Nancy Pelosi

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, from left, talks with Democratic U.S. Reps. Janice Hahn of San Pedro, Lucille Roybal-Allard of Downey and Marcy Kaptur of Ohio on the steps of the Capitol. (Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call)

Phil Willon
April 13, 2016

The calls to Encino attorney Janice Kamenir-Reznik came every few weeks, pleading for her to run for the California state Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Fran Pavley.

Pavley, champion of California’s groundbreaking efforts to curtail carbon emissions and one of the most influential women at the Capitol, was being forced out because of term limits. With the number of female state legislators already on the decline, Kamenir-Reznik was being pressured to run and help stem the losses.

She resisted, mostly because of her commitments to the nonprofit she cofounded.

“Then I thought, we keep talking about the need for women in power,” said Kamenir-Reznik, 64, who finally relented and filed to run for the seat earlier this year. “If I’m not willing to do it, then how could I expect other people to do it. We have to have role models for young women.”

Though the United States could make history this year by electing the nation’s first female president, and two Democratic women are the front-runners in the race to succeed California’s retiring U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, women are expected to lose ground in both the state’s congressional delegation and legislature in 2016.

Today, 25.8% of California’s 120 legislators are women, down from a peak of 30.8% in 2006. More than a third of the 31 women in the state Assembly and Senate are leaving office this year because of term limits or personal reasons, threatening to deplete representation further in a state where an estimated 50.8% of the population is female.

“For me it’s a little bit disheartening. I think breaking even is the best we can hope to get,” said Assemblywomen Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), vice chair of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus. “Clearly, the regular political system is not working for us.”

In California’s 53 member congressional delegation, three of the 19 female representatives are leaving office: Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) is retiring, Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro) is running for Los Angeles County supervisor and Loretta Sanchez (D-Santa Ana) gave up her district to seek the Senate seat.

Odds are high that at least two will be replaced by men. That appears to be a near certainty in Sanchez’s heavily Democratic district in Orange County, where the two front-runners are former Democratic state Sens. Lou Correa and Joe Dunn.

The challenges faced by female candidates have become glaringly apparent in the race to replace Capps. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) chose to endorse Salud Carbajal, a member of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, instead of the only woman in the race — Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider. Both are Democrats.

“It is not just one thing; we want women, young people, minorities and the rest in the Congress,” Pelosi told The Times recently.

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