Nevada could become the first state in the nation to elect a female-majority Legislature on Tuesday. But the odds are long.
A bevy of stories from national media outlets over the last few months have proclaimed “Nevada women on path to break major political barrier” and that Nevada “is poised to make history in November,” but those stories have tended to ignore or gloss over the series of improbable events that would need to occur in order to make a female majority in both houses a reality. Candidates, too, have proclaimed the probability of a female-majority Legislature without noting how much of a longshot it is.
“If we absolutely do well and if all of you vote, we will have a majority female legislature, the first in the country,” said Kate Marshall, the Democratic former state treasurer who is running for lieutenant governor, at a rally with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders late last month.
In general, Democrats have been more vocal than Republicans on the campaign trail in talking about the possibility of a female-majority Legislature, though there are a handful of Republican women who are in Legislature or running this year — incumbents Heidi Gansert in the Senate and Jill Tolles and Lisa Krasner in the Assembly and a handful of candidates. Already, Nevada has one of the highest percentages of women serving in the Legislature of any state, 38 percent, only bested by Arizona and Vermont at 40 percent.
Cresting 50 percent female representation in the Assembly this year is more plausible than it is in the Senate. Seventeen women will likely secure seats in the Assembly, either because they are the only candidate running in the race or because their party has such an overwhelming voter registration advantage in their district that it would be unlikely for them to lose. By the same logic, men are expected to easily win 17 seats in the Assembly.
That leaves eight seats that — depending on who turns out on Election Day — could go either to men or women:
- Assembly District 2: Jennie Sherwood, a Democrat, faces off against John Hambrick, the Republican incumbent
- Assembly District 4: Connie Munk, a Democrat, faces off against Richard McArthur, the Republican incumbent
- Assembly District 21: Cherlyn Arrington, a Republican, faces off against Ozzie Fumo, the Democratic incumbent
- Assembly District 29: Lesley Cohen, the Democratic incumbent, faces off against Stephen Silberkraus, a former Republican assemblyman
- Assembly District 31: Jill Dickman, a former Republican assemblywoman, faces off against Skip Daly, the Democratic incumbent
- Assembly District 35: Michelle Gorelow, a Democrat, faces off against David Schoen, a Republican
- Assembly District 37: Shea Backus, a Democrat, faces off against Jim Marchant, the Republican incumbent
- Assembly District 41: Sandra Jauregui, the Democratic incumbent, faces off against Paris Wade, a Republican
After early voting, six of those seats are leaning heavily in the favor of one candidate: Hambrick and Fumo appear likely to win their races in AD2 and AD21, while Cohen, Dickman, Gorelow and Jauregui appear poised for victory in AD29, AD31, AD35, and AD41. If those trends hold consistent on Election Day, there will be at least 19 men and 21 women in the Assembly, meaning either Munk or Backus needs to win in their close races in order to secure a female majority.
There is, technically, one more way that women could gain an additional seat in the Assembly. Brothel owner Dennis Hof, who passed away last month, will still appear on the ballot as a Republican candidate for Assembly District 36 against Democrat Lesia Romanov, who is unlikely to win in a district where Republicans dominate Democrats by a 19 percentage point margin. If Hof wins, it will be up to commissioners in the three counties the district covers to appoint his replacement, who could be a woman.
The outlook for a female majority in the Senate is much dimmer. For starters, there are only four seats that feature both men and women. Two of those seats lean so heavily Republican that the Democratic women running in them, Wendy Boszak and Tina Davis-Hersey, face little chance of success.
Boszak, running against Republican Assemblyman Ira Hansen to represent SD14, would need to overcome a 16 percentage point Republican voter registration advantage, a nearly impossible feat. Davis-Hersey, running against incumbent Republican Ben Kieckhefer in SD16, would need to overcome the Republicans' 14 percentage point advantage.
Then there is Senate District 8, one of the three Senate districts in play this year, where the Republican and Democratic candidates are both women, Valerie Weber and Marilyn Dondero-Loop respectively. They face a male challenger in nonpartisan candidate Garrett LeDuff, but he is unlikely to win.
That means that, barring an upset, there will be eight women and 12 men in the Senate. The outcome of Senate District 20 — a close race between Democrat Julie Pazina and Republican Keith Pickard — will determine whether men or women pick up an additional seat. At best, women will make up nine members of the Senate.
As with the Assembly, there is one more possibility for women to capture a majority in the Senate. Two male Democratic state senators are running for other offices this year — Aaron Ford for attorney general and Tick Segerblom for Clark County commissioner. If Pazina, Ford and Segerblom win, and two women are appointed to fill Ford’s and Segerblom’s seats, women could make up 11 members in the Senate, a majority.
Updated at 11-5-18 at 9:07 a.m. to correct that there will likely be at least 19 men and 21 women in the Assembly and that one more woman needs to win in order to assure a female majority in that chamber.