Blacks, women gain in legislatures, but total numbers still small
Boston — In the past 12 years the number of women state legislators has nearly tripled and the number of black state lawmakers has almost doubled. Despite such gains, neither group will, in the next few years, come near representation in legislative bodies across the United States in proportion to their percentage of the national population. But each will be well represented enough to ensure continued vocal advocacy for such issues as women's rights, housing, human services, and jobs in coming legislative sessions.
Women, who picked up 121 state lawmaking seats in the Nov. 4 elections, now number 887 -- 11.9 percent of the 7,482 state legislators in the nation.
(In the new 97th congress, 3.55 percent of members will be women, 3.7 will be blacks.)
While it is uncertain to what extent the increase in women legislator ranks has helped gain state ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution, most of the states which have failed to endorse the measure are among those with fewest female legislators.
Prospects for gaining lawmaker approval in the three additional states needed were hardly enhanced by the 1980 legislative elections. In both Arizona and Florida, two of the states where major ratification efforts had been planned, the number of women lawmakers has diminished. In most of the others, either no election was held or gains were slight.
Blacks will hold at least 321 legislative chairs in 1981, 4.3 percent of the US total. More than one-sixth of those (58) are women.
The somewhat modest gains in state lawmaking chambers for blacks included the first black woman ever elected to the Connecticut Senate and the first black, also a woman, elected to the Wyoming House.
The year's biggest black legislative gains were made in Connecticut, where black membership increased from 6 to 10 -- two in each chamber, including Margaret Morton, a new Democratic state representative who will be among three blacks in the 36-seat state. Connecticut's 151-member lower legislative chamber will have seven blacks.
Georgia, which will continue to have 23 blacks in its 236-member state legislature, will have the largest proportion of minority group lawmakers.
Other states which will have 10 or more blacks within their lawmaking ranks include Alabama, 15; Illinois, 21; Louisiana, 12; Maryland, 20; Michigan, 16; Mississippi, 17; Missouri, 13; New York, 16; North Carolina, 15; Ohio, 12; Pennysylvania, 16; South Carolina, 14; Tennessee, 13; and Texas, 14.
The 321 black legislators include 61 state senators in 31 states and 260 state representatives or assemblymen in 37 states.
Besides Connecticut and Wyoming, blacks scored legislative gains in a few other states, including florida and Michigan.
Alaska, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Vermont will be the only states without at least one black lawmaker.
The 121-woman lawmaker gain in the November election is the largest since 1974, when there was a record increase of 153. Overall, the female legislator population at upcoming sittings will be 582 greater than a dozen years ago, when the current growth trend began.
Unlike black legislators, the vast majority of whom are Democrats, the political division among women state lawmakers is reasonably close, with Republicans outnumbered nearly 3 to 2.
A record 1,434 female candidates ran for state legislative seats in November; 804 (56 percent) of them, were successful, according to Lyn Olson of the Washington-based National Women's Education fund. She notes that another 83 female lawmakers who will be sitting in coming legislative sessions did not have to run this year since they are either midway in four-year terms or come from states where legislators are chosen in odd-numbered years.
Women lawmakers increased in number, at least modestly, in all but six of the 43 states which held 1980 legislative elections. The exceptions being North Carolina, where the total remains the same, Alaska, down one, Arizona down two, Florida down one, Iowa down one, and North Dakota down three.
The biggest boost in women legislative ranks is 10 in New Hampshire, where 124 of the 424 state lawmaking chairs will be female-occupied.
Others gains of five or more seats: seven in Illinois, from 26 to 33; nine in Kansas, from 14 to 23; eight in Maine, from 34 to 42; six in Minnesota, from 18 to 24; five in Missouri, from 17 to 22; six in New York, from 13 to 19; five in Oklahoma, from 6 to 11; seven in Oregon, from 13 to 20; five in VErmont, from 34 to 39; seven in Washington from 27 to 34; and five in West Virginia, from 9 to 14.
Only five of the nation's 99 state legislative chambers (Nebraska has a single branch) will be all-male. They are the Alabama, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, and Wisconsin senates. It might be noted, however, that of these, only Wisconsin had senatorial elections this year.
Black and women state legislators Year Blacks Women 1969 168 305 1971 198 334 1973 238 457 1975 276 610 1977 295 688 1979 307 774 1981 321 887