These Women Of Color Are Changing Politics

by Hope Racine

Last year, the combined number of women in Congress exceeded 100 for the first time ever. It was a big step forward for female lawmakers everywhere, but it wasn't quite a victory. Why? Because female politicians are still vastly outnumbered by their colleagues, and the number of women of color in politics in particular is depressingly low.

It's no secret that politics, and Congress in particular, is a still largely on the old, white, male end of the spectrum. Which is why it's crucial to bring women, and particularly individuals of color and diverse backgrounds, into law-making positions. By diversifying our legislatures, we're helping to make our governing bodies actually resemble the constituents they're supposed to represent. And we get a wealth of new ideas, new experiences, and new concerns to focus on.

But it's a frustratingly slow battle, especially for women of color. It's estimated that by 2050, people of color will make up the majority of American women. But according to the Center For American Progress, women of color only make up 4 percent of governors, 5 percent of state legislators, and 2 percent of the mayors of the 100 largest American cities. And the ones we do have are seriously underappreciated. There are some amazing women who are changing the face of politics, and everyone should definitely know who they are.

1. Tulsi Gabbard

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When Tulsi Gabbard was just 21 years old, she was elected to the Hawaii state legislature, becoming the youngest woman ever elected to state office. In 2004, Gabbard chose not to run for re-election and instead volunteered to deploy to Iraq with the Army National Guard. After serving two tours in the Middle East, Gabbard was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012.

A Democrat, Gabbard became both the first American Samoan and the first (and only) practicing Hindu to serve in Congress. Since joining Congress, Gabbard has served as the vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee, founding the Future Caucus and sat on the House Armed Services Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee. Now 34, Gabbard is one of just two female combat veterans currently serving in Congress.

2. Alma Adams

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When Alma Adams and her fantastic hats were sworn in last November, she became the 100th female member of Congress. Adams had been the only woman in a seven-way race to fill the empty seat in the House of Representatives from her North Carolina district. And it's not surprising that she won: before being elected to Congress, Adams served in the North Carolina General Assembly for 20 years, in addition to being an art history professor.

Upon taking office, Adams made it clear what her priorities were — raising the minimum wage, lowering unemployment, and reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act. Since getting to work, Adams has also been working to improve care for veterans. In May, she successfully passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that recommended the Department of Defense studies and changes care for veterans that suffer from PTSD.

3. Tammy Duckworth


While serving as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot in Iraq, Tammy Duckworth was injured in the line of duty. The attack made Duckworth lose both of her legs, but in return, she received a Purple Heart and a steadfast mission to serve. After recovering, Duckworth devoted herself to advocating for veterans and improving their care.

Before being elected to the House of Representatives, Duckworth served as the assistant secretary of Veteran Affairs for three years. Since joining Congress, however, Duckworth has served on the Armed Services Committee and worked to advocate for improved VA processes and veteran care, including efforts to extend maternity leave for female military members. During the 2013 sequestration, Duckworth took a voluntary 8.4 percent pay cut to help mitigate debt. Currently, Duckworth has announced her intention to run for the Senate in 2016.

4. Susana Martinez

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A rapidly rising star in the Republican Party, Susana Martinez has made waves since becoming the first Hispanic woman to be elected governor, as well as becoming the first woman to win New Mexico's gubernatorial elections. Part of Martinez's appeal is her colorful past — as a teenager, she worked as an armed guard for her parent's security company, before going on to become a prominent attorney.

In 2013, TIME magazine named Martinez as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Despite the fact that New Mexico is a predominantly Democratic state, she has easily won both gubernatorial elections — probably thanks to her willingness to do things like debate entirely in Spanish. Martinez is definitely a name to watch out for as the 2016 election heats up, as her name will likely be mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate.

5. Joyce Beatty

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At age 65, Joyce Beatty has been taking Congress by storm. Currently in her second term as a representative from Ohio, Beatty made a lasting name for herself as a member of the Ohio General Assembly before joining Congress. Since then, she's slowly become a prevalent member of the Democratic Party.

Part of what makes Beatty so interesting is her willingness to reach across the aisle. She's co-sponsored several pieces of bipartisan legislation, such as a bill on sex trafficking that would make it easier to report child trafficking victims, as well a bill aimed at aiding NCAA players who suffered injuries linked to concussions.

This past September, Beatty proved to the nation that her first priority were the constituents that elected her. Despite pressure to vote in favor the Iran nuclear agreement, Beatty was a hold out, due to the high Jewish population in her district. Although she did eventually vote in favor, she made it clear that her decision wouldn't be made until she thoroughly heard from the voters that elected her.

6. Mia Love

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When Mia Love was elected to the House of Representatives last year, she became a historic first: in addition to being the first Haitian American representative, Love was also the first black Republican female elected to Congress. A child of Haitian immigrants, she was born in New York but was elected as a representative of Utah — a state with a black population of less than 1 percent. In addition, she's a dedicated member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Before being elected to Congress, Love served as a city councilwoman and mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, where she fought for the limited role of government. While she's still relatively new to Congress, Love serves a crucial role in diversifying a party that has historically been dominated by white men, and is helping to making the GOP more accessible to black voters — something it desperately needs. Love may be new to Congress, but she'll be rising quickly.

7. Grace Meng

When Grace Meng was running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012, she told The New York Times, "That's the one thing I probably don't like about politics — the focus on the individual. To me, it's more important to get it done, whether I get the credit for it or not." This is something that has echoed throughout the New York representative's time in Congress. Since being elected, Meng has sponsored and co-sponsored hundreds of bills involving subjects such as gun control, worker protection, and student loan reform.

Most recently, Meng is pushing her Child Performers Act, a bill that includes provisions such as limiting the amount of hours children can work, as well as requiring them to be paid in money, as opposed to goods. According to Vogue, if it passes, the bill will become the first Federal law to provide protection for children within these industries.

8. Robin Kelly

Since being elected as a U.S. representative from Illinois, Robin Kelly has become an outspoken advocate against gun violence. Kelly, who serviced in the Illinois House of Representatives before being elected to Congress, has been upfront about her desire to ban assault weapons and enact common sense gun control efforts.

Kelly's main goal is to have gun violence recognized as a public health problem. In 2014, Kelly released the first Congressional analysis on gun violence, and more recently introduced H.R. 224 — an act that would require the Surgeon General to submit an annual report to Congress on gun violence. In addition, Kelly seeks to prohibit concealed carry laws, as well as eliminating the gun show loophole.

9. Jaime Herrera Beutler

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Jaime Herrera Beutler, a representative from southwest Washington, has attracted more than a little national attention. At age 31, she was one of the youngest women to be elected to Congress, and as a Hispanic Republican politician, she showed herself willing to reach across party lines. Beutler received a firestorm of media attention after co-sponsoring a bill that would allow children on Medicaid to seek specialty treatment for complex medical conditions out of state. Although staunchly against the Affordable Care Act, Beutler's decision to co-sponsor the bill was inspired by her experiences with her own daughter, who was born with Potter's syndrome, a disease that characterized by lack of kidneys or amniotic fluid during the gestational period.

Earlier this year, Beutler almost faced censure from the Clark County Republican Party due to her "poor voting record," which, according to The Columbian, "established a pattern of voting with Democrats to increase spending, increase the debt and increase regulations." Beutler escaped the censure, however, and doesn't appear to have let it bother her or shake her conviction in her party. "I love being a young Hispanic mother who's a Republican, because it breaks through a lot of stereotypes," she told Marie Claire earlier this year.

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