By Jennie Lusk
Let’s have a look at the progress of women as political leaders, in recognition of Women’s History Month.
In the executive branch nationwide, 94 women hold just less than a third of the 310 statewide elective offices—52 of them Democrat, 40 Republican and two non-partisan, according to the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP). Of those, 12 are governors—8 Democrats and 4 Republicans. In New Mexico, we’ve had a woman governor for the past 12 years, and currently are in the first months of the second term of Democratic governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. Of our non-judicial statewide elective offices, Laura Montoya has just been elected treasurer; Stephanie Garcia Richards, re-elected as Commissioner of Public Lands. The statewide offices of the lieutenant governor, attorney general, and auditor are held by men.
In the judicial branch, as of 2001, women filled 26.3% of the judgeships on New Mexico’s highest court. Until recently, only six women had been justices of the state Supreme Court-—Mary Walters, Pamela Minzner, Petra Maes, Barbara Vigil, Judith Nakamura, Shannon Bacon and Julie Vargas. The last two of those are still on the Court and have been joined by Briana Zamora, and now constitute a majority of the highest court’s five seats. They and judges on the New Mexico Court of Appeals have the opportunity to garner public financing of campaigns and, women judges now hold seven of the Court of Appeals’ 10 seats.
Establishing majorities in the legislative branch continues to be a major challenge. Nationwide, 2451 women hold 1/3 of state legislative seats in 2023, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). In New Mexico, Democrats hold 45 of the 70 House seats; women, 38 of those. Democrats hold 27 of the Senate’s 42 seats; women, just 12 of those—but senate seats were not in the most recent general election contests. Altogether, women comprised just short of half of the New Mexico legislature’s 112 seats.
Again nationwide, approximately 1/3 of leadership posts in legislatures are held by women, according to NCSL—92 as speaker of the House, president of the Senate, speaker pro tem, Senate president pro tem, majority leader or minority leader for the 2022 legislative session. In New Mexico this session, the senate is led by Pro Tem Sen. Mimi Stewart; the House is led by Speaker Javier Martinez, assisted by Gail Chasey as majority leader and Reena Szczepanski as majority whip.
Many in the current New Mexico legislature are trying to pave the way for more female senators and representatives by making all regular sessions more predictable to help in family planning and planning for existing family caregiving, among other initiatives. HJR 14 would establish a relatively predictable 45- day session every year rather than having session at 60 days during odd-numbered years; 30 days, in even-numbered years.
An all-woman New Mexico legislative delegation—Reps. Angelica Rubio, Joy Garratt, Debra Sarinana, Kristina Ortiz and Susan Herrera—has sponsored HJR 8, legislation that would establish a salary for legislators rather than simply reimbursing hotels, travel and meals. The legislation, which leaves it to voters whether to amend the state constitution to allow for legislative pay, just passed the House 40-24 and now moves to the Senate.
Discrimination on the basis of gender is not New Mexico legislature’s overt problem, since neither gender is paid to serve. The circumstances in which candidates are elected and serve likely have a more significant impact on women—especially those with children—than they do on men. According to the PEW Research Center, 94% of fathers aged 35-44 are active in the workforce, but only 75% of mothers. For the same age group with no children at home, 84% of men and 78% of women are active in the workforce—a gap of 6 rather than 19 points.
Finally, the demands of campaigning including raising money for getting elected presents a challenge for many female candidates for the legislature. However, proposals for public financing of state legislative races is not on the table this session.
Neither is allowing campaign funds to be used to pay for childcare during campaigns–an idea being considered in other state legislatures, according to the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP). CAWP notes that the Vote Mama Foundation has been working nationwide to pass legislation to approve the use of campaign funds for childcare for state and local candidates in all 50 states. The same group reportedly is tracking the use of campaign funds for childcare to determine how its use ultimately contributes to better representation in office for women and families. Learn more here.