EPPS Alumnae Lead The Lone Star Parity ProjectMarch 30, 2021
An innovative partnership between two EPPS alumnae started with a question, “how many women are representing at the local government level?”
In 2017, Brooke López BS’17, was asking that question as part of her thesis for EPPS’ Major Honors Program. During that same year, Brooke was working on a similar project as a Texas Civic Ambassador, a nonpartisan program of the New Politics Forum, offered by the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life out of the Moody College of Communications at The University of Texas at Austin. The program works to identify and cultivate the next generation of civic leaders.
After asking that question of numerous organizations, Brooke soon realized, “No one knows the answer. The information just wasn’t there.” She approached Adrianna Maberry MS’18, a fellow Texas Civic Ambassador. They had first met at UT Dallas through Gamma Theta Upsilon, an international honor society in Geography. Brooke admired Adrianna’s initiative in expanding the honor society in its first year after it had been dormant, Adrianna’s commitment to nonpartisanship, and Adrianna’s research skills as a graduate student in the Geospatial Information Sciences program.
Together, Brooke and Adrianna co-founded the Lone Star Parity Project, and the two immediately set to work to answer Brooke’s question. Adrianna remembers, “As we asked that question, we were always told, ‘We would love to see what’s happening with local government positions. We just don’t have the resources for it,’ and a lot of people don’t have the data know-how, and local governments are super complicated. Each county does different things. Each city does different things. With the State of Texas, 254 counties, nearly 15,000 different municipalities – it’s really hard to capture all of that. We just started going and kept going.”
Now just over three years old, a primary goal of the project is to “combine never-before-seen data with the power of storytelling to get more women elected.” Why is this important? Because, say Brooke and Adrianna, “Adding more women+ to the political sphere increases the experiences and perspectives to the decision-making process.”
In pursuit of that goal, on March 26, the Lone Star Parity Project released their second biennial State of the Texas Woman Report. The report aggregates Texas election data down to the local level and is thought to be the only such report to do so. One key finding: in 2020, only 22% of those who filed to run in an election were women, compared to 36% in 2018. Another: Over half of all women who filed to run in 2020 won.
Adrianna also pointed out that they’ve learned that there are some positions, like county tax assessor, county clerk, county treasurer, where women are elected to those positions roughly 80% of the time. “And then,” she says, “we see county commissioners, county judges, state representatives, all of those tend to be 10-20%. Our conclusion is that women are running at very high levels in positions that are not visible. Whereas the higher visibility, women aren’t going for those positions. That’s something I’ve never heard anyone talk about, and I don’t know we can expect to win parity at congressional level, at the state-wide level, if we’re not looking at these lower positions and asking ‘why did women go into these positions in the first place? Why aren’t they going to something else that has more visible power?’”
To compile the report, Adrianna manages the data collection and analysis, pouring over thousands of lines of data annually to gather previously unconnected data points and sus out trends. Says Adrianna, “I work full-time in data analytics for Texas campaigns, and so I knew information existed, but it wasn’t all pulled together in a way you could analyze it. We’re still trying to figure out where all of that information is and just continually bringing it together.”
Brooke’s role is to produce the features, interviews with women in Texas politics. “We interview people all year long and then we pull qualitative points from what we learn about when we interview them. Like, we tend to see that Democratic women, their number one role model or their first role model happens to be their mom, and for Republican women, it happens to be a male family figure in their life, so that’s something interesting that adds nuance to the research that Adrianna is doing.”
Their complementary skillsets and personalities are critical to the success of the project. Says Brooke, “We have a really powerful synergy in our leadership, which was not something I was expecting. Sometimes, there’s one seat at the table which belongs to a woman and we have to fight for that seat, versus bringing other seats to the table. Luckily, Adrianna and I have been the second option.”
Three years into this project, they have big goals. They’re expanding their research, gathering for historic elections the same data points they gather for current elections, and also working to identify “firsts,” such as the first women to hold specific offices. They also continue to increase the number of features, so they have a bigger pool of qualitative data to draw from.
Organizations have also asked them if they’ll expand to other states. Says Adrianna, “we’re called Lone Star Parity. We’re focused on Texas, and that is a huge feat in itself. We’re talking about 150 years of elections and public office that we’re trying to collect. But, because Texas is a battle ground state, one of the largest states, and a diverse state – there are so many reasons why, if we do it in Texas, other states could use it as a blueprint. It could be a very cool thing that we expand into, a coalition across the country that has this database of information that was never compiled before.”
Brooke is also in her final year of law school, and Adrianna has a career she loves in GIS, and so they know there may come a time when the project becomes so big that they need to choose between Lone Star Parity Project and other efforts. It’s a privileged problem. For now, though, they’re taking it one step at a time.
That’s advice they received from lots of the women, and advice they share with others who are looking to start anything big – Just do it. Brooke shares, “when we started, we were flying by the seat of our pants. We were just fumbling our way through trying to figure out how to make our impact bigger.”
A lot of the women they’ve interviewed described running for office as a leap of faith. Adrianna says that’s very much how they decided to start the project. Brooke shared, “I think, if I would have sat down and said, ‘one day, you’re going to be going to law school full time, and you’re going to be co-running a nonprofit full time,’ I would have said, ‘do not sign me up for that.’”
Instead, they took a leap of faith. “Go with your gut instinct,” says Brooke. “Take that jump into doing what you want to do…and along with that, make sure you’re jumping with someone you can really depend on. I don’t think we would be where we are today if it was me by myself with an idea that I liked. It always was important to have Adrianna with me, someone who I could bounce ideas off of, someone who could bring ideas to the table. And then now that we have a staff, it is an even better experience, because we have all of these minds thinking together to keep making this an awesome experience and project.”
Adrianna adds, “Something I was told by my mom all the time when I was growing up was, ‘There are plenty of other people who will discount you and say no to you and not believe in you. Don’t do that to yourself.’’
“Brooke and I aren’t extra spectacular for starting Lone Star Parity. We saw something and we decided to do something about it.” The result is a first-of-its-kind report and a one-of-a-kind partnership with a singular vision of improving life in the Lone Star State for all of us.