Progress towards Gender Parity on Pause in Mississippi
An analysis of the 2023 Mississippi primary election
It’s been 99 years since the first women were elected to the Mississippi Legislature, yet the state continues to lag precipitously behind others at all levels:
Mississippi ranks 48th in the nation for women’s representation in the state legislature
Only one statewide elected official is a woman
The state has only ever sent one woman to Congress
Mississippi held primary elections on Tuesday, August 8, 2023. Given the limited number of women who won their primaries and are advancing to the general, as well as the political landscape, it is unlikely the number of women serving will increase substantially, if at all.
The low number of women running for and serving in elected office in Mississippi, can be attributed to several structural and systemic factors, including but not limited to sexism, racism, and classism. Given Mississippi's deeply entrenched history of oppression, achieving gender parity is a long-term proposition.
At the current rate, it is projected that the state will not achieve gender parity until 2160—137 years! In the last three years, The Ascend Fund invested over $500,000 in the state to accelerate the pace of change with the goal of reaching gender parity by 2050.
Support Our Efforts
When women are under-represented in our elected bodies, their experiences are excluded from policy making conversations, and subsequently their needs often go unaddressed. We believe those most deeply affected by the systemic inequities compounded by racism and sexism should be driving solutions.
For example, in Mississippi where women experience the highest poverty rate in the country—20% compared to 12.4% nationally—it is imperative to have the leadership of those women at the forefront, shaping economic policies that will have a transformative impact on the health of their communities for generations to come.
Eight statewide offices are up for election in 2023: governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer, auditor, agriculture commissioner, and insurance commissioner.
All offices, except for the attorney general’s office, are currently held by men, a trend that is unlikely to change given the candidates that advanced from the primary. Across the country, women hold 30% of statewide offices.
Only four women have ever served in statewide office in Mississippi, and the state is one of just 18 to never elect a woman governor. Increasing the number of women serving at lower levels of office in Mississippi, including in the state legislature, will help build a bench of candidates to run for higher office, ensuring more women in statewide executive office, like governor, as well as Congress.
Attorney General Office Guaranteed to be Held by Woman
Republican incumbent Lynn Fitch will face Democratic challenger Greta Kemp Martin in the general election.
Both women were unopposed in their respective party primaries. First elected in 2019, Fitch is the first woman in Mississippi to serve as attorney general.
She previously served as the state’s insurance commissioner from 2012-2020.
Opportunity to Elect First Black Woman to Statewide Office
Outside of the attorney general’s race, the only other woman to advance from the primary election was Addie Lee Green, the Democrat who is challenging the Republican incumbent, David McRae, for State Treasurer. While McRae is strongly favored to win, if Lee Green prevails, she will be the first Black woman elected statewide in Mississippi. McRae and Lee Green faced off four years ago in the treasurer’s race, and McRae won with a resounding 60% of the vote.
Women Lost in Primary for Lt. Governor and Ag Commissioner
The other two women who ran for statewide office both lost in the primary, including Republican Tiffany Longino who came in third in a three-way primary against incumbent Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann, and Bethany Hill who lost in the Democratic primary for Agriculture Commissioner to Robert Bradford. Brandford will face Republican incumbent Andy Gipson in the general election.
Women account for just 14.4% of the 174 members of the Mississippi Legislature, far below the national average of 32.7%. Women’s representation is unlikely to change significantly because of the 2023 general election. In the Mississippi Senate, we’re projecting a loss of one seat, and in the House of Representatives a pickup of three seats.
When women run, women win, so increasing the number of women in elected office, starts with getting more women to run for office. With support from The Ascend Fund, our four partners in Mississippi are working both individually and collectively to break down barriers that prevent women from running for office and winning, as well as empowering and training diverse women to run for the state legislature. Our vision is to build a truly reflective democracy – in which women and people of color are fully represented.
ACLU of Mississippi dedicates their time and resources to promoting and defending the civil liberties of citizens across the state through legislation, litigation, and advocacy.
Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable is an intergenerational, civic engagement network of black women and girls that focus on increasing voter participation, civic engagement, and champions equitable public policy on behalf of Black women and girls in Mississippi.
