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Ralph Northam assembles a majority-female Cabinet, a first for Virginia

Virginia Gov.-elect Ralph Northam gestures during a news conference at the Capitol in Richmond on Nov. 8. (Steve Helber/AP)
Virginia Gov.-elect Ralph Northam gestures during a news conference at the Capitol in Richmond on Nov. 8. (Steve Helber/AP)

Virginia Gov.-elect Ralph Northam (D) announced the last of 15 Cabinet picks earlier this week, assembling what his office says would be the first majority-female Cabinet in state history.

On Tuesday, Northam tapped Esther Lee, a Fairfax economic development official and formerly an official in President Barack Obama's administration, to serve as secretary of commerce.

Pending approval by the legislature, Lee would be the eighth woman to serve in one of 15 Cabinet-level positions.

"Our commonwealth's diversity is our strength, which is why I made a commitment to building a Cabinet that reflects it," Northam said in a statement.

"I'm honored to have this formidable group of experienced, accomplished female leaders joining me in working to build a Virginia that works for everyone, no matter who you are, no matter where you live."

In November, Northam defeated Republican Ed Gillespie, who also vowed that his Cabinet would reflect Virginia's diversity. The Democrat, who is a pediatric neurologist, carried female voters by 22 points.

Northam rode a blue wave, but he’s preaching bipartisanship

Departing Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) has six women serving in his Cabinet. In 1986, then Democratic Gov. Gerald Baliles entered office with a cabinet of three men and three women.

Virginia also elected a record number of women to the state legislature in November: Twenty-eight will be seated Wednesday, up from 17 currently serving. Still, only one woman has ever been elected to statewide office in Virginia: former attorney general Mary Sue Terry (D).

Ensuring female representation at high levels of government has long been a goal for advocates.

In a 2008 report, the Center for Women in Government and Civil Society at the University of Albany found that women made up 42 percent of the top advisers in governors' offices in 2007.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau assembled a cabinet that was half female when he took office three years ago. Asked about the importance of gender, he simply said, "because it's 2015."

In the 2016 presidential race, Democrat Hillary Clinton vowed that her Cabinet would be half female.

President Trump has five women serving in 23 Cabinet-level positions; the most ever was 9 out of 22 in Bill Clinton's second term, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

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