Women are beginning to prove that California politics are not simply a man’s job. August 27, 2015 marked a historic day for California’s legislative branch as State Senator Jean Fuller became the state’s first female senate leader. A Republican representing the sixteenth district of Bakersfield, Fuller was first elected to the California State Assembly in 2006. She moved on to become a member of the California State Senate in 2010 before being asked to become the Senate Minority Leader this August. Before becoming involved in legislature, Fuller served as an educator and school administrator.
Fuller’s new leadership position within the State Senate has additional importance pertaining to the role of women within California’s state government. As of August 27th, three out of the four state legislative leaders are women. Along with Fuller, this also includes Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and Assembly Minority Leader Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto).
Following her background as an educator and school district superintendent, education remains one of Fuller’s top priorities. In response to questions by the Berkeley Political Review, Fuller asserted that the Senate Republicans “prioritized students’ ability to receive a quality education, and we will continue to target this issue as a critical need… we’re striving to make sure K-12 and institutions of higher education have the resources they need to prepare students to get ahead.” Furthermore, Fuller explained how she plans to help UC graduates, saying, “we fought hard for California families, including stopping tuition increases for UC students. We held the line on tax hikes that would have threatened our state’s economic recovery, and we remain committed to making sure state expenditures are used as efficiently and effectively as possible. We want to see more well-paying jobs created in this state for young people like UC graduates, and we know employers can’t focus on job creation if they’re burdened with ever-increasing taxes.”
On October 2nd, Governor Brown signed SB110 into law. Authored by Fuller, it is her first piece of legislation as Senate Republican Leader. According to Fuller, SB110 “will provide needed state funding to match the federal dollars secured to modernize schools serving military families throughout California. The federal funds are set aside to repair, upgrade, and replace inadequate public school facilities located near military bases.” The bill passed through both the assembly and senate without any opposition. Fuller has also been a strong voice for female empowerment throughout the state. In February, she authored Senate Concurrent Resolution 9, which promoted California Girls and Women in Sports Week.
Though 75% of California’s legislative leaders are women, the state still has a long way to go before women can reach representative equality. Only 25.8% of California’s legislative branch is comprised of women even though women make up half of California’s population. This gap is even more apparent for minority women. According to a study by the Leadership California Institute released in 2014, only 14% of female officials are Latina, while Asian and African American women are comprised of 3% each. This racial gap is demonstrated by the fact that California’s three women legislative leaders are all white. Additionally, although California is lauded as one of the most progressive states, its percentage of women in the legislative branch is only 1.4% higher than the state average at 24.4%. California’s percentage of women in the legislative branch is far below that of Arizona (35.6%), Colorado (42%), Illinois (31.1%), and Vermont (40.6%). However, all of these statistics are higher than the national average. Women make up only 19.3% of the United States House of Representatives and 20% of the Senate.
Fuller has been particularly involved in generating greater female participation in government. She employs a total of ten female staff members in her Capitol and District offices. These ten women have positions such as Caucus Chief of Staff, Deputy Chief of Staff, press secretary, and legislative aide.
Although women have proven to be effective leaders of California, they still have a long path ahead to achieving political equality in the state government. Hopefully, Fuller’s advancement in the California legislative branch will provide a window into the future of greater female participation in California’s leadership by showing how an educator from Bakersfield can rise to one of the highest positions in California government.