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We need to put some women in the House

September 25, 2012

By BROTHER ROGERS

A woman’s place is in the house — the U.S. House of Representatives. This year, a record 297 women filed to run for congressional seats, shattering the previous record of 262 women set in 2010.

Eighteen women are running for the U.S. Senate, breaking 2010’s record of 14. In the U.S. House, a record 163 of the 297 women candidates won their primary and will be on the ballot in November. That’s the most since 2004’s previous all-time high of 141 women.

“Not since the so-called Year of the Woman in 1992 have we seen such a leap in the number of women stepping forward to contend for congressional seats,” said my friend Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

The 2012 elections follow post-census redistricting when every congressional district is redrawn and open seats are created.  Women and other newcomers have more success winning open seats, and the increased voter turnout in presidential years further boosts women candidates.

Currently in the 112th Congress, there are 73 women (49 Democrats and 24 Republicans) in the House of Representatives, or 16.8 percent of 435 seats.  There are 17 women in the U.S. Senate, which historically is a lot, but not much when we consider women make up half the population.

With 163 women vying for the House in November, I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that the next Congress will have more than 73 female members. Why does that matter?

First, more women in positions of political power confer a greater sense of political legitimacy to any government that claims to be representative.

Second, all of us benefit when the best and brightest pursue public office, and women certainly make up at least half of that number (I hear you women chuckling). If I asked my 16-year-old son to name the smartest students in his grade, he likely would mention more girls than boys. Practically, it makes no sense to deny ourselves as a nation the intellectual firepower of half the population when it comes to tackling our most difficult public problems.

Third, women and men are different, and they don’t always lead in the same way. Many women are more inclusive, collaborative, consensus builders and are more likely to work across party lines.  Former Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin said, “We need their voices as grandmothers and mothers, wives and widows, daughters and sisters to be heard in the political debate about the future of our country.”

One of the highlights of my life was getting to meet former Texas Governor Ann Richards in 1996. She succinctly made the best case for electing more women to office. She said, “The most sympathetic and sensitive of our men friends, no matter how hard he tries, cannot hear with a woman’s ear or process information through a woman’s experience. The point is that the experience is different, the perspective is different, the knowing is different.”

More women than ever before have been nominated to serve on Capitol Hill, but Mississippi has never sent a woman to Congress. We consistently rank among the lowest states with respect to the percentage of women in the state legislature as well.  Think of all the talent we are bypassing. Perhaps the untapped key to our future progress is electing more women.  It certainly would be a change. The sooner we learn a woman’s place is in the House and the Senate, I predict the better off we’ll be.

William “Brother” Rogers lives in Starkville and works with the Stennis Center for Public Service. Contact him at brother@stennis.gov.

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