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WA Legislators Not as Diverse as Washingtonians

Washington legislators may not fully represent their constituents in terms of demographics, but they'll head back to Olympia in January nonetheless. (Bluedisk/English Wikipedia)
Washington legislators may not fully represent their constituents in terms of demographics, but they'll head back to Olympia in January nonetheless. (Bluedisk/English Wikipedia)
December 17, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. – How well do your representatives represent you?

The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Stateline series examined the makeup of every state legislature in terms of gender, race and occupation – and found none aligns very well with the demographics of the people it represents.

The Stateline project says in Olympia, women held 40 percent of legislative seats in 2001, but today, it's 33 percent.

Stateline editor Jeffrey Stinson says that's still better than the national average.

"The number of women who are serving in state capitols has plateaued over the last decade,” he states. “Women now only have about 25 percent – now that's far greater than it was 50 years ago – but it's plateaued, even as the percent of women in population has grown."

The Stateline research also found that the ethnic makeup at the Capitol doesn't reflect Washington's population. The state is 12 percent Hispanic and 4 percent African American, with only 1 percent of each in the Legislature.

And Washington is 8 percent Asian, while the legislature is only 4 percent Asian American.

To Ann Murphy, president of the League of Women Voters of Washington, the findings confirm one big factor that makes a difference in who runs for office.

"It costs a lot of money to mount campaigns,” she states. “So, one of the things the League is interested in, is public financing of campaigns, so that candidates don't have to necessarily have deep pockets or lots of friends with deep pockets. It will help level the playing field."

Murphy says also look for the Washington Voting Rights Act to resurface in the next Legislature.

"What it will do is allow local jurisdictions, such as your city councils or county commissioners, to create their districts so there is that balance of making the districts representative of the population," she explains.

Despite lengthy court battles, Murphy notes that Yakima's adoption of the new system, instead of electing city council members at large, has meant higher voter turnout and the election of the city's first Hispanic council members there.


Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA