Why California Needs More Women Legislators - Women's Foundation California

Alba Mercado

Although women represent 51 percent of California’s population, do you know what percentage of our state legislature are women? Just 26 percent!

So why does that matter? I learned why in a briefing hosted by Close the Gap CA, a state-wide campaign working to increase the number of talented and progressive women who run for California State Senate and Assembly seats.

I walked into that briefing never imagining that I would run for public office. I was there because I coordinate the Women’s Foundation of California Women’s Policy Institute (We’re recruiting new fellows until July 9).

Nearly 100 women representing over 40 organizations across California were gathered together to figure out how to recruit more talented, progressive women to fill Assembly and Senate seats that will be open in 2014 and 2016. In addition, some of the women present were planning to run for office themselves. I was so impressed to see many women of color attending the meeting who are serious about running for public office.

While I was inspired by many of the former and current State Legislators who spoke, I was most intrigued by Assemblymember Cristina Garcia, who currently represents California’s 58th Assembly District. She struck me in many ways. As a resident of Bell Gardens, CA in Southern California, she talked about the frustration and disillusion with growing up in an underserved community that most people leave in the search for better opportunities. She was one of them. The thing is, when she visited home, she would complain about the disparities her community continued to face. Finally, someone said to her, “You’re just like everyone else. You leave, never come back, and don’t do anything about it.”

Encouraged to do something about it, she took action. Although she wasn’t eager to run for office, she felt it was her responsibility to do so and now she is representing and advocating for her own community.

Listening to her reminded me of myself. She is a woman of color who looks like me, who speaks like me and comes from an underserved community like mine. Growing up in a small town in the Central Valley, I left with no plans of returning – except to visit family and friends.

Until I attended the Close the Gap meeting, I haven’t seen a lot of women of color who have come from underserved communities talking about what it means to lead their communities as public servants. I hadn’t realized that when women lead, communities succeed. Women in positions of power tend to build more broad-based coalitions. They are more likely than men to act with urgency to shift the priorities to focus on health and human services, education and community infrastructure. This isn’t just true for women in elected office. Catalyst, a think tank dedicated to expanding opportunities for women in business, has found that companies that achieve diversity in their management and on their corporate boards obtain better financial results, on average, than other companies.

As I listened to Assemblymember Garcia’s story, I realized that I’m now educated, connected to resources, and knowledgeable about public policy. I have something to give. Maybe I will consider running for office after all! And maybe you know someone who should run too. Check out Close the Gap CA to learn more.

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