Women quickly moving up in political arena

Published 9:29 am Wednesday, July 2, 2008

By By Steve Flowers
When California Democrat Nancy Pelosi took the oath as the first female Speaker of the House it garnered enormous nationwide media attention. The fact that a woman was second in line to succession to the presidency brought attention to the fact that women are taking their rightful place in politics. It is a trend that will not dissipate but will continue to emerge.
Women are already becoming dominant over men in academia and the professions. When you consider that is has probably been only three or four decades since women have been given the green light to proceed without a glass ceiling, the numbers indicate that women are rapidly exceeding men. Today over 60 percent of all college students are women. Over 50 percent of law school seats are filled with women and medical schools are approaching 50 percent female. It appears that women will dominate the professions of law and medicine the same way they have teaching. Recently, Harvard selected its first female president. Now half of the Ivy League schools are headed by women.
In politics the same trend is developing albeit a little slower. Pelosi refers to the breakthrough as going through the marble ceiling, rather than the proverbial glass ceiling. If Hillary Clinton had reached the White House she would have shattered the ultimate political glass ceiling. There were two more women elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006, moving the number to 16 out of 100. The U.S. House of Representatives is made up of precisely the same percentage of females, 16 percent.
Female state lawmakers are moving into leadership roles in unprecedented numbers, overseeing their legislatures’ daily business and shaping states’ political agendas. Last year, 58 women lawmakers were chosen as legislative leaders, a 20 percent gain over the year before, and more than double the female leaders in 2000.
There are now a record number of nine female Governors, which is 18 percent of the 50, and state legislatures are 24 percent female and growing. In Alabama, women are continuing to gain seats in the Legislature. In 2006 Alabama voters seated 14 women to the 105 member House of Representatives and 4 women are in the 35 member Senate. This is below the national 24 percent average. Only South Carolina, Kentucky and Oklahoma have lower percentages of women in the legislature. However, women traditionally have faired better in Alabama politics than more progressive states such as California and Connecticut when it comes to statewide office.
History reveals that we were electing women to state office 50 years ago, which was unheard of at that time. Women like Agnes Baggett, Sybil Poole, and Annie Laura Gunter were winning state offices with record vote totals. They dominated the administrative offices of Secretary of State, State Treasurer, and Auditor and still do today.
These offices have been filled by women since the 1950’s. Lucy Baxley broke the ice for Lt. Governor in 2002, moving from the Treasurer’s post. She received more votes than any candidate on the ballot that year. In last year’s November election there were 9 contested statewide offices up for grabs. Women captured 5 of the 9. Kay Ivey was reelected Treasurer, Beth Chapman was elected Secretary of State, Sam Shaw was elected Auditor, and Susan Parker was elected to the PSC, while Jan Cook was reelected to that same panel. In addition, Sue Bell Cobb was elected Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.
Women are under-represented nationally, but the trend has set in and will continue to roll like a downhill snowball. Women make up 51 percent of the nation’s population and they make up more than 51 percent of the votes cast. They vote at a higher percentage than men and have for several years, especially in Alabama.
It has been my experience that women in politics are more trustworthy and prepared. The women I served with in the Legislature were more dedicated to reading and researching legislation. They also strived to seek compromise resolutions more readily. In addition, women appear to be more ethical and honest than men. Another observation that was apparent to me during the last decade of my legislative service was that at every high school graduation I attended every valedictorian was a female. It will be interesting to watch this trend unfold in future years. We may not have as many wars.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

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