Increasing Representation 2021

A look at Texas 2021

Christi Craddick of the Railroad Commission is the only woman among the nine executive branch officeholders. It is only in the State Board of Education that we find more women than men, and both political parties are equally represented.

In the Texas Senate, women’s representation increases, though only 10 out of 31 officials are women, with 6 of those being Republican. The number of women Senators has been slowly, yet steadily on the rise since 2005. Out of 150 members in the Texas House of Representatives, women claim 37 seats, which is a gradual increase from 2017, when women Representatives were at their lowest numbers in twenty years. In this body, 35 of the women are Democrats, a break from pattern in the upper branches of Texas government.

Turning to local government, women’s representation in county government amounts to just 32%. If we examine more closely, however, and remove the commissioners, judges, justices of the peace, and sheriffs, that number rose to nearly half (47%), indicating that women serve in many of the administrative positions, as well as in district and county attorney positions.

While women make up 38% of the justice of the peace positions, their number as county judges (the executive of county government) drops dramatically to just 9.5%. There is even further disparity in county commissioner and sheriff positions, where only 8% of women serve as commissioners only 2% as county sheriffs.

Women are similarly underrepresented in municipal roles, comprising only 31% of officials. Still, it is in the municipal government that we find the most women serving with over 2,000 officials statewide, especially in city council positions. Of all the non-judicial positions women fill in city government, 74% of them serve as council members. In stark contrast, only 25% of the various mayoral positions are filled by women. Most municipal judicial positions are appointed in the state of Texas, but of the 21 elected positions, only 7 are women.

Out of all elected positions in Texas, women are closest to parity in the judicial branch of Texas, where they comprise 41% of the total officeholders. In contrast to the executive and legislative branches, 61% of women serving in elected judicial positions are Democrats. Women claim 37% of the seats in the county statutory courts, and over half of these women are Democrats. In the district courts, women comprise 42% of the total, and here again we see nearly twice as many Democratic women as Republican women. Far and away, women hold the most seats in the criminal courts, where they occupy 62% of the seats, and 88% of those women are Democrats. When we look at the appellate court system,

where districts are larger, we find that women hold 50% of the seats, and 70% of the women are Democrats. Of the 9 seats each in the Texas Supreme Court and the Criminal Court of Appeals, however, women fill 44% in each court. All of the justices in the last resort courts are Republican, largely owing to the seats’ statewide election.

Reflections on This Year’s Findings

The trend of Democratic women taking the lead in judicial seats has not gone without notice. In March 2020, Emma Platoff of the Texas Tribune published an article titled “Democratic Male Judges May Be Headed for Extinction in Texas. The Cause? Voters.” According to the Democratic primary results as reported by the Texas Secretary of State, “women won more votes than men in all of the roughly

30 gender-split contests for high court” and “rarely was it even close.” Based on the research she conducted, Platoff argues that experts confirmed there is a trend among Democratic voters to choose female candidates over male, even when knowing nothing about their previous experience or current credentials.

Despite these findings, there are additional considerations that affect a woman’s decision to run for office. In summer of 2021, the Center for Women in Politics & Public Policy surveyed Texas officeholders, and many of the women who completed our survey indicated a broad range of considerations that affected their decisions to run. Timing and family obligations are crucial in informing their decisions to run.

One elected official stated, “My two main concerns were running a large campaign and caring for my two children. When I moved to a smaller town, I saw the opportunity to run a smaller campaign. Plus, my children were now older.”

Another said, “Retirement allowed me to have the time to serve in office; current local circumstances had a tremendous need that made my educational and work experience relevant.”

Many of the responses also indicated that openly expressed support and encouragement from family, friends, the community, and other elected officials had a significant role in not only convincing women to run for office but in giving them greater confidence to do so. In fact, encouragement from elected officials seemed to be the final factor in the decision-making process for some women.

One official stated, “I was encouraged by a colleague to run. He did not know that I had been contemplating it for years. That little bit of encouragement from outside my family was enough to motivate me to actually do it.”

Many women shared that they had been directly approached by members of their communities and elected city officials. And yet, even in those circumstances, family support played a major role.

Another woman said, “I was approached on three occasions. After discussing it with my family and friends, I made the decision to run. The previous office holder recommended that I run for the office.”

Studies and statistics show that women are very community driven and feel called to help improve the lives of their local citizens in a more direct way. Our study reinforced these facts, and many respondents indicated they had long wished to serve their communities. Once presented with an opportunity, they were eager to seize it with the hopes of making a difference.

One official wrote, “I felt obligated to be a good steward of my small, growing town. I am obligated to make sure its future is something sustainable for the children living here now.”

Other women expressed frustration with city officials who had preceded them, and many shared concerns about corruption, especially when personal financial gain seemed to be of more importance than the welfare of the community and its citizens.

One woman wrote, “The city environment was toxic with poor leadership. Instead of being a keyboard warrior, I realized it would be better to serve and make the change.”

Yet another category of popular responses had much to do with feelings of inadequate representation. Many women felt there were not enough female voices involved with city planning and decision making. They also felt there should be more women in political positions in general.

One official shared, “There were no women on our city council, and I knew there would be some major decisions coming in the next 2 years, [and] I wanted to make sure there was a female voice involved.”

Another stated, “I felt comfortable with my knowledge of the city and feel [that] we need a female mayor after 50 years of only white male mayors.”

Gains have been made in local and judicial offices, but women remain underrepresented in Texas. Yet women are cognizant of that fact and are becoming more vocal in their wish to change. The numbers provide statistics, and the survey respondents provide context, but the Lone Star State still has a ways to go. Still, encouragement matters; women are statistically less likely than men to be encouraged and asked to run for office. Worse, women feel like outsiders of the political system, depriving policy of perspectives and solutions.

One woman’s survey response corroborated that sentiment. She wrote, “I finally decided to run for office after I had been told too many times that I couldn’t challenge the establishment, that standing up or speaking up against the establishment would get opposition against me.”

If there is anything to be learned from this year’s report and survey responses, while women still remain underrepresented, more are seizing opportunities available to them and jumping into their campaigns. Two years ago, our numbers suggested a way to make a positive impact on representation included greater encouragement for women to run and training women to feel ready to run for office. According to the numbers from this year, further encouragement would work, as many women are ready and willing to tackle the challenges that lay before them, especially in the local government arena.

Research funded by the Jane Nelson Institute for Women’s Leadership. Report written by Rachel Arnquist. Results compiled by Rachel Arnquist and Yuzek Rodriguez.

Page last updated 4:43 PM, July 29, 2022