RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Following last week’s election, more women than ever will serve in the North Carolina General Assembly next year, though some female legislators said there are still significant barriers to getting more women to run for the state legislature.
When the next session begins in January, women will make up about 29 percent of the legislature, which is higher than the current 25 percent, according to the Center for American Women and Politics, and represents an all-time high.
“Women tend to work together and be a little less partisan in general. So, hopefully, that’s what’s going to happen in this upcoming session because we’ve got some pretty tight margins,” said Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford).
Rep. Deb Butler (D-New Hanover) said she thinks the results from the election were a sign that voters are looking for “common-sense solutions.” She also noted there are barriers to getting more women to run and serve.
“We could go a long way in getting younger people and more women engaged if we paid a legislator more,” she said.
State legislators receive an annual salary of about $14,000 per year. Though the position is part-time, the General Assembly often has functioned as a full-time legislature in recent years.
Rep. Erin Pare (R-Wake) called the election results a “good sign.”
“I think it’s good to see more women serving in the General Assembly not just because they’re just women but because they’re obviously the best people to be representing the districts they’re representing in the General Assembly,” said Pare. “The key takeaway here is we have women who have such a diverse background of experience and talents and skillsets. And, that is all contributing to a better debate up in the General Assembly.”
Republicans won a veto-proof supermajority in the state Senate, clinching 30 of the chamber’s 50 seats. In the House of Representatives, the GOP won 71 seats, which is one seat short of a supermajority.
Following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade earlier this year, abortion access became a key issue in many of the races for the General Assembly, as the state has the authority to implement new laws.
“I think it was important, but I don’t think it was the driver. I think most people did go to the polls because they see the country going in the wrong direction and wanted to see our state stay on the right path, particularly when it comes to the economy,” said Pare. “I think that we all want to have a seat at that table and to be able to have that discussion with our colleagues. But, I think that whether you’re a woman or a man, I don’t know that makes such a big difference when you’re talking about life.”
Sarah Preston, executive director of Lillian’s List, said there’s a greater emphasis on recruiting female candidates to run for office among progressive organizations like hers.
Lillian’s List sought to get Democrats elected in key legislative races to maintain Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto power, especially in light of the abortion ruling.
“Women just aren’t recruited in the same that are men are to run. I think that is changing, particularly on the progressive side,” Preston said. “Having women at the table who are really profoundly affected by conversations around abortion, having their voices heard, having their voices at the table when these decisions are made is incredibly critical.”
For the first time in state history, women will make up a majority of the Democratic caucuses in the House and Senate, noted the state party’s executive director Kimberly Reynolds.
Sen. Natasha Marcus (D-Mecklenburg) called that a “silver lining” in light of her party losing two seats in the Senate. She said she also hopes there will be more women in leadership positions.
“We still have work to do, but this is a good step forward,” said Marcus. “We see a lot of white, older men running the General Assembly. That’s not reflective of the North Carolina population at large and not reflective of the members of the General Assembly.”