This election cycle more women are running for the Texas House than ever before and if, as predicted, many of them win, there will be more women holding office in the Texas House than at any time in history. The majority of those women will be Democrats.
The Texas Legislature has never been a model of gender inclusion. There have only, ever, been 172 women elected to the Texas Legislature in history compared to more than 5,435 men. There has never been a woman speaker of the house.
No matter who becomes the next speaker, regardless of gender or party, it is long past time that women legislators fully partake in the power of that office by receiving a proportional number of leadership positions, chairs of committees and key committee appointments. With very few exceptions, leadership positions in the Texas House are not reflective of the makeup of women in the Texas House.
Women hold 22% of seats in the House but just:
· 7% of committee chairs. Out of 38 House committees only five women were selected as chairs. No Latina woman was appointed.
· 9% (only one seat) of the all-powerful Calendars Committee.
· 7.6% of the State Affairs Committee (only one seat) which is the gatekeeper for major bills that impact the entire state.
· 19% of the Appropriations Committee, which sets the state budget .
· 15.3% (only two seats) on the Public Education Committee.
Zero women lead any of these power committees.
Even when factoring in party affiliation, these disparities are evident. For example, Democrats hold 12 committee chairs and only two of those are held by women — just 17% despite the fact that women make up 39% of the Democratic Caucus. Nor does the seniority system of the House explain the gender gap in committee appointments as first-year, male House members were appointed to the Appropriations, State Affairs and Public Education committees while no freshman woman was granted this distinction. There are no credible excuses for leaving women out of these appointment opportunities in the House.
When women are excluded from these leadership positions, they do not have seats at the table when it comes to the most important decisions. The late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg famously said: “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.” May she rest in power as her legacy and the work of so many of our fierce foremothers inspire women daily, like Shirley Chisholm who admonished, “if they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” This is our call to action.
As Democrats work to elect a new speaker of the house in the 87th Texas Legislative Session, we should put into action the promise of gender equity that we espouse on the campaign trail by ensuring that the women who are elected to the House are appointed in representative numbers and proportionally represented in key leadership roles.
It is long past time for women to serve in leadership positions in the Texas House. Women put in the work and have the experience and qualifications to be the effective leaders we need in the 87th Legislature.
Donna Howard is a Democrat representing Austin in the Texas House.
Ina Minjarez is a Democrat representing San Antonio in the Texas House.
The following Democratic legislators signed this column:
Rep. Michelle Beckley, Carrollton
Rep. Gina Calanni, Houston
Rep. Jessica Gonzalez, Dallas
Rep. Mary Gonzalez, El Paso
Rep. Vikki Goodwin, Austin
Rep. Gina Hinojosa, Austin
Rep. Celia Israel, Austin
Rep. Julie Johnson, Dallas
Rep. Terry Meza, Irving
Rep. Christina Morales, Houston
Rep. Victoria Neave, Mesquite
Rep-elect Claudia Ordaz Perez, El Paso
Rep. Lina Ortega, El Paso
Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos, Dallas
Rep. Erin Zwiener, Driftwood
Got an opinion about this issue? Send a letter to the editor, and you just might get published.