Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Win for Women on Election Day

Posted by Caitlin Endyke

It’s a week after election day, and I’m thinking a lot about how the repercussions of November 6th are going to play out across the country. However, I feel compelled to give a small shout out to my home state of New Hampshire, which elected 3 women to higher office last Tuesday, making it the first state in the nation to have an all-female federal delegation and governor.  Having worked on the campaign for one of those women, I feel especially proud of the people from my home state who came out to the polls in record numbers, both in 2008 and this year, to cast ballots for female leaders.  However, this piece from The Atlantic made me remember that it is the structure of New Hampshire state politics, perhaps even more than the views of the voters, that makes it easier for women to rise up the political ranks in the small New England state (four out of the five women who now hold all of NH’s highest offices got their political starts in either state government or community activism).  As the Atlantic notes, “it’s not an accident that come January 2013, women will be installed in New Hampshire’s U.S. Senate seats, both U.S. House seats, and the gubernatorial mansion”.  In fact, this isn’t the first gender-related milestone for NH government- in 2008 New Hampshire was the first state to have a majority-female state legislature.

There are a few factors that lead to this female-friendly government culture.  First, New Hampshire’s state legislature is the third largest in the world.  With 424 members, each representative accounts for about 3,000 residents, which means that candidates win elections not through wide-sweeping posters or television ads, but by convincing individual voters of their worth face-to-face.  Because of this, it doesn’t take much fundraising to conduct a successful bid for state office- a lot of victorious campaigns have overall budgets of less than $500.  The pay for New Hampshire’s state representatives remains what it was when it was established in the state constitution- $100 per year.  This discourages more traditional political careerists from running, and instead opens the door for women, or others with more alternative paths to political office, to step up into that role.   Community involvement on a smaller scale (PTA leadership, school board membership, etc) can easily lead to a bid for higher office, as candidates have often garnered enough name recognition through their town service to carry them through an election.   The legislature doesn’t meet year round, giving some flexibility to mothers trying to balance child rearing and political life.  All of these factors open the door for women to take a strong part in state government, and they can use that service as a springboard to the national stage should they choose to take that next step.

Granted, New Hampshire’s state government is far from perfect (the fact that even Democratic governors are still compelled to sign the no-tax Pledge comes to mind). But it’s an interesting example of how, when you keep government grounded on the community level and remove excesses like extraordinary campaign financing, you can open the door for people who may have been historically under-represented. And, in turn, you can ensure that both local and national governments become more representative of the people they serve.

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