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Will 2018 Be NC's Year Of The Female Candidate?

North Carolina Legislative building

There is a simple, demographic fact in North Carolina politics: women are underrepresented in the General Assembly.

They make up 51.4 percent of the state's population. But hold just a quarter of the seats in North Carolina's House and Senate.

The candidate filing window for the 2018 election season is now open. So too are efforts to break a political glass ceiling.

The relative paucity of female state legislators is more than a statistic. Kimberly Reynolds believes it affects the type and tenor of the bills lawmakers pass. "We believe when women are at the table and they're participating in the conversations at the General Assembly that better legislation comes out of it at the end."

Reynolds is the Executive Director of North Carolina's Democratic Party.

She has helped lead efforts to recruit female candidates in the past. And those weren’t always successful because women were, "taking care of their jobs and their families and they're doing so many things that often times they think that right now it might not be the right time."

But this year Reynolds is getting a very different response. "Women are saying yes, it's my time. I don’t want to wait anymore. I am mad, I want change."

A sentiment perhaps best demonstrated by the Woman's March in Washington held the day after President Donald Trump was inaugurated. Similar marches took place in cities across the country, including Charlotte.

That is when pundits began to wonder if 2018 would be the year of the female candidate.

For their part, the North Carolina Democratic Party has been heavily promoting its slate of female candidates. The NCGOP, however, has been mum and did not respond to our interview requests.

But female Republican candidates are out there. One, Beth Monaghan, has already received some national buzz.

Credit campaign website
Republican candidate Beth Monaghan

The former small business owner lives in Charlotte. And you can credit a single North Carolina law for getting her to run for the first time. "HB 2 woke me up to state politics," she states, "in a way I had not been before."

Which is why Monaghan is challenging HB 2 author Dan Bishop in the Republican primary for his seat in the state Senate.

She supports LGBT rights, independent redistricting and says it's time to refocus the General Assembly's attention on core Republican issues like personal liberty. "And I think I'm just the woman to bring some accountability to the General Assembly."

Others have a similar feeling albeit from the other side of the aisle.

Take Democrat Christy Clark. "Women are energetic and passionate and we are ready to stand up for what we believe in," which is why the small business owner is "ready to jump in and join that cause."

Democrat Christy Clark is a small business owner. A paralegal by trade. And her first foray into campaigning will be no easy task. She's running in House District 98 in North Mecklenburg. Home to two-term Republican John Bradford, who currently serves as the Deputy Majority Whip. Bradford has name recognition and his campaign has more than $72,000 cash on hand.

Credit via Twitter
Democratic candidate Christy Clark

Clark has yet to release her fundraising totals. As for name recognition, she is best known for being the head of North Carolina's chapter of gun control group Mom's Demand Action. "I'm known for being a calm leader and being supportive and diplomatic," says Clark, "and I have everything that it takes to represent north Mecklenburg and so I'm ready for the challenge."

Any successful legislative candidate will be paid just shy of $14,000 annually, plus $104 for every day their chamber is in session. After all, North Carolina's legislature is officially a part-time job.

But one which would force a career change for Democrat Aimy Steele. Her full-time job? The principal of Beverly Hills STEM Elementary School, located in Cabarrus County Schools in Concord.

Credit via Twitter
Democratic candidate Aimy Steele

Steele is African-American. And women of color currently make up just 7.6 percent of state legislators. Which is why Steele is hoping to take a big pay cut and head to Raleigh. "I just want to be a voice for people whose voices have not been traditionally heard." Which Steele says includes women and people of color. But also "young millennials who are politically disengaged in some regard."

We won't know for some time if the 2018 election indeed heralds the year of the female candidate. Or if those candidacies will indeed lead to more women being elected.

But consider this final statistic: 38 women officially launched their campaigns for North Carolina's legislature on the first day of candidate filing. That's just five short of the total number of women serving in the General Assembly right now.

Tom Bullock decided to trade the khaki clad masses and traffic of Washington DC for Charlotte in 2014. Before joining WFAE, Tom spent 15 years working for NPR. Over that time he served as everything from an intern to senior producer of NPR’s Election Unit. Tom also spent five years as the senior producer of NPR’s Foreign Desk where he produced and reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Haiti, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon among others. Tom is looking forward to finally convincing his young daughter, Charlotte, that her new hometown was not, in fact, named after her.