Women Losing Ground in State Legislatures

Despite the record six women governors elected in 2002, the number of women in state legislatures has declined in the past several years. The number of women elected to statewide office has also declined, with 92 women serving in such positions as governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general in 2000; 89 women in 2002; and 79 women today, according to the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), part of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University. The number of women in state legislatures shrank in both the 2000 and 2002 elections, with 1,642 women holding office in 2003 down from 1,680 in 2002, according to CAWP. This means that women make up 22.2 percent of all state legislators.

“Before this disturbing decline, the number of women in the state legislatures had been growing at the rate of 1.2 percent every two years. At that former rate, it was taking two whole generations of women to get to equity,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “At this rate, we may never get there.”

“We’re pleased to see more women governors than ever before,” said Debbie Walsh, director of CAWP, in a news release. “But we cannot ignore the larger trend – a slowing or even reversal of the gradual, incremental progress CAWP has been tracking since the early 1970s,” when in 1971 only 4.5 percent of state legislators were women.

The downward trend is worrying, because state legislatures are often the starting point for careers in politics. “There are fewer women in the pipeline than we want to have and we need to have,” Roselyn O’Connell, president of the National Women’s Political Caucus, told the Associated Press. “We’re going to see fewer women serving. And we’re going to have fewer women running for positions like lieutenant governor or governor, because they haven’t moved through that pipeline.”

On the federal level, women essentially held their numbers in the 2002 midterm elections. Women did not make any gains in the House of Representatives in 2002, remaining at 59 of 435. The story was the same in the US Senate, with the total number of women serving remaining unchanged at 13 until retiring senator Frank Murkowsi appointed his daughter, Lisa Murkowski, to finish out his term, bringing the number of women Senators to a record of 14.


Associated Press 1/30/03; CAWP 1/2/03; Feminist Daily News Wire

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