WV has the nation’s lowest rate of women lawmakers. Here’s how primary results could affect that.

Women make up 12% of the West Virginia Legislature. There are 12 women serving in the House of Delegates, who gathered for a photo on the final day of the 2024 regular session. (Perry Bennett | West Virginia Legislative Photography)

West Virginia has the nation’s lowest rate of women lawmakers in its Statehouse, where legislators consider bills on access to child care, reproductive rights and equal pay. 

The state has just 16 women in its 134-member Legislature.

Following May primary election results, the number could fluctuate with more or less women in the Senate and House of Delegates. Dozens of women are vying for seats, but many are Democrats, who could face an uphill battle in the red state.  

The House, as of now, is set to lose four women, including Del. Heather Tully, R-Nicholas, and Del. Diana Wizenreid, R-Ohio, lost their May 14 primaries to men for the Republican nomination.

Two other women House members, Del. Amy Summers, R-Taylor, and Del. Debbie Warner, R-Monongalia, did not run for reelection. Their primaries were won by male candidates. 

Of the four districts, only Tully’s district has a female candidate on the November ballot; Jean Nutter is running as a Democrat.

 Sarah Drennan
Sarah Drennan

Sarah Drennan is a Republican who hopes to win the seat currently held by Del. Geoff Foster, R-Putnam. Foster is not seeking reelection. 

Drennan, 43, is a mother of two boys. She defeated Jacob Losh in the District 20 primary for the Republican nomination and will face Democrat challenger Steve Patrick this fall.

“My kids motivated me,” said Drennan, who lives in Winfield. 

“I look at where our state is going currently, and I don’t want my kids to have to leave the state to get good jobs and raise their families,” she continued. “We’ve grown a lot in the last couple of years, and hopefully we’ll be able to do more and add industry.”

There are just four women in the 34-person Senate, a body that in 2022 signed off on passing one of the nation’s strictest abortion bans.  

 Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson
Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson

Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, narrowly won her primary against Paul Espinosa, a House of Delegates member who had attempted to move into the Senate. 

She won by 230 votes following a race she described as “ugly.”

“I am one of only four women senators and was particularly targeted for a very tough primary race,” said Rucker, a mother of five.

A two-term senator first elected in 2016, Rucker has championed school choice and anti-abortion legislation. This year, she sponsored a bill aimed at addressing the state’s worsening child care desert; her legislation was never taken up for consideration. 

“I am obviously happy with the results of the election … In most of the [Senate] committees, I’m the only woman voice, and that matters,” she said.

Women pursue statehouse seats this November

Female representation remains low in statehouses across the country, the Associated Press reported. Women running in southern, conservative states — typically Democrats — still struggle to win their elections in red states.

In November, 32 women will seek to enter West Virginia’s Statehouse, joining a handful of women who are running as incumbents. 

Twenty-one of those challenger candidates are Democrats, with the bulk of them vying for seats in the House. 

Del. Mike Pushkin, chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party, attributed the number to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and subsequent ban on reproductive rights in states.

“Women are engaged, they’re stepping up and we look forward to seeing them take back seats in their House and across state government,” said Pushkin, D-Kanawha. 

 Lucia Valentine
Lucia Valentine

Lucia Valentine, 27, hopes to defeat Republican Chris Anders to represent the 97th district. 

A lobbyist for the West Virginia Environmental Council, she has seen a gap in representation for both women and young people in the state Legislature. 

“The Legislature was considering these topics that affect our state and our bodies. Young people and women should have a seat at the table,” said Valentine, who lives in Martinsburg.  

With a platform focused on increasing wages for teachers, securing access to clean air and restoring reproductive freedom, Valentine is hoping she will flip the growing Eastern Panhandle to blue. 

“We need people who are willing to be creative and put themselves out there [and] to have new styles of leadership,” she said. “I’m focused on working in a bipartisan way and finding common ground with everyone in my district.” 

Rucker said she faces a tough November election against John Doyle, a Democrat who previously served in the House of Delegates. 

She wants to focus on the state’s opioid recovery efforts and fixing pervasive problems in the state’s child welfare system.

“I hope I can continue to serve,” she said. “I think it matters to have women representation.”

Correction: This story previously incorrectly stated that Del. Bill Ridenour, R-Jefferson, was running in the 97th district. Del. Debbie Warner’s name was also corrected.

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