Monday, November 13, 2006

The Year of the Woman

The last time we referred to a political season as the "Year of the Woman," was in 1992, after the Clarence Thomas hearing. The obstacles to getting women into politics have been theorized for years: lack of mentoring, less donors, persistent sexism, balancing career and family, etc. The structural obstacles to women's successful entry into National office are no different from other traditionally male dominated professions. And, the costs to the polity of having less women in political office are evident. e.g.: less funding for breast cancer/uterine cancer, less focus on quality education programs, less emphasis on health care . . . Women offer a unique perspective on policy and governance, and often, but not always, bring a different agenda. Last year, while I was at a fundraiser for local PA races, a male legislator pointed out that PA had one of the worst records for getting women into office. He also emphasized the real costs to the state because women weren't at the power table , making important decisions about the well-being of the state.

This year, women have a lot to celebrate. We have the first female Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, who unabashedly brings her perspective as a mother and grandmother to her governing. And, Rutgers University Center for American Women and Politics just released the following data on this last election:

Women in Leadership

2,433 women ran for seats as state lawmakers.

12 women ran for Senate seats.

2 new women were elected in the Senate: Claire McCaskill, in Missouri and Amy Klobuchar in Minnesota, bringing the total to 16.

Of the 12 Senate women running for seats, 8 were Democrats.

138 female candidates ran in the House.

10 new women were elected in the House.

57 women incumbents were re-elected in the House.

Of the 138 women who ran in the House, 97 were Democrats.

While women are far from achieving "parity" in the number of seats they hold, and we still don't see a lot of women governors, nor have any women been elected to the highest offices in this country, I want to focus on the positive today. Women took a big step forward and hopefully this means that we will begin to see a change of priorities coming out of Washington: policies that make it easier on parents to support their children, higher minimum wage, better and more affordable healthcare, better educational policies that No Child Left Behind (which has only succeeded in pushing the most talented teachers out of education), bringing troops home to their families, and tending to the environment.

Yesterday, while talking to my neighbor about how exciting it is to have our first female Speaker of the House, she reminded me how senseless and vitriolic the attacks on her have been. Afterall, Newt Gingrich who took out his "contract with America(pun intended), " and dubbed to the Republican party as the "values party," has divorced twice, and with a track record of cheating on his wives. Nancy Pelosi, by contrast, has been married to the same man, and raised 5 children before entering politics. If Pelosi's biggest threat is that she represents the ultra liberal wing of the party, then, damn, I'll take those values anyday over Gingrich's.