HomeLearning Center ’Mom’ Legislators See Their Numbers and Influence Grow, But Barriers to Elected Office Remain

 ’Mom’ Legislators See Their Numbers and Influence Grow, But Barriers to Elected Office Remain

Originally published by States Newsroom for Stateline

For the second time while serving in the Nevada legislature, Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro gave birth last year. And again, she publicly pledged to continue full participation in her duties.

As the nation’s groundbreaker when it comes to working moms in a state capitol, Nevada made history in 2019 as the only female-majority legislative body in the U.S. Still, legislators like Cannizzaro acknowledge uncertainty before deciding to grow their families while serving, the Nevada Current reported.

“What does that look like? What does it mean to be in this building and pregnant? What does it mean if I have a 1½-year-old and have to leave a meeting to pick him up at daycare? Does that make me less able to fulfill my duties? There were questions that I had as I announced my first and second pregnancy,” Cannizzaro told the Current.

The number of women serving in state legislatures has more than quintupled since 1971, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University (CAWP). Nearly 33% of the 7,386 state legislative seats are occupied by 2,432 women, the center reported. Meanwhile, Vote Mama Foundation estimates 23% of lawmakers are moms.

“Things within the political ecosystem have changed to be more open to women,” said Kelly Dittmar, director of research at CAWP. “Having more women also begets more women.”

And there are visible signs of progress at statehouses across the country as the number of mom lawmakers grow.

In Georgia, where women state representatives did not have a bathroom near the House chamber until the 1970s, there is now a lactation pod on the first floor of the Capitol. And a freshman Republican lawmaker has brought her baby to the floor daily, but more notably, the baby was given an official House name tag — labeling him the “baby of the House’’ — so he would have floor privileges. Just two decades ago, such a move was frowned on by House leadership.

“We talk a lot up here about how representation matters, and I believe that to be true,” Georgia state Rep. Lauren Daniel, a Republican, said to her colleagues late last year.

“I hope as I stand here today, and every day, as the youngest female member of this body, that it shows any young girl in this state who may find herself pregnant that her life does not end when a new one begins,” said Daniel, who first became pregnant when she was 17 and is now mother to four.

Still, moms are struggling to get elected and remain in office. Beyond child care, there are myriad impediments. It takes money and an organized campaign infrastructure. As candidates, they are confronted with gender stereotypes that they often consider in executing their campaign strategy. And the time away from young children can be daunting.

Having run for office herself, Liuba Grechen Shirley said she sees why moms, especially moms of small children, are often missing from elected office. Grechen Shirley is the founder of Vote Mama, a political organization that seeks to increase the number of moms in office.

“If you are a mother with young children and you decide to step up and run, the first question you get asked is always ‘but who will watch your kids while you campaign?’” said Grechen Shirley, who ran for Congress in 2018 in New York’s 2nd Congressional District while wrangling her 1- and 3-year-old children on the campaign trail.

A run for the money

When it comes to fundraising, men dominate. A 2021 OpenSecrets report analyzing fundraising during open-seat House primary races in 2020 found white men candidates led the money race, though white women candidates maintained a significant advantage over women of color, raising three times as much as Black women in open-seat primaries, according to the report.  

Women donors also give less money overall than men, comprising around one-third of money contributed to state general office and legislative races nationwide from 2019 to 2022, according to a 2023 report by CAWP. At the individual state level, financial support from women donors ranged from 14% of donations in Nebraska state races, to 46% of contributions in Colorado.

That doesn’t sit right for Grechen Shirley.

Data from the Pew Research Center shows 85% of women will give birth and become mothers by the time they’re 45 years old. Vote Mama’s research arm, the Vote Mama Foundation, found that in 2022, 23% of state legislators were moms, and 5% had children under the age of 18.

On Capitol Hill, 37 of 541 lawmakers in 2022 were moms with children under 18, equal to 6.8% of the 118th Congress, according to Vote Mama Foundation. Put another way, there were three times as many men named John or Jon as there were moms of minor children serving.

Back to News