Women Make Some Gains In Illinois Elections
This week’s election was expected to bring a second “Year of the Woman” to American politics.
After Tuesday, here’s what that looks like in Illinois: The state’s congressional delegation added one woman, and there will be at least one, maybe up to three, more women serving in Springfield come January.
More women ran for seats in the statehouse than in previous elections. But with more than a dozen women retiring or leaving the legislature this term and Democratic women winning some seats held by Republican women, their numbers will be about the same starting the 2019 session.
Meanwhile, Democratic women helped their party strengthen its majority in the Illinois legislature.
Democrat Lauren Underwood unseated Republican incumbent Randy Hultgren to serve parts of the Chicago suburbs in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Underwood is the first woman and the first African American to represent the district. Borrowing from Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to serve in Congress, Underwood told the crowd at her election party she is “unbought and unbossed.”
“I aspire to be a bold representative for this community, someone who is wholly responsive and accountable to her constituents, unbought and unbossed,” said Underwood.
Jean Sinzdak — associate director of the nonpartisan Center for American Women and Politics — says Tuesday’s election saw a number of firsts.
“Voters in places where that happened were really hungry for a different sort of candidate,” she said. “For someone who was not the quote un-quote typical elected official, which has historically been older and white and male.”
Illinois also will also have its first African-American woman as lieutenant governor, Juliana Stratton.
Red to Blue
At least six female Democrats won in Republican-held districts in the Chicago suburbs. That number could go up, as some races are still too close to call.
By flipping these districts, Democrats will return to having a supermajority in the Illinois House. In the Senate, Democrats added to their existing supermajority.
Sinzdak says Democratic women flipping districts is a trend she saw throughout the country.
“The messages [Democratic women] put out have resonated with them and caused them to switch their votes,” she said.
A mid-term swing against the party in power, Republicans, and changing demographics in the suburbs also contributed to Democrats’ success.
Joyce Mason, a Democrat from Gurnee, beat Republican incumbent state Rep. Sheri Jesiel.
The district covers the northeast corner of the state and sits within the congressional district Underwood just won. Mason says she went through a candidate training with Underwood a year ago, and was excited to work with her on health care.
Mason, who served on the school board, says she talked about the harm of the budget impasse, and her support for gun control and women’s reproductive rights during the campaign.
“A lot of people told me [the district] was unwinnable – to tone down our messages on social issues,” she said. “I didn’t. I was true to what I thought, and the district was ready.”
Sinzdak says nationwide women running for office ignored traditional advice of downplaying the fact that they were mothers or had kids at home.
For Mason, it was a key theme of her campaign; she called herself a “mom on a mission.”
Sinzdak says that’s good news for future elections.
“What that means long-term is that it might open the playing field for more women and other newcomers to the political process to not feel like they had to fit a certain mold,” she said.