NEW Leadership Mississippi educates college women about the important role that politics plays in their lives and encourages them to become effective leaders in the political arena.
Women’s Foundation of Mississippi works to eliminate the social and economic barriers faced by women and girls throughout the state.
Women can learn more about running for office in Mississippi here: https://www.mswomenspoliticalhq.com/
Women currently hold 10 of the 52 seats (19%) in the Mississippi Senate. Of the 15 women (6D, 9R) who ran for the Mississippi Senate, 12 (4D, 8R) advanced from the primary. As a result, only 20% of candidates in the general election will be women.
At least eight women will serve in the senate in 2024. If all 12 women who advanced from the primary win in the general, it would set a new state record (11 women were elected to the senate in 2020). However,
it is likely that only nine women will be elected to the senate, including eight incumbents and one woman running for an open seat, and hold 17% of seats in the Senate in 2024.
Incumbent Women to Retain Seats in Senate
Of the 10 women who currently serve in the Senate, all eight incumbents (2D, 6R) who ran for reelection advanced from the primary. Seven of the eight incumbents face no opponent in the general election, securing their seat for another four years. Two incumbent senators, Barbara Blackmon (D-21) and Melanie Sojourner (R-37), did not seek reelection. Both seats will be represented by men, who are unopposed in the general election.
Black women are significantly underrepresented in the Mississippi Legislature. While they account for more than 20% of the population, they are less than 6% of state legislators. Rep. Alyce Clarke (D-69), Mississippi’s first Black woman legislator, is not seeking reelection this year, retiring after 38 years.
Women Challengers Defeated in Primary
All three women who challenged incumbents in the primary lost. Three women did advance from the primary and will challenge incumbents in the general election, but they are likely to lose.
Open Seats Dominated by Men
While there are seven open seats (no incumbent running) up for election in 2023, only one woman ran. In Senate District 42, Robin Robinson defeated her Republican opponent in the primary. Robinson is unopposed in the general.
In the Senate, there were no woman vs. woman races in the primary election, nor will there be in the general election. This is indicative of how few women are running for office.
State House of Representatives
Of the 53 women (21D, 12R, 2I) who ran for the Mississippi House of Representatives, at least 22 (12 D, 8R, 2I) advanced from the primary. Four women across three districts are headed to a runoff election on August 29, and one additional race remains too close to call, and will likely lead to a runoff.
It is likely that women will only hold 15% of seats in the House in 2024.
Women currently hold 15 of the 122 seats (13%) in the Mississippi House. In 2024, at least 16 women will serve in the House, including 15 women who face no challenger in the general election, and the winner of a woman v. woman race. An additional two women (1D, 1R) appear poised to win their races. Three women are likely to lose in the general election, and outcomes are uncertain in four races featuring women. While more women will be elected to the Mississippi House than currently serve, it is highly unlikely that the number will exceed the state record of 23 set in 2013.
Incumbent Women to Retain Seats in House: Of the 15 women who currently serve in the House, all 13 incumbents (5D, 6R, 2I) who ran for reelection advanced from the primary. Eleven of the 13 incumbents face no opponent in the general election, securing their seat for another four years. Two incumbents did not seek reelection to the House: Alyce Clarke (D-69) who is retiring and Robin Robinson (R-88) who ran for the Senate. Rep. Clarke is likely to be replaced by a woman, but a man will take over Rep. Robinson’s seat.
Most Women Challengers Defeated in Primary: Seven women challenged incumbents in their own party in the primary election. All but one, Timaka James-Jones (D-51), were defeated. An additional three women, all Democrats, advanced from the primary and will challenge incumbents in the general election, but they are likely to lose.
Women Challenged Half of Open Districts: While there are 20 open seats (no incumbent running) up for election in 2023, 11 women ran across seven districts. Four women won their races, two lost, four are headed to a runoff, and one race remains too close to call. Open seats present the best opportunity for
women to make gains in Mississippi.
Acknowledgement: This analysis is possible thanks to data provided by the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP). CAWP is the leading source of scholarly research and current data about women’s political participation in the United States. We encourage you to explore their website, Database of Women Elected Officials, and 2023 Election Watch.