When Minnesota legislators are sworn in on Jan. 5, 72 women will be among their ranks — the highest number in state history.
It's a major milestone for women in a year when the nation celebrated the centennial of the 19th Amendment and elected Kamala Harris to become the first woman vice president.
In Minnesota, it also reverses a yearslong downward trajectory that started in 2007, when the Legislature hit its previous high watermark of 71 women office holders.
The new record high is up from 65 women who have served in St. Paul over the past two years. All told, 15 new women lawmakers and one woman returning to the Legislature after years away will head to the Capitol in January. Thirteen of the newly selected women are Democrats, while three are Republicans.
Minnesota is following a national upward trend of women serving in elected office. In 2021, women will hold 143 seats in Congress, breaking the 2019 record of 127. More women of color and more Republican women than ever before will be part of that group, including Rep.-elect Michelle Fischbach, who beat Democrat Collin Peterson to become the first woman to represent Minnesota's Seventh District.
And for the first time in history, women will hold more than 30% of seats in state legislatures across the nation, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
"We can certainly say for 2020 we continued this rise of women in American politics," said Jean Sinzdak, associate director of the center. "They stayed engaged. Record numbers ran again in 2020 and won again in 2020."
Within this historic class of women in Minnesota are individual history makers. Next year Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, will be the first woman and woman of color to chair the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein, DFL-New Brighton, will be the first Native American woman in the state Senate.
Julia Coleman, a 29-year-old Republican, will be the youngest woman to serve in the upper chamber, predominantly older and male throughout its 163-year history.
"Both sides are talking about 'what does the suburban woman want,' " said Coleman, a Chanhassen City Council member and mother with twins on the way. "It's important for someone who is, in fact, a suburban woman and all of her friends are suburban women, to be there and talking about what would make our lives better."
Come January, women will make up roughly 35% of the 201-seat Minnesota Legislature, putting the state at 14th nationwide for the number of women serving at state houses.
It's not parity or even representative of the state as a whole, but Sinzdak said it's progress after years of stagnation in women's numbers.
"We beat records that were just established in 2018; now I wonder what we'll see in 2022," she said. "When more women are serving and running for office, there's a role-model effect. Other women are getting engaged because we are changing perceptions of who can run and serve."
Briana Bierschbach • 612-673-4689