Voters usher in more diversity to statehouses

As the American population grows more diverse, U.S. public officeholders are following suit. American voters elected a number of diverse candidates at the state level in the 2016 election, including a female Somalian-American Muslim lawmaker in Minnesota and Wyoming’s first Navajo woman state senator.

The government is beginning to reflect that change at the national level, with about 1 in 5 members of Congress being a racial or ethnic minority.

Diversity among state officeholders hasn’t quite caught up. But a 2015 study says state lawmakers “reflect the wide variety of people they serve more closely than ever before.”

Some of the newly elected state lawmakers include:

  • Ilhan Omar, who will be the first Somalian-American Muslim female lawmaker from Minnesota. Omar, who wears a hijab, works as director of policy at Women Organizing Women Network, a group that advocates for immigrants to become engaged citizens and leaders. She was born in Somalia and lived for a time in a refugee camp in Kenya before moving to the United States as a young girl.

  • Affie Ellis, former assistant attorney general for Wyoming, who will be the first Navajo woman in the state senate. She has been an adjunct professor at the University of Wyoming and taught about federal Indian policy.
  • Yuh-Line Niou, who will become the first Asian-American assemblywoman in the New York State Legislature. Niou was born in Taiwan.
  • Attica Scott, the first black woman elected to the Kentucky legislature in 17 years.

“Me being the only one is not something we should celebrate, ” said Scott, who will be the only black woman in Kentucky’s 100-member House of Representatives.

“It’s important for people to see me in office and know it’s possible,” she added. “It’s showing what a civil society looks like.”

This article was written by freelance writer Kathleen Murphy.