When Tina Smith takes the oath of office Wednesday to become Minnesota’s newest senator, she will become the 22nd woman to serve in the current U.S. Senate — a record-breaking milestone.
Smith, previously Minnesota’s lieutenant governor, was appointed to serve as her state’s senator following the resignation of Al Franken, who became embroiled in controversy after several women came forward with sexual harassment allegations against him. In his resignation speech, Franken alluded to wanting a woman to replace him, telling the Senate, “Minnesotans deserve a senator who can focus with all her energy on addressing the challenges they face every day.”
“Given what’s happened in the current moment, the issue of sexual assault …it’s just making all of this stand out even more. To see a woman step up and take the place of a man thats been accused and is resigning because of his own history with sexual harassment,” said Jean Sinzdak, associate director at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
Sinzdak noted that the number of women serving in the Senate are still not where she wants them to be — which would be 50-50 representation — but highlighted the progress that has been made over the past decade.
“Ten years ago, we were at 16 [women in the Senate] and even 20 years ago we had fewer than 10 women serving in the Senate,” she said. “We would like to be a lot closer to parity, but it is a pretty rapid number of women entering the Senate in the last couple of decades.”
Smith will join Amy Klobuchar in the Senate, making Minnesota the fourth state to be represented by two female senators. Three other states — California, Washington and New Hampshire — in the current Senate have two female Senators, but this is a first for Minnesota.
The number of Senate women had previously reached a record high in January of 2017 when four women senators — Illinois’ Tammy Duckworth, Nevada’s Catherine Cortez-Masto, California’s Kamala Harris and New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan — were sworn in.
There is a possibility this current record of female Senators could be fleeting. Twelve are up for reelection in 2018, including Smith whose race is currently considered a toss-up.
But Sinzdak said she is confident women will continue to smash electoral records — both in the Senate and beyond — noting that a record of women have expressed interest in running for office this cycle.
“It could be very easily a record breaking year for women all over the country in all types of elections,” she said.