Positive Gains for Women in Public Office

Historic numbers of women are now serving in Congress and state governments.
by Brad McMillan, Institute of Principled Leadership in Public Service at Bradley University
Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, Representative Jehan Gordon-Booth and Kansas Governor Laura Kelly
Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, Representative Jehan Gordon-Booth and Kansas Governor Laura Kelly

In 2019, historic numbers of diverse women were sworn into public office, both at the national and state levels. These positive gains for women bring our legislative bodies closer to looking like the American population. And here locally, our women legislators are serving in important leadership positions.

U.S. Congress
The number of women serving in both chambers of the 116th Congress has risen to 131, representing the biggest increase in women members since the 1990s. In the House of Representatives, 106 of the 441 members are women, or about 24 percent. In the U.S. Senate, 25 of the 100 senators are women. While recent increases are impressive, the percentages still fall well below the 50.6 percent of the U.S. population who are female. Many of the women recently elected to Congress are firsts: the first female combat veteran, the first Native American women, the first Muslim women, and the list goes on.

Importantly, our own Congresswoman Cheri Bustos was elected to chair the Democratic Congressional Committee—the highest political leadership role of any Peoria-area lawmaker since U.S. Minority Leader Bob Michel. She is the only Midwesterner among the Democratic House leadership and was recently appointed to the powerful House Appropriations Committee. Whether on the Democratic or Republican side, central Illinois has benefited greatly over the years from having our congressional members in leadership positions.

Illinois Government
In the current 101st Illinois General Assembly, 64 women were recently sworn into office, placing Illinois 11th in the nation for the percentage of women in its state legislature. The percentage of women in the Illinois House is now 37.3 percent, slightly higher than the 33.9 percent in the Illinois Senate.

In 2015, Representative Jehan Gordon-Booth became the first African-American woman from central Illinois to serve as assistant majority leader for the House Democratic Party. Adding to the diversity in Illinois state government, Lt. Governor Julianna Stratton was recently sworn in as the first African-American woman to hold that office.

State Governors
In 2019, nine women are serving as governors, including newly-elected Kansas Governor Laura Kelly, a graduate of Bradley University. Previously, Kelly served as a Kansas state senator for 14 years. In her inaugural speech, Governor Kelly, a Democrat in a Republican-controlled state legislature, stated: “We must work together in the spirit of putting the collective good ahead of any individual ambition or agenda… Let the insults and finger-pointing give way to compromise and a handshake—by putting down the partisan swords and lifting up the values that unite us as Kansans.”

At Bradley, we are very proud of Governor Kelly and have invited her back to campus to speak and visit as soon as her schedule allows. In 2019, much progress was made in having diverse women sworn into high positions of public service. PM

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