Nevada made history on Wednesday as the country’s first woman-majority state legislature, after Las Vegas county officials appointed two women to fill recently-vacated seats in the state Assembly.
The appointment of the two women — Democrats Beatrice Duran and Rochelle Nguyen, who is also the first Asian American woman to serve in her district — brings the total number of female-held seats in the Assembly to 23, or 55 percent of the 42-seat chamber. Women hold nine of the 21 seats in the Nevada state Senate, meaning 34 of the 63 total seats in the legislature are women-held.
According to Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), Nevada is the first state not only to have a female-majority legislature, but to even reach the 50 percent threshold of overall female representation. Colorado is a close second, with women making up 45 percent of the state legislature.
“It’s worth celebrating the fact that Nevada’s state legislature will, in 2019, reflect the gender diversity of the population it serves, something that no other state legislature has done to date,” CAWP scholar Kelly Dittmar said in a statement to ThinkProgress.
Numerous media outlets, including ThinkProgress, predicted Nevada’s feat before the midterm elections last month, but the possibility was considered a long shot. Indeed, while women picked up seats during the elections, they weren’t able to reach a majority until vacancies — created by legislators who were elected to other positions — gave county commissioners the chance to make history.
Nearly a decade ago, New Hampshire seemed poised to become the first state to elect a majority-women legislature. In 2009 and 2010, the state was the first to reach a female majority in its Senate.
Even before the Nevada appointments, the 2018 elections saw a record number of women elected to state legislatures throughout the country, according to CAWP. Today, women hold more than 28 percent of the seats in state legislatures, an increase of approximately 4 percent.
The rise in the number of women in office bodes well for the state and the country as a whole. Research has shown that “having women in elected office makes an important difference in encouraging women-friendly policy in a state.” The more women in office, the higher the likelihood of enacting policies that close the gender wage gap, strengthen reproductive rights, or guarantee paid family leave.
“When our legislative bodies better reflect their constituencies, the policies that bring forward and the deliberation in which they engage will better reflect the full diversity of perspectives and life experiences within a community, state or country,” Dittmar said. “That yields better outcomes for everyone.”
Furthermore, despite the hurdles women tend to face when it comes to advancing their legislative priorities, studies have found that female legislators are much more effective than their male counterparts, securing almost 10 percent more funding for their districts and sponsoring and cosponsoring significantly more bills than male legislators. They also tend to be more qualified than their male colleagues.
“If we believe the evidence that the average woman underestimates her qualifications relative to the average man, then it is reasonable to conclude that a woman who identifies herself as a candidate for national office is more qualified than the average male candidate,” wrote Sarah F. Anzia of Stanford University and Christopher R. Berry of the University of Chicago, in their 2011 study of the effectiveness of female members of congress.
“If it takes more talent and greater effort for female candidates to be taken seriously by voters, campaign contributors, and party gatekeepers,” they added, “then the women who succeed in the electoral process are likely to be more talented and hardworking than the men who do the same.”