California Legislature sees a rise in diversity but a drop in women
The new California Legislature will look slightly more racially and ethnically diverse than the last, but its number of women has dropped lower than it has been in more than two decades, according to an analysisof preliminary 2016 election results from the California Research Bureau.
Of the 89 members in office, the number of nonwhite lawmakers has increased from 47 to 53, with gains made among Asian/Pacific Islander, Latino and multiracial lawmakers.
The rise in diversity is most pronounced in the Assembly, where the majority, or 54%, of legislators are now minorities.
But the number of black lawmakers decreased by one. The total of female legislators dropped by four and now stands at 27. There have not been fewer women in office since 1991-92, and only in 1997-98 has that figure been equally low.
Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), vice chair of the California Legislative Women's Caucus, said the Democratic Legislative Women's Caucus over the last two years "has worked to identify, recruit and help women run," she said. But leaders on both sides of the aisle needed to replicate those efforts, she said.
"Unfortunately, there's a real chance that not a single Republican woman will be elected this cycle to the Legislature even though half were termed out," she said.
All demographic groups saw decreases in the number of women, except Latinas, which doubled their ranks from 5 to 10 lawmakers, according to the report.
Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Salnias) said that was due to an intentional and well-coordinated effort to close the gender gap led by the California Latino Legislative Caucus.
Latino lawmakers had been watching the number of women in office decline since 2014, Alejo said, and last year endorsed 10 Latina candidates out of the 14 they supported for the state Assembly and Senate.
Latinas saw wins in districts where Latinos had never held office before and that many initially thought unlikely, such as Monique Limon in Santa Barbara and Sabrina Cervantes in Riverside County.
"We were very strategic about recruiting, endorsing and financially supporting Latina candidates," said Alejo, chair of the caucus. "We were very successful because of the early commitment and planning that we carried out this election cycle. But it's not enough and we are committed to increasing the overall numbers of women."