Since 1849, Sacramento has only ever seen a majority-women City Council once: from 1989 to 1992.
That could change after the November election, when voters have the chance to elect a wave of candidates who are female, people of color and younger than outgoing council members.
If Karina Talamantes wins more votes than Michael Lynch in the race to represent District 3 in South Natomas, the city will again elect a majority-female council. The candidates for the District 1 and 5 seats are women and the winners will join Council members Katie Valenzuela and Mai Vang at the dais.
“Especially with Roe v. Wade (overturned) and a lot of our women’s rights under attack, it's time for that representation,” Talamantes said. “But I can guarantee you that if it were all males running again, no one would be saying that's too many males. Because right now a lot of people are saying that's too many women and it's just sexist.”
To date, Sacramento voters have elected 15 women to the City Council, according to the book We Can Do This! Sacramento’s Trailblazing Women and the Community They Shaped by Christine Hunter. Three other women have been appointed.
Men still outnumber women in elected city offices throughout California, said Kim Nalder, a political science professor at Sacramento State. Women made up about 38% of municipal officeholders in California municipalities with populations of more than 10,000 people in 2021, according to a study by the Center for American Women and Politics.
“Historically, it's been harder for women to succeed at executive positions because those have more masculinized gender role stereotypes,” Nalder said. “But for roles like City Council, people assume that members should be collaborative, collegial, diplomatic and good with communication. And those are all things that people have positive stereotypes about women.”
Research on political leadership shows women approach positions more collaboratively than men, Nalder added. But regardless of whether the council reaches a female majority, the city will gain more representation in terms of race, said Mindy Romero, director of the Center for Inclusive Democracy at the University of Southern California.
Both Talamantes, who is Latina, and Lynch, who is Black, are 33 years old. In general, young candidates and candidates of color are more likely to be Democrats, Romero said, so they often support more progressive policies. But the definition of progressive varies in different communities, Romero added.
Tamiko Heim said she considered herself progressive before she entered the race to represent District 5, which includes neighborhoods like Oak Park, Hollywood Park and Parkway. She is running against Caity Maple, a 31-year-old white woman often described as the more progressive candidate in the election.
Heim’s identity as a 43-year-old Black woman influenced how she saw herself politically, she added.
“I honestly live in a different world than some people and even knocking on doors, I have to think about the time of day it is, where I’m at and how late I can go,” Heim said. “I’ve always looked at myself as progressive, but at the same time, I’m aware of this world that I live in. And in order to continue to push that equity forward, I have to look at ways to chip it away.”
If Heim wins more votes than Maple, she will be Sacramento’s third elected Black councilwoman. Heim said the possibility is both sad and empowering.
Across the Sacramento region, Romero said Black women are underrepresented in local government. Women of color and Black women in particular tend to have less access to financial support, Romero said.
But a more diverse candidate field benefits the democratic process and more candidates of color can increase voter turnout, she added.
“Voters of color are–just as other groups are–very discerning in terms of whether they want to vote, whether they think their vote matters, whether they think that candidate is actually going to do what he or she says they're going to do,” Romero said. “But it can be encouraging to voters of color to at least enter into the political process, pay attention to these candidates, check them out, see if they really feel like these candidates are going to represent their interests, their concerns, their communities, and that can translate into votes.”
After the election, Nalder said the new council members might also bring different perspectives based on their age, generation and life experiences. All six candidates for the three seats are in their 30s and 40s. The winners will replace Jeff Harris, 69, Jay Schenirer, 65, and Angelique Ashby, 47.
Talamantes, 33, identified barriers to homeownership as an issue people her age are facing. She and her partner searched for a house for about two-and-a-half years and kept getting beat out by cash offers, Talamantes said. Increasing the supply of housing is a priority in her campaign.
Maple, the youngest candidate, said her student loan debt is one experience she will bring to the council if elected. But Maple said many candidates being younger women doesn’t determine how they will make decisions on the council.
“I think in politics, we have this tendency to want to put people into a box and say, ‘If she's this, then she's going to vote this way and do this and this,’” Maple said.
Only Lisa Kaplan, 47, is the same age as any of the outgoing members who aren’t running for reelection. Kaplan is competing with Alyssa Lozano, 43, to represent District 1 in North Natomas.
As a mother of six and nine-year-old children, Kaplan said she understands the costs of childcare right now. While she has experience serving as a Natomas Unified School Board member for 20 years, she said political systems are not designed to support the campaigns of mothers with young children.
“If you're running for the very first time and you're a mom of a younger child, it is so very overwhelming,” Kaplan said. “And the supports are harder to find because there are less women that run with young kids.”
Lozano also pointed to motherhood as an experience that would inform her perspective on the council. She noted how she had her first son at age 19 and second at 24.
Like other candidates, Lozano welcomed the possibility of a majority-female council, especially as Ashby leaves the dais. In more than half of her 12 years on the council, Ashby has been the only woman.
“It'll be interesting to see—and I think hopeful and encouraging—to have some of these younger millennials with a variety of backgrounds coming in and replacing people like me,” Ashby said.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the number of Black women who have served on the City Council. Two were elected (Lauren Hammond and Bonnie Pannell) and one was appointed (Callie Carney).