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California trails other states in women elected to public office

California trails other states in women elected to public office
California trails other states in women elected to public office 02:51

SAN FRANCISCO -- Despite being one of the first states to legalize women's rights to vote in 1911, new statistics show California has fallen behind 22 states in electing women to public office.

For Catharine Baker, her path to politics started with her family.

"I was seeing the results of the budget strains on our classrooms and my kids, the principal pointed me to every committee," Baker told KPIX 5. "When I saw these problems, I said 'What committee haven't you put me on to solve these issues?' and he said 'There isn't one, there's nothing you can do about it.'"

But she did do something about it. In 2014 she defeated Dublin City Councilman Tim Sbranti to serve as the state assemblyperson for District 16.

Like so many women in politics she also faced biases that her male counterparts didn't, dodging questions about her appearance and children, rather than the issues at hand.

"I remember sitting down with a local male mayor who actually said to me, 'You have young children, don't you want to be at home with your kids?' and my opponent's wife just had a baby and I don't know if that was a subject of conversation," said Baker.

Every border state to California has a higher percentage of females elected to office, including notorious battleground states like Arizona and Nevada.

"We're 50% of the population and in some careers or geographies well over 50% and if you want to solve problems and improve lives you have to have the voices of a large part of your population there that share experience," Baker continued. "The solutions to our problems are more complete and long-lasting if women are in the room and at the table."

Over the last 22 years, California has stayed around the same level in electing women to office - roughly 24-to-33% since 2000, according to research by Rutgers University - something Susannah Delano, executive director at Close the Gap CA, says should be increasing.

"One main reason why we're not doing better is because we're not running in big enough numbers," Delano told KPIX 5. "When women run, women win." 

But it's not all bad news. Delano says that 2024 is ripe with opportunity for more women to run and win electable positions, and she already has candidates lined up to do just that.

"The legislature this year turned over about 30% and in '24 it will turn over at least another 20% but we're bracing for a lot of movement at the congressional level which is always a domino effect so it's going to be a really big year," said Delano.

For Baker, she says women in elected office bring a unique set of skills and should be more broadly represented in politics. She has some advice for anyone interested in running a successful campaign: "Do not talk yourself out of it and do not talk someone else out of doing it."

Baker continued, "You'll be amazed at what you can do."

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