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How Much Does The Legislature Look Like California?

A black and white image of the Sacramento state capitol building with a large, columned dome structure leading up to a white parapet at its peak sits to the right of the photo, while a semi-circle rainbow made of red, orange, yellow, green, and blue dots arches across the full image.
(Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr.
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The California Legislature that reconvenes today is the most diverse ever: It includes a record number of women, occupying 50 of 120 seats, with one still being contested. It also includes an all-time high of Latino legislators, as well as lawmakers who openly identify as LGBTQ. And it now includes its first Muslim and Sikh members.

But how representative are legislators of California as a whole?

The proportion of women, Latinos and Asian Americans still isn’t at parity with their share of the state’s population. Take a deeper look with the CalMatters interactive below.

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And how much does representation matter, anyway?

Advocacy groups and legislators, themselves, point to issues that have received and will receive more attention at the state Capitol, including reproductive health and pay equity, and bills that became law. Last session, for instance, the LGBTQ caucus successfully pushed landmark legislation to make California a refuge for transgender health care.

Lawmakers also often vote on issues affecting families. Of the 98 legislators who answered the question in a CalMatters survey, 44 said they had children under 18 years old. Some female legislators with young children have said to make it easier to serve, there needs to be more flexibility in hours and an increase in salary.

And lawmakers will again try to tackle California’s affordable housing and homelessness crises — intertwined challenges that have a big impact on cost of living and quality of life. So a few Assembly Democrats have created a new renters’ caucus. Of the 93 legislators who replied in the survey, only 8 said they are tenants, while all the others said they are homeowners and a few said they are also landlords. 

How did the historic levels of diversity happen?

There was a lot of turnover, including legislators resigning or seeking higher office, which created open seats without incumbents and more opportunity for political newcomers. One-fourth of members are entirely new to the Legislature.

And there was also once-a-decade redrawing of electoral maps that carved out some more competitive districts. For the second time in California’s history, redistricting was done by an independent commission. In addition to not protecting incumbents, as was historically done by the California Legislature, the commission prioritized “communities of interest,” including ethnic minorities.

In the Central Valley, for example, the Jakara Movement — a community organization advocating for Punjabi Sikhs — actively gave input during the months-long mapping process. Its efforts were apparently a success: Jasmeet Bains, California’s first Sikh lawmaker, was elected to the Assembly.

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Statewide, the number of majority Latino districts increased significantly, according to the Public Policy Institute of California — nearly matching the share of the Latino voting-eligible population in the state.

“A redistricting process that involves public inputs is likely to lead to increased representation of more racially and ethnically diverse candidates,” said Christian Grose, professor of political science and public policy at the University of Southern California.

What questions do you have about Southern California?

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