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Despite slight drop, Arizona still leads nation in women officeholders

(Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

(Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Despite a record number of women running for office this year, Arizona will actually lose one female elected official when congressional and legislative delegations take office in January.

But experts say the one-seat drop is nothing to worry about in a state that has regularly elected women to office, and other states are only now starting to catch up.

“I think the advantage of our history of the ‘wild West,’ where we tend to vote for individuals rather than party line or particular person, has meant that independent women had a seat,” said Catherine Nichols, political director for Arizona List, which is dedicated to electing Democratic women.

“For whatever reason, our voters have chosen to elect individuals over particular party line or traditional candidates,” she said.

Arizona had one of the nation’s highest percentages of women on the ballot this year, according to a Cronkite News review of ballots across the country.

And the state elected its first female U.S. senator as U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, a Republican, conceded defeat on November 12, to U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat, to fill the seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Jeff Flake.

And while Sinema will take Flake’s seat, her seat in the U.S. House will be taken by former Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, taking Arizona’s U.S. House delegation from six men and three women to seven men and two women. And unofficial election returns indicate that women will lose one seat in the Arizona Legislature, falling from 36 members today to 35 in 2019.

The state is still a leader in electing women, however, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures. While votes from the November 6 election are still being counted, the Women’s Legislative Network of NCSL shows Arizona tied with Vermont for the highest percentage of women in the Legislature in 2018, with 40 percent each.

The data shows a pretty consistent increase in women in legislative and congressional seats over the years in Arizona.

Emily Schnurr, a Ph.D. candidate at Northern Arizona University, said she thinks Arizona’s history makes it particularly favorable for female politicians. It became a state during the Progressive Era, so the Arizona Constitution is modeled after many of those principles.

Schnurr said that while the Democratic Party typically sees significantly more female candidates than Republicans in the rest of the country, women are relatively well represented in the Arizona GOP.

“We’re a pretty red state, so I think that partisanship is more important than gender,” Schnurr said. “But we have a lot of women who are Republicans.”

She said women were helped this year by the high number of incumbents retiring or stepping down, which likely contributes to the record-high number of women heading to Congress in 2019.

“Incumbents have name recognition, they’ve got donor records, they’ve got a record that they can run on, and challenging candidates don’t have that,” she said. “As we’re seeing a lot of white men retire … then those open seats have a lot of potential for women to pick them up.”

Nichols of Arizona List said it’s important to have women in elected office.

“If you are a true believer in a republican democracy, there is no way that American politics can be truly representative until you get parity in men and women representing,” Nichols said. “So the more women you have, you simply get a better picture of what voters actually want.”

Nichols said she does not think it will ever be as easy for women to run for office as it is for men, but she does think it will get easier. And she said the rise of women in office will likely inspire more to run each year.

“Every glass ceiling that gets broken makes it easier for the next,” Nichols said. “Oh, we just saw the tip of the iceberg.”

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