Friday, March 30, 2012

140: The Self-Empowered Woman: Washington State Women

Dear Followers,

Today's topic is designed to remind us that we have just finished another National Women's History Month. As you may know, there has been a lot of concern that the number of female elected officials might shrink in the November elections. We already have a glaring "gender disparity" when it comes to politics - there are only six female governors and 17 female senators (in state legisatures women comprise 23.6%).

The one place where this imbalance does not occur, however, is in the state of Washington. The only time in our nation's history when a state's governor and both of its senators have been female has been the last eight years. Unfortunately, when Governor Christine Gregoire (pink blouse) finishes her second term in January this political hat trick will come to an end because both the Republican and Democratic candidates trying to replace her are male. When she first ran for Washington State Attorney General, her critics claimed that she "wasn't tough enough," but during her tenure as governor the same critics have labeled her "too tough."

Senator Patty Murray (glasses) ran for office in 1992 as the "Mom in tennis shoes." she became the state's first female senator and, recently, worked very hard to insure that Planned Parenthood did not lose funding even though some of its clinics provide abortion. At times, she was the only woman in a room full of men in Washington, D.C., but in her home state there has never been a shortage of women holding public office.

Dixie Lee Ray successfully ran for governor in 1976, with the slogan "Little lady takes om big boys." And the first female mayor of a major American city was Seattle's Bertha K. Landes, whose slogan - in 1926 - was "Municipal housekeeping." Some historians feel that Washington State lacks a political gender gap because when it was still a territory (it became a state in 1889) women were allowed to vote. Others feel that Western States (because they were settled later) do not have a history of male-dominated politics. Whatever the reason, a recent study from the Center for Public Integrity paid tribute to Washington State's "breed of tough, activist women."

Senator Maria Cantwell (brunette) keeps a photo in the lobby of her office that captures a moment that she feels reflects her colleagues' strength. In 2009, on a flight to survey flood damage in Washington State, Gregoire, Murray and Cantwell were on board a C-17 cargo plane with a number of male state politicians. When asked who would be willing to go to the open end of the plane for a better look - where they would have to be tethered for safety - only the three female passengers were willing to volunteer. As Cantwell told The New York Times, "Everybody thinks that the macho men would do that, but it was the three of us [who were] willing to go back there."

Washington's King County Sheriff, the State Supreme Court Chief Justice, and the State Senate Majority Leader are all female. In the Governor's words, "We've pretty much taken care of all the firsts in our state."

Looking forward to your comments...

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