Forty-one women were sworn into the state legislature in Denver this week, strengthening Colorado’s long standing as the women-lawmaker capital of the nation. The state gained five women in the Senate and lost one in the House. There are 17 women in the 35-member Senate. There are 24 women serving in the 65-member House. That’s the largest percentage of women serving at any state capitol across the country and it’s also the largest number of women ever to serve at the Colorado capitol. The Colorado Legislative Women’s Caucus is proud of these facts. It’s also not sure exactly what these facts mean on the ground for constituents.
“I think we’ll know more next week. We’re just getting organized,” Women’s Caucus Program Director Laura Hoeppner told the Colorado Independent. “The caucus has been running for only really two years. This week we’re getting together and deciding how we can be most effective and decide on goals.”
Hoeppner acknowledged that women lawmakers certainly don’t vote as a bloc and not even on what might be perceived as “women’s legislation.” She said the health insurance gender-equity bill passed last session, for instance, didn’t draw all of the women lawmakers’ support.
“The caucus has so far been more focused on networking and providing that kind of support, recruiting women to run for office and supporting them while they’re here.”
The women’s caucus is working fertile ground. Women have been a relatively outsized force in Colorado politics for more than a century.
In 1893 women in Colorado won the right to vote at the ballot box. Colorado was the first state where women won that right through a popular vote. Women in Wyoming won the right to vote first but that came about through an act of the legislature. In 1894, Colorado voters elected three women to represent them in Denver.
The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that the percentage of women serving in state legislatures in the country is down from 24.5 percent in 2010 to 23.4 percent this year. The percentage of women serving in Colorado dwarfs those figures at 41 percent.
The Colorado Legislative Women’s Caucus is funded by the Women’s Foundation of Colorado and the Metropolitan State College of Denver. Reps Jeanne Labuda (D-Denver) and Marsha Looper (R-Calhan) and Sens Nancy Spence (R-Centennial) and Suzanne Williams (D-Aurora) serve on the caucus board.
[Image: Marsha Looper, Nancy Spence, Jeanne Labuda ]