Reno Gazette Journal: Meet the 12 women who turned the Nevada Legislature into the first-ever female-majority
By James DeHaven, Siobhan McAndrew and Jason Bean
Expect big things from Nevada's — and the nation’s — first female-majority state Legislature.
That’s according to the 12 female freshman lawmakers who helped seal the historic feat. Nine of that group picked up a seat formerly held by a male in November’s midterm elections. Three others were appointed to fill vacancies created after the polls closed.
They’re a diverse bunch, ranging in age from 23 to 67 and represent stops all along the political spectrum.
Professionally, they run the gamut from teachers and lawyers, to Realtors, engineers and counselors.
Assemblywoman Selena Torres, D-Las Vegas leaves a high school teaching job in Clark County. She is the second-youngest lawmaker to serve in the Legislature having beat out Republican Stephen Sedlmeyer with 66 percent of the vote for a seat previously held by a man.
The 23-year-old University of Nevada, Reno graduate said she has set up a long term substitute to teach her class and will be giving information from this historic session as lessons for her students.
"I think showing them what I am doing is a good lesson," she said.
Torres, just one of 32 woman who hold 50.8 percent of the state's 63 legislative seats, is eager to start.
"I'm ready to make a difference."
Newly elected and veteran lawmakers who will make history on Feb. 4 when the session official starts say it's something special.
"I think we all know the magnitude of this," said Shea Backus, who only by 135 votes defeated incumbent Jim Marchant for seat in the assembly. Backus, who is from Las Vegas campaigned on making sure Nevada children benefit from a solid education, health care for all and making sure the state thrives from economic growth and clean energy.
"I know to be a part of this is significant," said Heidi Gansert, who said she will welcome the women to the legislature.
She was first female Republican leader in the history of Nevada's legislature.
She and others have helped pave the way. The three-term assemblywoman, Senator and former chief of staff to Gov. Brian Sandoval was one of many who made being being a woman in politics in Nevada expected.
And listen to them talk, they are eager for more women to join them.
"Yes, woman should be running for office," said State Sen. Melanie Scheible, D-Las Vegas. The Reno High School graduate was one of the first attorneys to charge a "revenge porn" case under a statute passed by the 2015 Legislature.
The Nevada law makes it a crime to post and distribute intimate photos or videos of another person without their knowledge or consent.
And while they have diverse backgrounds,
Scheible and the 11 freshmen women have one big thing in common. None had ever held elected office. If one of the 12 had picked a different year to take up politics, history might’ve been different.
That fact wasn’t lost on any of those interviewed by the Reno Gazette Journal.
Here’s what they had to say about what the record-breaking female majority means for Nevada’s future:
State Sen. Dallas Harris, D-Las Vegas
“If I have anything to say about it, the first female majority is going to have a huge impact on the state of Nevada, in a positive way,” said Harris, an attorney with the Public Utilities Commission who was appointed to fill the seat vacated by newly elected Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford, “by raising the level of discourse, collaborating and getting things done, as women are known to do.”
— State Sen. Dallas Harris, D-Las Vegas
State Sen. Melanie Scheible, D-Las Vegas
“I think having a female majority is about changing the status quo and changing what normal is to us,” said Scheible, a deputy district attorney in Clark County. She is also a Reno High graduate. “For so many people, this is the first time they’ve voted. They elected mostly women to the Legislature.
“That says that we’re raising a whole new generation of new voters, new activists, new leaders, who think of men and women as equals. … That can only be a good thing moving forward.”
— State Sen. Melanie Scheible, D-Las Vegas
Selena Torres, D-Las Vegas
“I think it’s going to have multiple impacts,” said Torres, 23, a school teacher and the second-youngest lawmaker ever to serve in the Legislature. “We’re showing women across the state that we can run and we can win and we can legislate.
“We come with a diverse perspective. There’s a lot of different issues that affect our population that don’t affect men.”
— Assemblywoman Selena Torres, D-Las Vegas
Alexis Hansen, R-Sparks
“Having women’s insight, I think, into any issue is always an advantage,” said Hansen, a Realtor and the wife of longtime Sparks lawmaker Ira Hansen. “Hopefully, with such a diverse body of women in the Nevada Legislature, all of us will have an opportunity to be heard and taken seriously. … I think that benefits Nevada as a whole.”
— Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen, R-Sparks
Sarah Peters, D-Reno
“We have different perspectives and perceptions and experiences that we bring into the way we legislate,” said Peters, an environmental engineer. “We talk about equity. We talk about unintended consequences. Those are conversations women have in a different way than men.”
— Assemblywoman Sarah Peters, D-Reno
Shea Backus, D-Las Vegas
“I think women, naturally, are communicators and problem-solvers,” said Backus, a lawyer and Las Vegas native. “So I think the laws that we enact out of the session will be well-thought-through. They’ll take a lot of interests into consideration.”
— Assemblywoman Shea Backus, D-Las Vegas
Connie Munk, D-Las Vegas
“I think it’s going to have a great impact,” said Munk, a retired addiction counselor. “Not only for female issues but also for health issues, pre-existing condition issues. I think women are going to be able to work across the aisle.
“We’re moms, grandmothers. We’ve learned how to juggle several things.”
— Assemblywoman Connie Munk, D-Las Vegas
Melissa Hardy, R-Henderson
“I think that women, overall, have a different perspective,” said Hardy, a businesswoman and the daughter of a former state lawmaker. “I think we bring a unique voice — as mothers, as business owners, as daughters. So I think that’s going to have a major effect in how legislation goes forward and how we work with our colleagues.”
— Assemblywoman Melissa Hardy, R-Henderson
Susan Martinez, D-Las Vegas
“I believe the impact we can make is that our ideas can finally be brought forward,” said Martinez, a guest services agent and longtime shop steward with Teamsters Local 986. “For many years, it’s been controlled by men. … Now we finally get to make those decisions.”
— Assemblywoman Susan Martinez, D-Las Vegas
Rochelle Nguyen, D-Las Vegas
“I think it will have a great impact,” said Nguyen, an attorney named to fill the vacancy created by ex-Assemblyman Chris Brook’s appointment to the state Senate. “I think it will bring a more diverse, unique perspective to the table. I think it’ll be important to have that voice at the table, creating good law that is representative of our community.”
— Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen, D-Las Vegas
Michelle Gorelow, D-Las Vegas
“I think it brings some fresh ideas to the state Legislature and more voices,” said Gorelow, an executive at the nonprofit Foundation for Positively Kids. “Not just Vegas voices or Reno voices, but voices throughout the entire state.”
— Assemblywoman Michelle Gorelow, D-Las Vegas
Bea Duran, D-Las Vegas
“I think it will open up eyes in other states,” said Duran, a grievance specialist with the politically powerful Culinary Union Local 226. She was appointed to fill the seat ditched by ex-Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz. “I think our state will reconsider women's opinions, and move things forward in a positive way.”
— Assemblywoman Bea Duran, D-Las Vegas