More than 1 million women reside in Bexar County, but the county’s 10-member delegation of state representatives included only one woman prior to the 2016 election cycle. After that election, three new female members from the county were elected to the Texas House of Representatives.

For State Reps. Ina MinjarezDiana Arévalo, and Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, all San Antonio Democrats, deciding to throw their hats into the political ring wasn’t an easy choice. But through the backing of Annie’s List, a political action committee that works to support and elect progressive, pro-choice women in Texas, they found the training, support, and guidance needed to forge a path to a viable campaign.

“I think a lot of women who are either mothers, have careers, or are the breadwinners of the family wonder how they manage doing that and running for office,” Minjarez told the Rivard Report. “It’s also the fear of putting yourself out there front and center in the public eye. Annie’s List has a great program in place to start exposing women to what it’s like to run for office and what are the highs and the lows.”

This year, the organization began endorsing candidates in local races, said Annie’s List Executive Director Patsy Woods Martin. For the San Antonio City Council races in the May 2017 election, Annie’s List backed Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) in her successful re-election bid, as well as District 6 candidate Melissa Cabello Havrda, who lost to Greg Brockhouse.

City Council District 6 candidate Melissa Cabello Havrda speaks at a Get Out the Vote rally at her campaign headquarters.
Melissa Cabello Havrda, who lost her race to represent San Antonio’s City Council District 6, speaks at a Get Out the Vote rally at her campaign headquarters in May 2017. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Although Havrda, a first-time candidate and lawyer specializing in disability rights, was not successful this time around, Martin said she’s confident the experience Havrda gained will help her in the future if she decides to run for public office again.

While Annie’s List primarily backs Democratic and progressive candidates, the Red State Women organization works to engage and inspire Texas women to become politically active members of the Republican Party. The group focuses on issues such as education, health care, and a strong economy, according the the organization’s website, and aims to highlight the role that Republican women play in Texas.

Both groups share the aim of increased female representation in elected offices.

“Only 34% of all the elected officials at the county level and above are women, so we feel like we have a ways to go to reach parity,” Martin said. “When we have more women sitting at the table as legislation and laws are passed, we have better laws not only for women, children, and families, but for the population generally.”

The 84th Legislature’s House of Representatives had 12 female members backed by Annie’s List, Martin said, and that number jumped to 19 in the 85th Legislature.

“We are just in the middle of a strategic plan to double that number by 2024,” Martin said. “It’s not about being anti-men, it’s about equity.”

Annie’s List, which was founded in 2003, is modeled after a national organization called Emily’s List, which endorses candidates on national scale. Annie’s List was named after Annie Webb Blanton, the first woman elected to statewide office in Texas. Events and workshops put on by Annie’s List aim to create a pathway to leadership as well as a network of support among like-minded women.

Once they are in office, the women use the connections they’ve made through Annie’s List to find political allies.

“There’s a sisterhood, and that’s important when you’re in a man’s world historically,” Gervin-Hawkins said. “There’s also that network of support once you are in office as well, and we can get help when it comes to legislative issues.”

Arévalo said that the campaign and public speaking training she received through Annie’s List empowered her to speak up when Senate Bill 4, the “sanctuary cities” law slated to go into effect Sept. 1, was being discussed on the House floor.

“I didn’t feel it was right for me to just go back to my chair and push a button [to vote on the bill],” she said. “I felt we had to go down swinging. It was so heartbreaking what was being done at that moment, and that was the hardest day for me because I knew the people that were affected. At that time is when I felt the most empowered to say something, and it goes back to the training I received.”

Republicans outnumber Democrats 95-55 in the State House of Representatives and 20-11 in the State Senate, yet Martin said women in the Annie’s List network managed to pass impactful legislation, such as State Rep. Victoria Neave‘s HB 4102, which established a private grant program to pay for testing of the State’s backlog of untested rape kits. In addition, Minjarez filed an amendment to HB 4 that secured additional resources for Child Protective Services.

“I ran in a special election in 2015, and where I found my key support was reaching out to Annie’s List and getting advice during a very quick election,” Minjarez said. “They were very influential and essential to me winning that seat, and that support continues to this day.”

Currently, there are 34 women in office across Texas endorsed by Annie’s List, and the group has endorsed 150 since its formation. During the last legislative session, Martin said, women endorsed by the organization introduced 1,200 pieces of legislation.

“We need to turn this challenge into a great opportunity to energize our base to get engaged in the election process,” Gervin-Hawkins said. “Politics is the game-changer. And guess what? If you’re going to play in this game, you need to vote.”

“It takes a lot of confidence and courage to just put yourself out there and run for a particular position,” Minjarez added. “There’s so much talent in San Antonio. It just needs to be tapped.”

Annie’s List will host its annual luncheon Oct. 27 at the San Antonio Marriott Riverwalk. The featured speaker is Irin Carmon, MSNBC journalist and author of Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. To find out more, click here.

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Rocío Guenther

Rocío Guenther worked as a bilingual reporter and editorial assistant for the Rivard Report from June 2016 to October 2017. She is originally from Guadalajara, Mexico and holds a bachelor's in English...