Minority women make history in 2020 Congressional races


Graphic by Alfred Perez.

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Women may not yet run the world, but are quickly making their mark in Congress.

The 2020 elections were historic, as a record number of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ women were elected. This corresponds to growing trends of diverse women running (and winning) in the electorate.

Women only make up 24 percent of Congress, with 23 percent in the House and 26 percent in the Senate in 2020. Currently, only 48 women of color serve in Congress: 22 Black, 13 Latina, 8 Asian American or Pacific Islander, 2 Indigenous, 2 Middle Eastern or Northern African, and 1 multiracial. 

Only 78 women of color have served in Congress to date, but that number is growing.

In 2018, 476 women ran for seats in the House, up by almost 60 percent from the previous record of 299. The percentage increased during the 2020 elections with 583 women running for House seats, up 23 percent in just two years.

Republican women candidates responded to a call to action, with 227 running for House seats, marking a 75 percent increase from the previous record. Democratic women candidates maintained their previous record of candidacies, with 356 running in the House. 

The 2020 election results reveal an interesting paradigm shift for minority women in politics. While some states cracked glass ceilings by electing progressive Democratic candidates, other states unseated Democratic incumbents in favor of Republican women. 

“I suspect that there is some reaction to the stances that President Trump has taken that inspires females to run for elected office,” Richard Pineda, professor of Communications at UTEP, told KTSM 9 News. “At the same time, there’s probably also a change tied to demographics. I think there are a lot of communities where women are gaining ground professionally and the opportunity to try to change policy via elected office is more appealing than it has been.”

The result is new representation in Congress and the realization of power in numbers.

First all-female delegation in New Mexico history

New Mexico made history on Election Day by creating the largest all-women congressional delegation in U.S. history, as well as New Mexico’s first all-female delegation. Moreover, a woman of color was elected in each district.

One of the most contentious races was for New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District, a rematch between Democrat incumbent Xochitl Torres Small and Republican Yvette Herrell. The candidates faced each other for the same seat in 2018, with Torres Small narrowly defeating Herrell by 2 percentage points.

The race for New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District is an important battleground election that could affect the U.S. 117th Congress. 

The 2nd district is a rarity in the U.S. in that it is one of only 31 U.S. House districts won by President Donald Trump in 2016 and then elected a Democratic candidate during the 2018 midterm elections. 

Herrell defeated Torres Small on Tuesday, with 56 percent of the votes.

Representative Deb Haaland, a Democrat, was re-elected to New Mexico’s 1st District and Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez was elected to her first term in the state’s 3rd District. Leger Fernandez is the first woman to occupy New Mexico’s 3rd District seat. 

Transgender politicians make history

History was made in Delaware after Sarah McBride was elected to the state Senate. McBride is now the first openly transgender state senator in U.S. history, as well as the highest-ranking openly transgender government official in the country. 

McBride has established herself as a political force serving in the Obama administration, where she became the first openly transgender woman to work in the White House. 

But McBride isn’t the only transgender woman elected. In Kansas, Stephanie Byers was voted into the state legislature, making her Kansas’ first openly transgender lawmaker. Byers is also a member of the Chickasaw Nation. 

Taylor Small, a transgender woman, also known by her drag name of Nikki Champagne, is now the first openly transgender person elected to Vermont’s state legislature. 

Women of color continue to make strides

Women of color continue to be elected and make history.

Representatives Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Rashida Talib, Ayanna Pressley and Ilhan Omar — otherwise known as The Squad — were all re-elected and will be welcoming a new cohort of women to the House. 

Cori Bush won her race for Missouri’s 1st District, making her the first Black woman to represent the state in Congress. Bush is known for her leadership role in the Ferguson protests and as a Black Lives Matter activist. The win comes after her second bid for the seat. 

Down South, Michele Rayner-Goolsby was elected to the state House of Florida, making her the first Black openly LGBTQ+ woman member of the Florida legislature. 

Georgia also elected its first openly gay LGBTQ+ member of the legislature, Kim Jackson, who will now serve in the state Senate. 

In Oklahoma, Mauree Turner was elected to the state House for the 88th District. Turner, who is queer, is now the first Muslim person elected to the Oklahoma state legislature. 

Congresswoman Veronica Escobar was re-elected to El Paso’s 16th Congressional District and is looking forward to building on the foundation of efforts she’s worked on during her first term, which includes women’s reproductive rights and immigration. 

“These last two years have presented immense challenges in our communities, and our country feels like it’s the most divided it’s ever been. To bring our country together, we must ensure all of our constituents are well-represented,” Congresswoman Escobar tells KTSM.

“On election night, we witnessed more women make history and get elected to Congress to fight for their communities. Women must have a seat at the table everywhere decisions are made because all issues are women’s issues. I look forward to working with the new women who were elected to the 117th Congress and ensure women’s freedoms to make their own decisions about their health care, families, and futures are protected,” she continued.

According to political experts, the stage could be set for BIPOC women to reform major policies.

“BIPOC women will change the national conversation to be sure,” says Pineda. “Although as far as actual policy changes that are legislatively-tied, it’s hard to read and depends on how the election ultimately comes out.”

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