Colorado Democratic State Representative Crisanta Duran sits at her desk on the opening day of the 2016 Colorado Legislature, at the Capitol, in Denver, Jan. 13, 2016.
Photo by Brennan Linsley/AP

Six women politicians shifting the local political landscape


Trailblazing is a common quality among the six newly announced nominees for EMILY’s List’s third annual Gabrielle Giffords Rising Star Award, including the first Latina and youngest woman to be elected the House Majority Leader in Colorado and the first Asian-American woman in the Michigan legislature. 

The award honors “an extraordinary woman serving in local or state office.” Five female state representatives and one female county clerk were nominated for this year’s award, according to a statement from EMILY’s List, the nation’s largest organization dedicated to raising money to support pro-choice Democratic women candidates. The group will be seeking input from the community to choose a winner by collecting votes online. The Rising Star Award recognizes a woman serving in office who not only breaks glass ceilings but also ”demonstrates the sort of commitment to community, dedication to women and families, and determination and civility that have been the highlights of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ career, in and out of office.”

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“Each leader has displayed a kind of fearlessness and dedication that has allowed them to have major impact on their respective communities. In such a history-making year for women in politics, EMILY’s List couldn’t be prouder to recognize the achievements of our local leaders who are standing up for women and families across the country,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, in a statement.

A majority of the nominees for the 2016 award have broken barriers within their legislatures. Rep. Stephanie Chang was the first Asian-American woman elected to the Michigan legislature in 2014. Chang has also focused on advancing earned paid sick leave bills and environmental justice issues, as well as starting a fellowship for high school girls of color.

Another nominee, Ohio state Rep. Kathleen Clyde was the youngest female member of the Ohio General Assembly when she was elected in 2010, and she has dedicated her time in the Ohio legislature to addressing voting rights issues.

In 2015, the percentage of women represented in Congress hit a record high with women comprising 19.4 percent of the House and Senate chambers. Of the 104 women serving in Congress in 2015, only 33 of them were women of color, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. The nominees for this year’s Giffords Rising Star Award continue to show the organization’s dedication to improving the representation of not just women, but specifically women of color in politics.

Colorado state Rep. Crisanta Duran is the first Latina and youngest woman to be elected to the House Majority Leader position in Colorado. Some issues Duran works to address involve workforce development, affordable housing, and immigrant rights.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania state Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky was the first woman elected to represent 161st House District in the state. Krueger-Braneky has also helped shift the state supreme court in Pennsylvania to a pro-choice majority during her time in office. 

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New Jersey state Rep. Shavonda Sumter, who has held her position since 2012, also continues the nominee trailblazing standard as a legislator with the most bills — 16 — signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie in 2014. Sumter also pushes for policies regarding an increase in minimum wage, ending discriminatory hiring practices and expanding accessibility to mental health treatment. 

The final nominee, Maggie Toulouse Oliver, the Bernalillo County Clerk in New Mexico, is currently running for secretary of state. Like EMILY’s List, Toulouse Oliver has also pushed to support pro-choice women running for political office by founding MaggiePAC in 2015 to help financially back such candidates.  

Previous winners of the Gabrielle Giffords Rising Star Award include Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams and most recently Boston City Councilwoman Ayanna Pressley. Abrams was the first woman to lead a party in the Georgia General Assembly and the first African-American lead in the Georgia House. Pressley also continued to break molds for African-American women by becoming the first woman of color to be elected to Boston City Council in its 100-year-plus history.