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ready for something else she says. “When I’d go to the [Texas] school board conferences, you’d have over 1,000 school districts, and whether they were large or small, rich or poor, there was this common thread that everyone was struggling. That got me started thinking: Maybe I could make more of a difference in the Legislature:’ But how to get there? Williamson County had long been a Republican stronghold, strong enough for its state representative, Mike Krusee, to have won eight terms stretching back to 1993. But Maldonado saw signs that his district was ready to elect a Democrat. Thanks to high-tech employers like Dell and thousands of Austin refugees who had come looking for affordable housing, “the demographics have been changing, and with that change came more Democratic voters and more independents as well:’ she says. Even so, in a year when Democrats were threatening to reverse the Republican majority in the state House, Maldonado’s GOP opponent was sure to rake in plenty of money to fend off a challenge. It would take more than a candidate as gritty and talented as Maldonado; it would take a kind of Democratic campaign that Williamson County had never seen. Which is exactly what unfolded, as soon as Annie’s List got wind of Maldonado’s interest. In April ’07, while the Lege was slogging through another contentious and mostly unproductive session, Maldonado went to an education fundraiser in Round Rock and chatted up the local Democratic chair. “That was like on a Saturday evening;’ she says. “Monday morning, I got a call from Robert Jones:’ Since 2006, Jones, who worked for EMILY’s List, the national woman’s PAC, and directed the Texas House Democratic Campaign Committee, has been political director of Annie’s List, a Texas PAC with an impressive track record helping prochoice women get elected. “The next thing I knew we were doing lunch:’ Maldonado says. “And the next thing I knew after that, I had started a 19-month campaign:’ Maldonado went through Annie’s List candidate training. She was given three staffers trained in the group’s campaign school. She broadened and sharpened her message beyond her educational expertise. She knocked on countless doors, day after day, keeping herself to a personal vow: “For everyone who says no, I told myself, I will always talk to five who say yes.” She phone-banked “until I was hoarse” Whenever a volunteer came back from block-walking and reported an undecided voter, Maldonado called each one personally. “They were surprised to be hearing from the candidate she says. “But I told them that’s part of the change we’re talking about:’ This past November, despite an infusion of almost $600,000 into her opponent’s campaign by Republican and big-business groups in the final six weeks, Maldonado became one of four new women legislators to “flip” Republican districts across the state. Over the past three election cycles, Annie’s List candidates have taken eight Republican seats and sent 13 new lawmakers to Austin, setting records for women’s representation in each of the last two sessions. Those women, in turn, are threatening to turn the most powerful boys’ club in Texas into a very different, less dysfunctional place. Rep. Diana Maldonado. Founded in 2003 and named for Annie Webb Blanton, the first woman to win statewide election in Texas, as state superintendent of instruction in 1918, Annie’s List was born of desperation. Texas politics, domi nated by such swaggering exemplars of faux-cowboy machismo as Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush, has long been one of the nation’s least friendly venues for womennowhere more so than in the Lege. While about 6,000 men have served, fewer than 150 women have occupied desks on the House or Senate floors. Until 1975, there had never been more than five women in the Legislature at one time; that year, suddenly, there were nineout of 181. For most of the state’s history, the few women who made it to Austin were greeted on their first days with bouquets and corsagesand then expected to sit back and keep quiet. In a 2007 Observer profile, groundbreaking politician Sissy Farenthold recalled to contributing writer Robert Leleux that a few months after her election to the House in 1968, “I read in the newspaper that the governor [Preston Smith] had told a group of Democratic women from Michigan, ‘I feel that I can say in all confidence that within 10 years, a woman will be elected to the Texas Legislature: And I was in the Texas Legislature along with Barbara Jordan, the future congresswoman from Houston. “So the next morning, I marched right into the governor’s office so that I could introduce mysel’ Smith’s reaction is unrecorded. But the message was clear. Farenthold recalled it as “one of the moments when I really got it, really got a glimpse of what women were up against. … Because even if you were nominated, even if you got elected, you still weren’t there.” Ann Richards’ breakthrough to the governor’s office in 1990 JANUARY 23, 2009 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11