Skip to main content

Originally published Sunday, May 25, 2014 at 4:13 PM

  • Share:
  • Comments (0)
  • Print

Guest: The gender imbalance in state politics

While Mary Yu’s appointment to the state Supreme Court is a win for underrepresented women, the state still has a long way to go in other offices, writes guest columnist Alexis Oliver.

Special to The Times

Reader Comments
Hide / Show comments
FYI, Chris Gregoire, Patty Murray, and Maria Cantwell are women MORE
The country is currently reeling under a person elected president TWICE whose qualifications were primarily skin... MORE
Please, please, please let's not forget the under-represented undocumented immigrant women! Folks we desperately need... MORE


GOV. Jay Inslee made history by announcing the appointment of Mary Yu to the state Supreme Court. Yu is the first woman of color and the first openly gay woman to serve on our state’s highest court. With her addition, we now have a record high of six women serving on the state Supreme Court.

Her appointment is a celebrated win for Washington’s justice system. But it’s also a remarkable win for women in communities across the state, particularly for women from underrepresented communities.

But the state is still a long way from equity in elected office. Women make up fewer than one-third of our state’s Legislature, one-third of larger city mayors and just 35 percent of all state judges. Women of color specifically make up just 21 percent of female state legislators across the nation and only 5 percent of total state legislators. In Washington, women of color make up just 3.4 percent of the state Legislature.

Not one African-American woman is serving in Olympia and state Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, is the only openly gay woman in the Legislature. And while a number of millennial men have been recently elected or appointed to office, young women are completely unrepresented in Olympia.

These numbers aren’t just disproportionate, they are flat-out alarming. A diverse, representational government gives voice to working women, to communities of color and to LGBTQ families.

The process of running and serving in office must be more inclusive of all women if we want public policy and process to represent the wide range of priorities and needs for women and families.

Washington state has a long legacy of women paving the way toward equal representation dating back to the early 1890s. Suffragettes like May Arkwright Hutton in Spokane fought to secure women’s suffrage 10 years before the 19th Amendment.

The National Women’s Political Caucus of Washington continues to support this legacy in part through the annual May Hutton Society event, now in its seventh year, which raises funds for the state’s women candidates. The caucus has been bringing women together from across the state for more than 40 years to celebrate the diversity of women’s leadership and discuss how to make the process of running and serving more inclusive for all women.

If our government is to be truly representational, we must work to develop a diverse pipeline of women for elected leadership and invest in their success. In a state like Washington, where even Supreme Court judicial seats are elected, running for office has a price tag that is often an obstacle for aspiring women leaders.

Research shows that women give to female candidates at a lower rate than men. One of the biggest barriers for women running for office is fundraising. It’s time for women to open up their pockets for female candidates and support a diverse set of leaders. It’s time for political parties to support candidates that represent the diverse set of experiences and backgrounds that comprise this great state.

Inslee’s recent appointment of Mary Yu did just that, and in the 2014 election voters can do the same.

Alexis Oliver is the chair of the National Women’s Political Caucus of Washington Diversity Committee.

Four weeks for 99 cents of unlimited digital access to The Seattle Times. Try it now!

Relive the magic

Relive the magic

Shop for unique souvenirs highlighting great sports moments in Seattle history.



The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►