Women candidates across the country made history Tuesday when the highest number of females were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, but women running for the Missouri Legislature didn’t fare as well.
The number of women on Missouri’s ballot this year was historic. In total, 103 women ran for statewide office and the Legislature.
Of the 95 women running for Missouri’s General Assembly, 46 won. Victory or defeat was largely correlated to party lines and whether the candidate was an incumbent. The number of women represented in Missouri’s legislative body increased by two percentage points and will fall just below the national average of women in state legislatures, at about 25 percent.
Democratic women running for statehouse dwarfed the number of Republican women on the ballot, with 66 Democratic candidates versus 29 Republicans.
Democrats disproportionately lost, partially because many were running in traditionally Republican or conservative districts.
Forty-four Democratic women lost, compared to five Republican women. Terry Jones, a professor of political science at University of Missouri St. Louis, said he wasn’t taken aback by those numbers.
“When you have a set of highly gerrymandered districts, party change is only going to happen rarely, so that limits the opportunity to have a seat both changed by party and by gender in any particular election,” Jones said.
He said that even though women running for the Missouri Legislature didn’t enjoy the same luck of women candidates for Congress, he doesn’t expect there will be retrenchment in the numbers of women running in Missouri. He thinks that’s largely because of the surge in female representatives in the U.S. House that can serve as role models.
“The pool of women who can now realistically say, ‘I can be the next legislator at the state level or the next member of Congress,’ now is broadened to include women of all ages and all ethnicities, all races.”
Patrice Billings, a Democrat who lost her bid for a St. Charles County senate district against Republican incumbent Bob Onder, said she wasn’t resigned to the status quo in the face of defeat.
“I don’t believe that we are going to be putting the genie back in the bottle anytime soon,” Billings said. “I think people will maintain the momentum, especially women, and realize that the only way for us to get elected is to run.”
While she doesn’t have any plans to run for re-election in the immediate future, she plans to be active in the recruitment of future female candidates in Missouri.
Billings, who ran in a traditionally red senate district against a longtime Republican incumbent, said she believes there’s still a bias against female candidates in Missouri, particularly in St. Charles County.
“I think that it boils down to women not being given their necessary due that they deserve with regard to their intellect, intelligence, and how well they could possibly serve the state of Missouri and their constituents.”
She added, “We’ve got a male-dominated Legislature. People feel that men are the leaders in this area — and I do believe that we’re going to see strides made in that regard, but it’s going to take longer than I anticipated it would.”
Things were different for Republican Mary Elizabeth Coleman, who won in her quest to flip a majority Jefferson County house district back to Republican control.
She said even if the historic amount of women running didn’t win in record numbers, she thinks the ranks of women candidates will only continue to rise.
“You know, I hope it encourages girls to think of it as something women do, just like men do. But I do think as we continue to see that high watermark rise, that it becomes something that’s more normalized so that girls think about it.”
Coleman pointed to a particularly memorable moment in her campaign that she said indicated the beginning of that change.
“We were in the car, and one of the commercials for my campaign came on the radio, and my daughter said to all of my sons in the car, ‘That’s our mom!’ so I think that maybe we’re planting those seeds. But I don’t think we have to wait for the next generation.”
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