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Record 51 Women Serve In Minnesota House, But Room For Improvement For Representation, Experts Say

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -  Kamala Harris soared to new heights for women on Wednesday when she was sworn in as Vice President of the United States, representing a significant step for representation in government but also serving as a reminder of the challenges that still lie ahead.

Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman—the third woman to serve in the role as the highest-ranking member of the chamber and just one of seven like her with the Speaker's gavel—said she was taken back by her emotions watching Harris become the country's first woman to serve as vice president.

But she said she looks forward to the day where nothing about positions women hold, in government or elsewhere, is really that remarkable at all.

"It's nice to have the first female vice president and hopefully pretty soon it's no big whoop that the candidate who's successful happens to be a woman," Hortman said during an interview following the Inauguration.

A record 51 women serve in the Minnesota House of Representatives this year, but women are just shy of 36% of the entire legislative body, according to data compiled by the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University. This falls short of women's share—50.2%—of the state population.

Just one state, Nevada, has more women serving in the State Capitol than proportional to the state population. Minnesota is tied for 13th in the nation for women serving in the legislature, but women make up a majority of the state's Congressional delegation at six of the ten members.

Amy Koch, a Republican, agreed that it was a "good day" to see Harris—a Black, South Asian American woman—break a glass ceiling. After all, Koch knows the feeling as the first and only woman to serve as majority leader of the Minnesota Senate a decade ago.

"Breaking the glass ceiling can sometimes give you a little bump," Koch joked. "It doesn't matter what side of the aisle you're on, I'm just a big supporter in general of women getting into elected office."

Women have made significant strides from serving on city council to representing districts in Congress, said Dr. Kelly Winfrey, who studies the issue at the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University.

But still, she said, overall just 20-30% of women call state capitols or the U.S. capitol their offices. And 44 women have served as governor in 30 states; in Minnesota, only men have been the state's chief executive.

"There's still a long way to go to reach gender parity, but I think the more that we continue to move in that direction, the more women see themselves in those positions," Winfrey said.

She called Kamala Harris' new role as vice president "huge" in the effort to continue the momentum for women, particularly people of color, to run for elected office.

"It shows women that they can have those positions—that it is an attainable goal," Winfrey said. "Whether that is someone thinking about running for the presidency down the road or the school board, they can see themselves in positions of power at leadership."


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