2012 has been a historic year in American politics. Last night, America chose between Barack Obama, the nation’s first African-American president (making history again by running for reelection, and Mitt Romney, who would have been the nation’s first Mormon president had he won. While notable and exciting, those are not the historic candidates I’m talking about. Of course, I’m writing about the hundreds of women who ran at the federal level (not to mention the thousands more who ran at the state and local level!) whose political leadership broke barriers this year. 1992 is known as the Year of the Woman, but 2012 is catapulting us to a whole new level.
Women were breaking records before the results were even announced. Women ran for federal office at levels that had never been seen before, but the question that still lingered before last night’s results: is this a historic year for women? Will there be record breaking numbers of women in the next Congress? The answer is YES!
Let’s start with the Senate – about half of the 33 Senate races had a female candidate, which is record breaking on its own. At this moment, a record number of 20 women will serve in the Senate. All of the six female incumbents who were up for reelection won their races, and there is a very strong possibility that one-fifth of the Senate seats will be held by women, a great victory over the previous record of 17 women serving. In the House, 77 women have won their races so far, breaking the record set in 2008. Two women are ahead in their districts in Arizona, but the races are still too close to make a decision. If those women are announced as the victors, the total of 79 female U.S. Representatives will set another new record, bringing the percentage of women in the House to above 17%. And that’s only for Representatives! So far two women, from Washington, D.C. and Guam, have won their races, and we’re still waiting to hear how the female candidates from American Samoa and the Virgin Islands did in their respective races. Their victories increase the visibility of women, with the potential of 80 women serving in the House. These may seem like small gains, but the point is that the number of women in political leadership is on the rise.
Equally as important are the gains individual female candidates made in diversifying Congress. Perhaps one of the most high profile campaigns of the night was Tammy Baldwin’s Senate race in Wisconsin where she became the state’s first female senator, and more notably, the first LGBT woman to ever serve in the U.S. Senate. Tammy Duckworth, who will represent Illinois in the House of Representatives, became the first disabled female veteran to be elected to Congress and Mazie Hirono, who will become the first female senator to represent Hawaii, is also the first Asian American female senator in U.S. history. Hirono breaks a third record by becoming the first Buddhist to serve in the Senate, and Tulsi Gabbard, also from Hawaii, won her race for the House, becoming the first Hindu to serve in Congress.
And the good news continues! Maggie Hassan, the only woman to run for governor in the general election this year, won her race in New Hampshire. Her victory is matched by the two new female Representatives (the only two representatives for the state in the House), and is joined with two female senators that were not up for reelection. All of these successful women made history by making New Hampshire the first state to ever have an all-female congressional delegation with a female governor.
Other firsts resonate on a smaller state level. Elizabeth Warren will become the first woman to represent Massachusetts in the Senate and in New York, Grace Meng won her race for the House, making her the first Asian American woman to represent her state in Congress. Indiana elected two women to Congress – until now, the state has never had two women serve at the same time. As it would be impossible to delve into the history behind the thousands of woman who ran at all levels, I leave my mind open to the exciting idea that there are many more “firsts” for local female leaders across the country.
I truly believe these “firsts” are so important to celebrate because of the path they leave for seconds and thirds. They set the stage for a future where women are equally represented in all levels of leadership. And that’s really the goal, isn’t it? These women and their accomplishments should be celebrated because they are the trailblazers for a future where women as politicians – as LGBT persons, persons of color, persons of all religious faiths – are not the outlier, not the exception to the rule, but understood simply as leaders. So, congratulations are in order for all of the work women across this country put in to support women’s political leadership this year. To all of the remarkable women who helped make 2012 the new Year of the Woman – those barrier-busting victors, all women who ran, every woman who helped campaign, and of course to everyone who voted – we did this! The political future for women has never seemed brighter.
Kate Sotos is the current Communications and Research intern working for TWHP out of Denver, CO. She plans to graduate in June 2013 from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver with a Masters in International Human Rights. In 2007, she received her BA in Anthropology from the University of Virginia. Originally from northern Virginia, Kate hopes to return to Washington, D.C. to work as an advocate for human rights.