effectively legislate and protect the interests of all the people.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, Tipton had not issued any statements on the Kavanaugh nomination, either on his official website or via social media. This article will be updated if and when he does.