SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) -- After a year of headlines about sexual harassment in the statehouse, and a broader national current of women voicing concerns about harassment and abuse, the newly inaugurated 101st General Assembly will comprise a record 66 women in the legislature.
Illinois voters elected 44 to the House and 20 women to the Senate. The historic measure of gender diversity in Illinois ranks 5th nationwide on a per capita basis according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
"It's very exciting," Senator Ann Gillespie said, a Democrat from Arlington Heights. "I'm one of the candidates that came out of the Women's March, so this is my first race for anything."
Gillespie unseated Republican Tom Rooney in a November contest for a seat that has long been held by Republican men.
A former healthcare executive for CVS Caremark, Gillespie says the 2016 election of President Donald Trump motivated her to forgo plans to open a bakery in her retirement and instead jump into the political arena.
"It just sent such shock waves through a lot of us," she said. "Particularly women, because of some of the comments the president had made and some of his history. That was the initial reason for going out to the Women's March. I wanted to be part of women saying, 'We're not going backwards. We're going to keep moving forward.' The energy at the Women's March was so exciting that I didn't want it to die. When I came home, I joined a group of other women in the area, and that group continued to grow, and became my grassroots group for running for office."
Gillespie shrugged off concerns about the potential for witnessing harassment in a statehouse where so many stories of harassment had been reported.
"I came out of corporate America, so that didn't scare me at all," she said. She added that electing more women to office would be the only lasting solution to change the culture and cure the problem.
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