Women need to be more aggressive about seizing leadership roles in the Texas Legislature and state government, according to a panel of Texas politicians speaking at the Texas Medical Association 2019 Advocacy Retreat on Saturday.
The number of women in the Texas House of Representatives increased from 28 in 2018 to 34 in 2019, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Despite this increase, women were barely represented on major House committees in the 2019 legislative session, says Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin). For instance, the agenda-setting Calendars committee and the important State Affairs committee had only one female member each.
"So I decided that women in these male-dominated spaces have a responsibility [to be] competitive with our male colleagues – to say, ‘No, I want this,’" she said. "And maybe it's uncomfortable, maybe it's a lot of work. … I think we need to move into spaces and reach for leadership opportunities that may be uncomfortable."
Representative Hinojosa was joined on the panel by Reps. Sarah Davis (R-West University Place), Celia Israel (D-Austin), Julie Johnson (D-Carrollton), and Geanie Morrison (R-Victoria). Texas Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick, a Republican, also sat on the panel.
Representative Johnson said "we need a female speaker of the House" no matter which party controls that body in the 2021 legislative session.
"Regardless if the Democrats win control or the Republicans hold, we have very competent Republican women, exceedingly competent Democratic women to be the next speaker of the House," she said.
Representative Davis said many women feel as she did when she started her career as a lawyer – that if she just did a good job she would be rewarded with advancement.
"Ladies, we know now that's not how it works," she said. "My philosophy changed even before I got to the Legislature, and I adopted this [attitude] of, 'You're not going to get what you don't ask for.'"
That approach has helped her get leadership positions through which she has influenced policy, she says.
Male representatives in the House tend to value female members because the women usually are very well-prepared, Representative Morrison says.
"I have worked with all of these women from the Texas House, and I will tell you each and every one is always prepared for committees and for the floor," she said. "Chairing a committee with men, I have never felt that I did not have their respect because they know you're going to be very organized, you're going to be very prepared, and you're going to help that committee make the right decisions."
Commissioner Craddick encouraged more grassroots political efforts. While it's good for TMA members to have an advocacy team to speak for them, politicians at all levels need to hear directly from ordinary physicians about their concerns and ideas they might have for new laws or policies, she says.
"Continue to be engaged in your community and bring somebody with you next time," she said. "Where's the next generation we're mentoring? Really what we need is for the younger generation to be involved as well.”