The Texas Legislature is still dominated by male lawmakers. In fact, as it currently stands, men outnumber women by more than 2 to 1.
But that doesn’t mean that gains haven’t been made among female lawmakers. The 88th Legislature had the highest number of elected women in at least the last five sessions.
However, women who do hold elected statewide office are not distributed evenly between the parties. There are twice as many Democratic women in the Legislature as Republican women.
This is something the Texas Federation of Republican Women is hoping to change. Cat Parks, the former vice chair of the Texas GOP, said recruiting female candidates was one of her priorities within the party.
“The amount of interest that Republicans have started putting into bringing more women to the party and encouraging more women to run for office has greatly picked up since 2020,” she said. “As you can see, with the number of women that we were able to elect in 2022.”
Parks said that before she took on her role in the Texas Republican Party, there hadn’t been a concerted effort to reach out to potential women candidates.
“There had been no statewide effort to do recruitment, and the then-chairman, James Dickey, identified that that was a need,” she said. “Women and men running for office, they approach it completely differently. The average woman who runs for office has to be asked seven or eight times before she says yes; the average man, once. So it was really a matter of getting out and changing the message and reaching out to more of our capable women who we need to be out there fighting the battles for us.”
Parks said that, anecdotally from her experience, men and women approach their own qualifications differently.
“Having worked with candidates, I can tell you that when a woman thinks about running for office, typically she’s trying to decide if she’s qualified at every single level and every single point and really wants to understand what the qualifications of the needs are,” Parks said. “Whereas, interestingly enough, a man feels like, ‘absolutely, I’m good enough for it, and I’ll figure it out on the fly.’”
In Parks’ mind, it’s about finding qualified candidates, not recruiting women for the sake of doing so.
“I don’t think you have to put it in the juxtaposition of women versus men, but I can say that we all want better representation regardless of what side of the aisle you’re on,” she said. “I think for Republicans, it’s a basis of merit. It’s not a basis of identity politics. But what we did recognize was that there was more opportunity to go out and to find women who are particularly qualified to do it.
“And those recruitment efforts had really stalled over time. Attention had gone elsewhere, and we needed to go back to the source of women who are capable and intelligent, freedom loving, want limited government, want a better world for their children and better health care options.”
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There are training options for conservative women to run for office.
“That’s part of what started to change the narrative in 2019. For the first time, a big C3 organization called the Leadership Institute came to Texas, and they trained over 2,500 conservatives to run for office for the first time,” Parks said. “That had been the first training component that had been offered statewide in at least the previous decade.”
Parks said she recommends conservative women who are interested in politics step up and get involved.
“Here’s a fun fact: I got involved in Republican politics for the first time six years ago. So I was just, I like to say, just a stay-at-home mom, ranch wife running businesses from afar,” she said. “But I got involved. I ended up running our primary. We needed somebody to run the election.
“And then from there kept asking questions about how I could get involved or what needed to be improved upon. And it quickly led to me being a vice chair. I’m now president of a group that works on specifically targeting Hispanics and bringing more Hispanics to the Republican Party and helping Hispanics come to our side.”