Editor’s note: This article has been updated throughout.
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On the heels of two record election cycles for women candidates, 2022 cements a new normal for levels of representation. The number of women in Congress has stabilized, and next year a record-breaking number of women will serve as governor — including the first out lesbian governors in the country’s history.
“While we celebrate these new records, the story of women and Congress in 2022 is stasis,” Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), said in a statement. “After breakthrough years in 2018 and 2020, the 2022 midterms remind us that we are still far from parity and our work continues.”
Multiple representation records will be set in next year’s Congress — 149 women total will serve, with 124 women in the House, one more than the current record. Senate representation will slightly increase, with 25 women senators serving compared with this year’s 24. The number of women senators is still lower than the record of 26, set in 2020.
The records were cemented Wednesday when Alaska announced the winners in its House and Senate races. Mary Peltola, the first Alaska Native to serve in Congress, won a full two-year term in the House, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski won reelection.
The past two election cycles showed that women are good candidates to back, said Kelly Dittmar, CAWP’s director of research. “Women are in these crucial races and crucial positions to determine the balance of power,” she said. “I think at least thus far in the results we're seeing on the Democratic side, women are key to keeping power.”
Part of the reason representation has stabilized is an increase in woman versus woman races — as was the case for Democratic incumbent Elaine Luria, who lost her race for Virginia’s 2nd District to Republican Jen Kiggans.
Twenty-five women senators are slated to serve next year. Nineteen of those women senators were not up for election in 2022.
The majority of elected women senators are White — 22 out of 25. The two women senators, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, are Asian American, and Catherine Cortez Masto is Latina. While both chambers are roughly a quarter women, the women in the House are much more racially diverse. More frequent elections, as well as more seats, means more opportunities for more women to run in that chamber.
The number of women senators has slowly grown since the 1970s but has plateaued in recent years. The current record for number of women serving simultaneously was set in 2020, when 26 women had seats due to special appointments. However, the record was short-lived because Martha McSally lost her Arizona seat to Democrat Mark Kelly in the election that year.
Black women continue to not be represented in the Senate. There have been no Black women in the Senate since Kamala Harris resigned to become vice president in 2021, and Senate bids by Val Demings in Florida and Cheri Beasley in North Carolina were unsuccessful. Only two Black women have ever served in the Senate.
“If one [Black] woman leaves, there’s no one else there,” Walsh said. “These gains are fragile, and we need to do more work on that front. Keeping a spotlight on it is really important.”
Eighteen years ago, the record for women governors serving simultaneously was set at nine. Next year 12 women governors will serve across the country. Arkansas, Massachusetts and New York elected their first woman governor. (Massachusetts and New York have had women governors appointed.)
Maura Healey and Tina Kotek became the first out elected LGBTQ+ governors.
Notable is that two races featured all-women candidates: in Arizona and Oregon. Dittmar and Walsh both agree these types of contests are a sign of progress.
“It's also a really good reminder that women get to be as diverse in their viewpoints and perspectives, priorities, etcetera, as their male counterparts,” said Dittmar. In these all-women contests, gender isn’t neutralized but rather deployed in different ways, she explained. “We get to see that being a woman candidate, being a woman doesn't mean the same thing for everybody.”
Still, this record means that women make up only 24 percent of state executive leadership. And all of those women except one are White: New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who won reelection this week, is Latina. No state has yet elected a Black women governor, as Democrat Stacy Abrams lost her second Georgia gubernatorial bid to incumbent Brian Kemp.
Reflecting on representation so far, Dittmar was frank. “Progress is not inevitable.”
“We worried a lot in ’18 that folks would declare it the year of the woman and then they would declare the job done,” she said. “I don’t think that’s why this year is necessarily a stasis, but I think we have to be wary and cautious about that.”